Tuesday, February 9, 2010


People say to me "How are you?" and I look at them blankly, not sure how to answer. I am so busy all the time, I don't have a spare second to look inside myself and discern how I am feeling, or to be more accurate, to come up with a socially acceptable encapsulation of what I am feeling.

I feel grim and tight-lipped, barreling through. That's how it feels now at work, where everything, it seems, hits my desk. All the sections of the magazine that others were supposed to take over when the respective editors got let go (or quit or went on maternity leave), now end up with me. The others who glibly said they'd pitch in are generally not around when their stories come through because they're part-time freelancers, or they're in meetings, or out of the office, or because they're executives who aren't really supposed to do this work anyway, and have bigger fish to fry. I don't know why they thought they could do it. I suspect deep down they always knew it would fall to me, they just couldn't say that out loud because it would have seemed insane to expect one person to cover all that. I wake up in the middle of the night, assualted by stray details: Did the art director add that call-out? Did I add that dot.com box to the end of the story? Did I fix that echo in the dek?

I'm supposed to edit the long features and top edit certain sections of the book, plus some admin and supervisory stuff. Now, in addition, I'm editing scores of department stories from early drafts through final proof. Which means the big features are about to suffer. To properly edit a big feature, you have to roll up your sleeves and wade on in. You have to mind-meld with writers, so you can understand their intention and push the piece just that much to help them achieve it. You have to hear their narrative voice in your head, hear the beat and rhythm of their sentences so you can edit within that, so you don't trample all over their story and co-opt it, making it something they no longer recognize as their own.

An editor should have great respect for the effort a writer has made. You have to approach each story with a kind of reverence, even. Even if the writer hasn't achieved what's needed, they have (with few exceptions) made a true and valiant attempt. And so you are to help them get the rest of the way there. Secretly, the story becomes as much yours as the writer's, your allegience to it is as great, you fall it love with it as if it were the child of your own mind, but you never want that to show in the edit. To properly edit a story is to be selfless when the glory is being given out. An editor of mine at Life magazine, the legendary Loudon Wainwright, told me this when I was a young reporter starting out: "When a good editor is finished with a story," he said, "the writer should read it and say, Damn I'm good."

I strive for that. I still do, all these years later. But it is hard now, to have that kind of mind-meld with a story, because as I'm weighing the words, piles of layouts keep landing on my desk, requiring my top read so they can move on to the next stage, and I keep getting called into meetings about art concepts and cover lines and schedules and on and on and I have to break concentration, again, again, again.

Deep breath. I'm about to head back into the fray. Thanks for letting me share.


  1. please hang in there. that place just sounds like one big mess. don't let them get the best of you. you're better than them!

  2. As a fellow publishing professional (now out of work), I can relate! The economic conditions facing our industry have collapsed so many tasks onto so few people. I'm sorry you have so much on your plate.

    Loudon Wainwright was your editor?! That's pretty amazing!

  3. Candice, thanks for the love and backatcha!

    Steve, I worked with Loudon Wainwright Jr. (not LW III, the singer who is his son) right out of J-school, and even as a callow young reporter, I knew it was something special. He was so effortlessly skilled and willing to share what he'd learned over the years. Yes, it was amazing.

  4. Just popping in to say that I hope things are getting better for you. :)

  5. taking a moment to read some archives , as you know I like to do..

    you just floored me with this.
    and you read my ramblings?

    oh my.