The painful necessity of editing
June 5, 2007
Every journalist knows how painful editing can be; how crucial that relationship is between writer and editor.
Emily asked me about my first edit experience.
I was in high school in Nancy Ash’s creative writing class and had written a 20-page paper.
I’ve no idea what that paper was about. Clearly, from the trauma, I blocked the topic.
“I had to edit that paper 12 times, and each time, it looked as though Mrs. Ash had bled to death on every page.”
“What did you do?” she asked.
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“The 11th time, as I stood beside her desk in front of the class, sobbing my head off, she explained that she was ready for the final copy.”
“Doesn’t sound fun,” Em replied.
Years later, I had an editor we named “Dink Master,” because he would “dink” with copy even if it was not needed.
This created conflict to the point that my then-Managing Editor John Seelmeyer (who now runs Reno Business Weekly), and I had several meetings about my annoyance. In my defense, others were also meeting with John, who is a laid back, a wonderful writer in his own right, who had loads of experience over us all – Dink Master included – and was worth listening to.
(John was also constantly on us about reading “Elements of Style.”)
“Karel,” he said during one of our meetings, “discomfort means you’re growing and learning.”
But it did nothing to end the conflict.
That happened when John called myself and Kyra, a fellow journalist, into the office and said, “Girls, I don’t care what it takes, here’s my credit card. I want you to take (Dink Master) out for drinks, get really drunk if you need to, whatever, but get this worked out.”
We did. We got really trashed. And reached an understanding that grew to respect, to the point that years later I admitted he’d taught me a few things and vice-versa. But only because of John’s easy-going persistence. And the use of his credit card.
One of my best writing coaches ever was Tim (last name not important).
Tim was a curmudgeon who kept a bottle in his desk. One day, donning his Santa hat, his long white beard blowing around him, Tim decided to take a scooter for a drive, crashed in the parking lot and was still in a cast at his springtime wedding.
The insanity and drama caused by his oft-drunken antics were a small price for his editing.
He was genius in his writing and a good teacher no matter how long the night before might have been; brilliant moments interspersed with ranting phone calls.
“Tim, I don’t mind that it’s 3 a.m., but if you want to yell, save it for daylight.”
He’d be sheepish the next day.
Enter Christy Chalmers, who, during my job interview, asked what my greatest strength was.
“I am a perfectionist,” I replied.
“Your greatest weakness?” she asked.
“That I am a perfectionist.”
She hired me anyway, and, today, she’s like a sister to me.
Editors make us or break us, but there’s something to be learned from each.
Now I have Barry, who’s thrown himself in front of a few of my potential writing train wrecks; asked me to shift perspective, which I don’t do easily, but Barry usually succeeds.
Behind every writer is someone trying to improve the material. Some edits suck.
Usually, the edits that most sucked, were the ones most needed! We just don’t always realize it.
• Contact reporter Karel Ancona-Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 246-4000.