In Praise of Editors

I love editors. I love them in theory and practice. In general and particular. Right now, every single editor I work with is awesome. And every single one of them would’ve eaten that previous sentence for lunch.

In fact, I wouldn’t dare file a story to any of them with “awesome” in it, except as a joke (or if I were really, really tired). Besides, the editors I work with know me well enough to know that “awesome” isn’t a word I’d use. That kind of familiarity is … well, it’s awesome!

Sure, there have been editors I didn’t get along with for various reasons.

Sometimes an editor wants something very specific, but doesn’t articulate exactly what it is that he or she wants. Freelance writer and designer Will Hindmarch calls this the “bring me a rock” scenario. It goes something like this:

Editor: “Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “Here’s a rock. I found it just for you!”

Editor: “I want a different rock.”

Writer: “Here’s another rock. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Editor: “Not that rock. Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “???”

Sometimes editor states very clearly what he or she wants and I don’t really listen.

Editor: “Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “Here’s that fish you wanted! Isn’t it neat?”

The latter example is all my fault. I can own that. And I also own a drawer (actually, a digital file folder) full of fish that have yet to find a place to swim. Want one? I’m giving them away free of charge.

I know the rules, the dos and don’ts of the writer/editor relationship. I’ve written about those rules and taught them in classes. I’ve even followed them (most of the time) since my first newspaper job over twenty years ago.

I’ve also broken just about every one of the rules and tried my darndest to learn from my mistakes.

Some of us, however, are slower learners than others. Being life-long learners, sometimes, has more to do with how slowly we learn than with the infinite scope of our curiosity.

The best thing about the editors I work with (other than their patience) is that every last one of them calls me on my BS and, for the most part, doesn’t hold that very same BS against me.

And that is so, so awesome.

I admit it: sometimes I blow deadlines or turn stories in so close to the print run that the editors involved have no time even to copy edit them. Sometimes I forget to update my editors or I drop completely off the grid. Sometimes I need to be re-angled multiple times. Sometimes my stories are, shall we say, structurally unsound, organizationally baffling, epically confounding. And I get wordy, especially when I’m tired. If I have too little to do, I procrastinate. I pitch stories impulsively. Heck, I even space out on sending in the invoices. And, let’s just face it: my comma usage is definitely not awesome.

I don’t do these things all the time, but for most editors once is enough. I should know better. I should do better. I should be a better writing professional.

That’s what an editor does. Pushes us to be better writers. Demands our best and deserves to get it.

Writers need editors. And I don’t just mean aspiring and new writers. Every writer. Each and every one of us needs editors.

Editors pull us out of our own heads, gives us fresh perspectives on our work while it’s still growing. Editors help us see with fresh eyes. They inspire us, have faith in us. They lend us their skill and the benefit of their experience. They teach us to be better writers … if we listen, if we keep our eyes and ears and egos open to what they have to offer.

How could we not love someone whose job it is to help make what we’ve written better?

Do I have an idealized view of editors? Maybe. Do I have an idealized view of the editors I work with? Not at all. They are human, every last one of them. They are imperfect. They get cranky. Annoyed. That’s all part of the give and take, the human interaction, the creative process.

Editors are awesome. And we writers should treat them as such. We should open up a document file or pull out a pen and some paper this very moment and write them some of the cleanest, smoothest, most on-topic copy we’ve ever written. Flesh it out. Develop it. Dig deep and push past clichés.

When we have something worthy, we should send it in early, receive edits as though they were birthday gifts, revise as though possessed by a higher being, and file glorious final drafts.

I’m not being sarcastic, here. I’m not kidding. These people play a vital role in what we do as writers. We should treat them as accordingly.


Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [Part III]

Today is my last visit to BookLife and I want to thank Jeff Vandermeer again for asking me to contribute this week. It’s been fun parsing thoughts about the Olympics through the lens of the writing life and I appreciate all the support and comments I’ve received. Remember, I can be found at Writer’s Rainbow at any given moment; this weekend I’ll be adding the March monthly dispatch, an introductory discussion into the three basic building blocks of a writing platform, so drop by sometime, check it out, and leave a comment! I wish all of BookLife’s readers a solid 2010 filled with inspiration and prosperity. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming… I left my favorite observations for last. I live in the Puget Sound area, so the fact that I’m a huge fan of Apolo Ohno should come as no surprise. I do appreciate a golden child whenever he or she does come along (complete with awesome attitude), so I must also confess a fondness for snowboarder Shawn White. How can we not live in awe of these two Olympians? Here is what I took away from each of them over the last couple of weeks. Continue reading

Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [series Part Two]

On Monday, I brought up some thoughts inspired by 10 days spent watching the recent winter Olympics in Vancouver on TV. Here are two more lessons I culled which offer relevance and perspective for writers:

Expect to earn your medals every time.

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis kinda blew it in Torino. She hotdogged her way to a second place in women’s snowboard cross when she had the gold medal practically around her neck on that last slope.

Jacobellis has had to live that down for the last 4 years and went to Vancouver hoping to redeem herself. It didn’t quite happen: this year, Continue reading

Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [series Part One]

Hi everyone! I want to thank Jeff at BookLife for inviting me to take the reins this week at his wonderful, must-read blog. There are few things I love more than blogging about and for writers and writing, so it’s an honor to do so at one of the smartest writing blogs out there.

Anticipating the content of my posts this week has been rather challenging: there’s so much to write about! But it came to me on Saturday as I realized my interest in the Olympics was beginning to wane.

I’d seen all I needed to see of curling, short track speed skating, downhill, bobsled, snowcross and the like. But the Olympics always linger in my mind long after the network has packed up its cameras and talking heads and returned to regularly scheduled programming.

Witnessing (live or on TV) the prowess of the world’s athletes is always inspiring to me. I grew up in a sports household (baseball, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, soccer, football, softball, volleyball, tennis have all been played with regularity by at least one member of my immediate family), so I’m already in the practice of appreciating the work that goes into excelling at sports. My siter used to do gymnastics and visited Everest Gymnastics. It was quite difficult, but she liked it very much.

But the world’s finest athletes perform with a caliber and grace that takes human experience beyond what it means to be fit or a sound competitor. These are the titans of the modern day, and like the titans of the past, the masses can’t help but idolize them as the demi-gods they truly are.

This week, I offer the series, “Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics” in three parts. As writers, we have cobbled together our own hopes and dreams for becoming the future titans of the literary world. We have much to learn from athletes, and this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll give examples that show how writers can learn from the trials of Olympians.

Today I’ll talk about discipline and perseverance.  Continue reading