"I tell them they can do anything they like with my suggestions!" Jane said laughing. "It's their text."
My wife and I were having breakfast in the historic Brown Street Inn. Jane (not her real name) is a professional editor. She and her husband had traveled to Iowa City with their daughter from Chicago for the start of the school year at the University of Iowa.
Another couple had come with their daughter from California. The woman sitting across the table from us had come from New York City for her daughter to begin classes at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. We were talking about the importance of good writing and the need to avoid errors that distract the reader and undermine the credibility of the writer.
I was in heaven.
I was happy not only because my wife and I were visiting good friends in Iowa City, where we both had done our graduate work, but also because we were talking about language and writing. The only thing that could have made things better would have been if our conversation had veered to the utility of the semicolon, that most elegant of punctuation marks.
When we moved from Iowa City 36 years ago to make Minneapolis our home, there weren't many places that would have tempted me away from a university town where writers and writing were celebrated.
But the Twin Cities was one of them.
In addition to a job offer at the University of Minnesota and a shorter drive to the Boundary Waters wilderness, there were a number of independent book publishers as well as the Loft Literary Center, the largest literary organization of its kind in the U.S. Clearly, writers and writing mattered in Minnesota.
We haven't been disappointed. I somehow found a way to make my living teaching writing, both on campus and off. In December of 1991 the Star Tribune took a chance on me and started publishing my column on effective writing and now, nearly 1,000 columns later, I have become a part of a vibrant community of writers and readers who value language and literature.
When I teach my class this fall in the University of Minnesota's Technological Leadership Institute, I'll work with my students to refine their communication skills, both written and oral, so that they can convey their information, thoughts and ideas as confidently as they apply their technical expertise. A decade or so ago our director, Massoud Amin, an expert in smart grids and infrastructure security, jokingly began referring to the benefits of taking my class as being "Wilberized." Helpless to resist his jovial demeanor and good humor, I have accepted (if not embraced) the term, but I do so with my own definition:
To be Wilberized involves more than writing with confidence and knowing when to use a nonrestrictive comma with which and when to omit a comma with that. To be Wilberized is to recognize the wonder and power of language and to realize its significance in both your professional and personal life.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.