The Bicycle Seat
I read on one of the many writing group forums today, a novice author expressing their gratitude for someone pointing them in the direction of programs like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. They extolled the virtues of these software programs, proclaiming that now, their work would be “more professional.” Learning about these tools made them feel confident they were ready to take their book to press.
I say, “Yay!” How fantastic that someone’s creative spirit and confidence was lifted by the kindness of another and their suggestion to make an oft-times frustrating road a little less so.
And… (a mentor once suggested that I replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and’ whenever I want to build on a statement, rather than detract from it). While these tools are a huge boon to the newly initiated and experienced writer, they should not replace the wisdom offered by a professional editor. There, I said it. It’s harsh, perhaps, but (and) tools are not enough. While good tools certainly make the job easier, they don’t replace real, practical knowledge.
Okay, let me try it this way…
When I was a kid, I grew a few inches during the school year, and by the time summer rolled around, the seat on my bicycle was too low. I needed to raise the seat, so I could effectively pedal without slamming my knees into the handlebars, which would throw me off balance and make me fall over. I asked my older brother how to do this, and his answer was simple. “Just grab a wrench and loosen the bolt. Then pull up the seat to where you want it and tighten the bolt again. Easy.” He gave me the correct instructions and even told me which tool to use. So now, I was prepared to go out to the garage and make my bike “work” for me again, right? Nope.
I knew I needed a wrench yet had no clue which one to use. And, when I looked more closely at the seat, there were two bolts, not just one, and I wasn’t clear on the consequences of choosing the wrong bolt. Frustration washed over me as I stared from the open toolbox to the bike and back again. Tears began to fall down my cheeks as I quickly realized that I couldn’t do this one simple thing with enough success to ensure I wouldn’t fall flat on my face the next time I put sneaker to pedal.
Yet, from somewhere deep inside, I pulled myself together. I convinced myself I could figure this out if I just spent a little time exploring the problem and testing the tools. After all, if my brother, who was only eighteen months older than me, could figure it out, it couldn’t be that difficult, right?
Fortunately, I’d spent enough time with tools to know the difference between a wrench, a screwdriver, a hammer, and a pair of wire cutters. So, I had that going for me. I began by separating out everything I knew to be a wrench, leaving the others in the bottom of the toolbox. Step one, done.
Breathing a heavy sigh, I looked over what was left: a pile of box combination wrenches, a couple of allen wrenches, and a pile of socket wrenches. Oh, and there was a pipe wrench in there, too. I quickly threw the pipe wrench, and the allen wrenches back in the box. Just like with the three bears and their chairs, these tools were clearly either too big or too small for the job. My confidence grew stronger. Maybe I could figure this out.
Now I had a pile of wrenches, all of which I understood how to use… after all, I’d been helping my brother “fix” things around the house for years. I knew how they worked. I knew “righty tighty, lefty loosey” and how to snap on and off the extensions for the socket wrenches. I even knew that if you flipped that little switch on the side of the socket wrench, the ratchet would go in the opposite direction. I wasn’t a complete dolt. But (and) the problem facing me was which wrench to use, and which bolt to turn to raise the seat. It was a conundrum, to be sure.
I must have sat there for an hour, agonizing about what to do… testing out different wrenches on each bolt, discovering, with disappointment, that they were two different sizes. That made sense, considering the bolts probably served different purposes. Another confidence-laden sigh escaped me as I realized I’d solved another piece of the puzzle. But the sun was dipping lower on the horizon, and my bike-riding time was fading fast. In the next moment, all confidence was gone, and tears rolled from my face as I sat there in complete exasperation. It’s understandable. I was only eight years old. Losing precious biking time was a tragedy.
A few minutes later, my brother came out to the garage and asked me what I was doing. “I’m trying to raise the seat on my bike, just like you said,” I replied through tears and hiccups of frustration. “I know you told me to use a wrench and just loosen the bolt, but I can’t figure out which wrench, and there are two bolts!” By this time, I was lost to my agony, doubting my ability to do anything right. “I can’t do it right. I’ll never ride my bike again!” Yup, the melodrama of an eight-year-old is a real thing when faced with a tragedy.
As you might have guessed, my brother was equal parts amused and furious with me. “You’re a dolt,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. And then he said the wisest, kindest thing he’d ever said to me in our eight very short years together. “You should have come back inside and asked me to help you. If you’d done that, you could have been riding your bike all this time instead of sitting in the garage crying. You can’t be expected to know everything… so you have to remember to ask for help to get it right.”
Then he picked up the 7/16” socket wrench and loosened the bolt under the seat. This made the seat go up. Then, he used the adjustable wrench I’d missed from my sorting session and loosened the bolt on the side, which tilted the front of the seat slightly to make it easier to climb on. He dropped the tools back in the box and said, “There. Done. Now go ride.”
I looked at my brother in awe. He just smiled and walked back into the house without another word.
That was the day I learned that tools were great, AND they were basically useless unless you knew how and where to use them to gain the greatest success. The other take-away? It was perfectly okay for me to ask for help if it meant keeping myself from falling flat on my face in pain or humiliation.
So yes, editorial tools like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid can be super-helpful as you work toward getting your manuscript as close to done as possible. Good tools will save you a lot of time and aggravation. AND you shouldn’t discount the simple act of asking for help from an editorial professional to improve the quality of your book and keep you from falling on your face.
It is well worth spending a little bit of money to save yourself hours of sitting on the floor of your garage overwhelmed with tears of frustration.
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