In the land of editors

Up until now, I’ve used this blog to showcase published work, but now I’ll try my hand at free-writing. I can’t promise that it’ll happen everyday, or even every week, but I do promise it will be thoughtful. Vulgar rants and whines will be kept at bay while I tackle thorny subjects, with taste and class always.

The first one is daring. I’m going to talk about editors.

Future employers who stumble across this post, your judgment was kept in the forefront of my interests.

 But I had an editor who broke me.

At the time, I appreciated it. I was enamored with grueling criticism. I wanted it to make me better and I believed it was working. I take some solace in the fact that I learned plenty of things from him and that ”tough love” is necessary from time to time. Maybe we all need those “Devil Wears Prada”-type editors to lift us out of grammatical/ syntactical ruts. That’s what I thought and what I planned to write about one day, after my internship. I was going to tell the whiners of the world how Editor X made me a better writer and teacher of writing. But it’s been months after our professional relationship ended, I’m still trying to figure out if I can say that with true feeling.

I had a fresh internship waiting for me at The Kansas City Star in late May, and my self-editing skills as well as my confidence in my writing were on the fritz. I was questioning every word and every verb I put on paper. I didn’t think anything that came out of my mind was good enough, especially not for a publication like The Star. I panicked. I didn’t feel that any amount of reading or writing could make me better. My creativity was in a depressing coma-like state and I wasn’t sure how to revive it. 

Day 3 at The Star. My first big assignment: Zach Galifianakis story. Somewhere between writing about yellow, puppy-dog T-shirts and the Kansas designer’s booming supplementary retirement fund, I lost control. All I could do was sit in front of an oversized monitor and feel my eyes burn as I stared at the screen. It wasn’t writer’s block—there were plenty of things I wanted to say—it was pure fear. I wrote the story for Editor X. I knew there was a chance he’d see it.

I didn’t love one line in that story, but I hoped my new editor, Editor J, would. She called me over to talk through the edits and once again, I couldn’t help but feel confused and worthless until I realized that the things she changed were the things that Editor X would have thrown back at me and told me to figure out on my own. As a matter of fact, she edited out most of what I learned from Editor X.

I liked the edits and the way she delivered criticism. Both were more my style.

Seven weeks later, I’m still trying to make sense of it all, and I keep telling myself a few things. First, aside from feeling not good enough for Editor X, I had to have learned something from him—at least a few new things about common errors. For better or worse, tough editors, just like tough bosses, exist and must be handled appropriately. Second, if my editor at The Star continuously compliments my writing and growth, then I must be doing something right. Better still, she showed me how an editor-writer relationship should work. Funny how much easier writing can be when you love your editor?

At the end of this summer internship, I’ll take some time off. I’ll decompress and then return to this lesson. It’s sure to evolve in the remaining weeks and (barring any unforeseen marring of our relationship) I can’t wait for the new insight to overwhelm me… in a healthy way.

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