Sunday, April 13, 2008

A new endangered species?...

Even though they have saved us from our worst literary excesses and even outright blunders, most writers don't like editors. And the feeling is mutual.
Writers are sensitive souls--generally intelligent and hardworking but easily bruised. Treat them right, though, and you will be rewarded. Writers shape words into luminous sentences and the sentences into exquisitely crafted paragraphs. They weave the paragraphs together into a near perfect article, essay or review. Then their writing--their baby--is ripped untimely from their computers (well, maybe only a couple of weeks overdue) and turned over to editors. These are idiots, most of them, and brutes, with tin ears, the aesthetic sensitivity of insects, deeply held erroneous beliefs about your topic and a maddening conviction that any article, no matter how eloquent or profound or already cut to the bone, can be improved by losing an additional 100 words.

If you're lucky, your editor will have lost all interest in your article by the time you produce it, and on the way to a fancy expense-account lunch, he will pass it along unmolested to the copy editors (apprentice fiends, with intense views about semicolons). If you are not lucky, your editor will take a few minutes to ruin the piece with moronic changes and cloddish cuts before disappearing out the door.

I didn't always feel this way. (And even now, nothing here should be construed to apply to the editors of TIME, who edit with the care of surgeons, the sensitivity of angels and the wisdom of the better class of Supreme Court Justices.) I have spent most of my professional life as an editor. When editors get together, they complain about writers with the same passion that writers bring to complaining about editors. [More of a brilliant and funny essay]
Of course, this is why we are drawn, often self-destructively, to blogging. Nobody touches our stuff. And way too often, somebody really needs to. Still, it looks like editor jobs may be the street car conductor occupation of the next decade.
For many writers, an important joy of blogging is that one can write without having the copy vetted by an editor. The downside is that a lot of the writing isn't nearly as good as it could be: I sometimes cringe when I reread some of my 2Blowhards postings.

Dean Barnett, who now writes for the Weekly Standard, mentioned that his policy was to wait at least 20 minutes before posting a blog item. I think that's a good idea, even for the political blogging Barnett does, when there is pressure to get commentary out the door as fast as possible while topics are still hot.

For what it's worth, I try to give a piece as many re-reads as possible, even when I need to post something soon. But waiting is better, and I breathe more easily if I can let an article sit overnight or even for a few days before going live. [More]
This is good advice, I think. They are ideas I'm trying to take on board. Unfortunately, it diminishes the Great Blogger Advantage: immediacy. I can make 5 comments/links/speculations before most observers have gotten to the office. And if only 3 are coherent, that's still way more output faster than the competition.

The Internet is roiling the writing profession, and when I see the talent I have read for years moving increasingly to blogging, I suspect my instinct was in the right direction. There is something to this medium, and we're going to have to learn to balance the pluses and minuses by trial and error, I think. The good thing is we can go through 100 iterations in the time the print media has settled in for a staff meeting.

Thanks for reading. And like USFR, I'll be working to do even better.


Anonymous said...

After writing farm life columns for 10 years, I have come to disdain editors. They have a talent for transforming a cohesive piece of writing into something that jumps around like a pogo stick.

Of course, that only applies to other editors. As an editor, I'm sure I would never do that to someone else's writing.

The 20 minute rule is a good one that I will probably continue to ignore.

Ol James said...

Blogging is like opinion's and...well belly buttons. Most everyone has one and there are no two alike, even tho they are similar.
USFR and you are doing a GREAT Job!!! Don't change.

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

Blogging is just plain fun! I appreciate the many perspectives that folks write about.