Edits, by Candance Booth | When the Status Quo Just Won’t Do

AS A TECHNICAL WRITER, I’m often in the position of rewriting someone else’s draft. In that regard I am in full agreement with this quote by H.G. Wells: “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”

Occasionally, I’m working on a slide presentation or a marketing brochure or a magazine article, and the rewrites seem to require a jazzier style, some catchy subtitles, and a whole lot less words. Depending on how long I’ve worked with someone, these kinds of edits are hard for them to swallow. So over the years I’ve learned to sneak up on people, and edit in stages. But sometimes you just don’t have time to mince words, so to speak.

So when I went into the hair salon for my haircut, and I said to the stylist with the pierced nose, “I need something with more pizzazz,” I was prepared to accept her professional advice. I was prepared, in effect, to have my head edited and made perky. In the words of an old colleague, “And how!”

My hair is now about half an inch long on the sides and back, about two inches on some places on the top, three in others, and two shades of deep red. (Nothing got pierced.)

Personally, I think I look way cool. Basically I went in with 12 pages of prose and came out with a great advertising slogan. I suppose not everyone likes the new ad campaign.

Here’s a sampling of the consumer survey:

“Eeek! You really changed it!”
— My French boss

“Wow [raised eyebrows].”  
— My American boss

“Oh my God [no exclamation point].”
 — My American husband

“You go, girl!”
— A girlfriend

“Looks great!”
— An Italian coworker

— A young French coworker

“I’m on your side.”
— Older security guard

“What were you thinking?”
— A bunch of incredulous people

I wasn’t thinking. I was sweating a lot down here in the southern Sahara, for one thing. And if I was going to go for a really short haircut, I figured it should be a dramatic color to compensate. You know, shorter and punchier. Also, I realized that if I wanted to do something really bold, now was a good time. I didn’t want to wake up one morning in my 90s and say, “You know, I always wanted to be a redhead.”

Actually, a surprising number of people didn’t notice the change at all. For example, the 20-something Indian down the hallway. He’d just come back from London. I hear a lot of people there have advertising hair. He was probably acclimated.

The truth is, it’s not as unorthodox as it sounds. It’s just in comparison that it seems dramatic. And that’s the problem any time you edit. Attachment to your current draft just keeps you from losing the blabber.

My husband actually doesn’t hate it. Well, once he got over the shock.

“You’re not saying much,” I told him the first night. “Do you hate it?”

“No,” he said. “You know . . . it’s just that I’ve been living with a blond for 10 years . . . .”

I’ve been living with a blonde my whole life. That was part of the problem. Same kind of shoes, same stupid morning routine, same round of bad hair days. With my new hair—assuming you like it at all—there are no bad hair days. There isn’t enough of it to go bad.

One interesting thing I learned is that if you change your hair color, it’s like wearing a wig and dark glasses. You can walk by a lot of people virtually incognito. I remember Gwyneth Paltrow saying the same thing, when she changed to a brunette for some movie role. I was in the grocery store last weekend, and I spotted a couple of people that I really did not want to talk to or even have them recognize me. At first I was going to duck behind the vegetable bin or dart down the aisle and park myself facing the eggs. But then I remembered that I had hair edits. So I just smiled right at them and said, “Hi.” They gave me one of those nods you give to a total stranger. It was great.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find out the difference between 7-Up and Pepsi, so to speak. I know all the clichés about blonds, but I realize I have no preconceptions about redheads. Particularly the kind of red you get these days—punk-spiked red in spandex and mules. Punk redheads might have bigger muscles. This would be good, since I have always had pipe cleaner arms and have reached a plateau in my weight training.

I suppose the most interesting thing I noticed is that I don’t cry when I see myself in the mirror. In the past, when I tried something really different, like a pixie cut, I would cry every time I saw myself in the mirror or even my reflection in a store window. And when I wanted highlights in my hair, I always advised the stylist to give me “something natural.” If I strayed too far from the status quo, I always grew it back as soon as I could. But now I’m like that old cartoon about the two buzzards. One vulture says to the other: “Patience, hell. I’m going out and kill something.”

Some people in the salon were waiting for me to bemoan the hair falling from the scissors. I guess I looked too old to be asking for something trendy. But the stylist and I were copacetic, for sure. “I’m so glad you want to do this! This is really fun!” If you’re going to do something different, it’s good to have enthusiastic help.

If you want to try this yourself, don’t go to the same beauty salon you’ve been going to. And don’t hand them your manuscript and expect them to tell you that you don’t need to change a thing. That was what we wrote in everyone’s yearbook in 1963, and it just isn’t true. You need to edit. You need to throw the crap out of your closet, and get rid of all those newspaper clippings you have stored in your file drawer, and you need to rewrite and condense that business plan so that someone will actually read it. If you need to, go to a professional with some joie de verve. And then don’t look back. Don’t look down at all your hair on the barber shop floor and lament. Don’t look at all the paragraphs that were stripped out of your document and ask them to put it back in. Don’t look for the same headings and title. Don’t wait to reincarnate—edit. That’s my new tag line.        

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