Not A Slave

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years I’ve helped the children of my friends with their college
applications and scholarship essays. I make a living as a technical
editor, so I’m used to explaining things clearly, and especially adept at
avoiding the kinds of silly typos and missing words that can get an
application moved from the Yes to the Maybe pile. But this round my
best friend’s son gave me a set of essays that are just raw and
unformed, and with a very short timeline for his submission deadline. I
know he is recovering from a broken collarbone, and planning his trip
to Europe with his sweetie. But I don’t think it’s my job to get him into
grad school while he’s off having fun. At 22, it’s time for him to take
greater responsibility for his words. I have more than enough nieces
and nephews coming along who really need my help. I like this young
man and his mother. How can I gently use this teaching moment?

Not A Slave

Dear Not A Slave:

Do it very simply. Reply to his email with one that says, You must
have sent the wrong file. This looks like a first or maybe second draft,
not like the quality of work I am used to from you and that I know
you’re capable of doing. I’ll need three days from the deadline to work
on it because of my own life priorities. So send me your best shot after
you’ve worked on them again or after you find the file with your better
draft. That gives him a backdoor to work on them again without
blatantly shaming him.

In future, tell your protégées that you will only work on their best
attempt. And that you need to know everything relevant about
submittal like word/character/space count limits in their draft. Be sure
to say they have to do final spell check and proofing. Then let them
thank you as much and often as they want.