I love words. Part of the pleasure I derive from writing is finding that perfect word to drop into is appropriate slot, and I find nothing more infuriating than a misused and abused word.
One problem this (unrequited) love engenders is a tendency to stuff everything I got into an article. Yesterday, my article on the Patch was an edited old blog post I had recently revisited. Of course, given my proclivities, “editing” might a slight reorganization, some appropriate word changes…and another one hundred words or so. What was once 1100 words grew to 1200, and I submitted it to the editor as such.
What ran was eight hundred words.
I’ve written about the pain of being edited before, but this one stung particularly deep. Each of those words was like a little child, and to have four hundred of them sent to the ash heap…ouch. Of course, this was smart editing, creating a tighter, more “readable” (even saying that gives me the taste of bile in my mouth [where else would I taste? See, extraneous. Leaving it in.]) piece.
Chris Jones has a great blog he describes as “about writing and words.” This week, he did a recurring “Five for Writing,” wherein he talks to another writer about their process, with Charles “F.U. Simmons” Pierce. (Note on Simmons: I love him, love his perspective and passion, he’s a fellow Crusader; not a great writer. And to be honest, I sided with Pierce on “The Book of Basketball.” Could have been much, much better.) Within the entirely readable post, Piece has a (fairly long) aside about writers and the relationship with editors. I felt the entire bit was worth reposting here:
But, first—a note about editors. I have been enormously lucky in my life to find good ones. I married the best one. At the Boston Phoenix, I had Bob Sales, T.A. Frail, now at Smithsonian, and the late John Ferguson, who also left us too fucking soon. At The National, there was Rob Fleder and, of course, our buddy, Granger, who shepherded me to GQ and then to Esquire after The National had its unfortunate accident while docking at Lakehurst, New Jersey—”Sportswriters are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement. Oh, the humanity!”—and my advice to any writer is to find a good one and latch on to that person as tightly as you can. One thing that drives me crazy, and this is especially true in newspapers, is the notion that you should take your best writer and “promote” him to be an editor. This is idiotic, and it happens all the time, and nine times out of ten you lose a good writer and end up with a mediocre editor. You can no more “promote” a writer to be an editor than you can “promote” a plumber to be a gardener. Totally different skill sets. Just to use one example—I am the world’s worst editor. Every change I make in a piece of copy makes the piece sound like I wrote it, and we all know how popular that phenomenon is with writers. The ability to work within a writer’s voice while leaving no fingerprints is a talent as far beyond me as landscape painting is. In between counting beans and worrying about the Internet, the people who run America’s newspapers should get off their ass, identify their best young editors, and train them AS EDITORS. Conclusion of the foregoing.
For a writer, there definitely has to be a balance between salving your own vanity and respecting the time of your reader. Frankly, I love nothing more than an overstuffed piece packed with arcane vocabulary, but perhaps the average Patch reader is not looking for a mental gymnastics session while perusing the local news. Perhaps. As if my writing career progresses, I’m going to a) have to learn to write for an audience, and not myself and b) come to a détente with editors. However, I promise that the Rocket Powered Butterfly will remain a place of ego-driven, unedited drivel writing wonderment. You’re welcome.
Oh, and the source of this post’s title is here.