Anyone who’s watched football for any length of time has seen the scenario — there are precious few seconds left in the game and the home team is down by one score. The quarterback heaves the ball into the end zone and his receiver has it … and then inexplicably drops it. Time expires, and the game is over.

How does that receiver feel? He’s spent more hours than any of us can fathom practicing that very catch, and now, in front of his friends and family, his teammates and coaches, the fans in the stadium and millions of people watching across the country, he did the one thing that defies logic, odds, and nature itself — he blew it.

Of course you’re going to feel bad for the guy. Even the other team has to feel some shred of sympathy for him. But no one can know the depths of his anger, his frustration, and the wretched shame he has to feel in that moment, and for the days and even weeks to come.

And so it is in the editorial world. Oh, the moment is much less public and there’s a lot less riding on it, but when you’re called out for missing a typo you should have caught or you’re told that what you’ve written was sub-par, it’s a humiliating kick in the crotch that leaves you feeling exactly the way that football player felt. Exactly.

So what do you do about it? The football player — assuming he doesn’t get cut — has no choice but to shake it off and try and do a better job in the next game. But writers and editors don’t have that luxury. Even when the next project comes in — assuming the writer or editor hasn’t been fired — the weight of that mistake hangs like a millstone, and it can take an extraordinarily long time for them to let go. If ever.

Football players at least have teammates to bolster them, calm them, empathize with them, and help them refocus. But writing and editing are both highly solitary vocations, and often when one writer or editor reaches out to another for an ounce of sympathy, they’re met with a dismissive “Well, better you than me, kid.”

Humans are fallible and will always make mistakes. But writers and editors take a great deal of pride in their work, so mistakes for them are exponentially more painful. If you’ve got to call one of them out on something, try to be kind. And some positivity wouldn’t hurt either.

Who knows? One kind word from you and they could be bound for the Super Bowl.

By Steve Boudreault



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