My world of gratitude is filling up to overflow today. Examples: Mary Bishop’s book shindig last night, my sickness seems at an end and I’m alive (though I didn’t want to be a couple of times), I have a date with my grandgirl Saturday to meet a man to talk about a book he may want me to write, I get to see Margie in a bit for the first time in a while, I feel the endorphins moving around. And more.
But the gratitude today comes from Mary’s soiree last night where a large group of my old journalism colleagues gathered to honor her and her new book. Today, my pal Rod Belcher wrote a piece thanking his editors over the years (one of which included me and I was touched at his mention). Together the two events made me stop and consider the value of a good editor.
I write alone these days and don’t always have an editor, much less a good editor (except when I’m writing for a publication). For years, I was an editor and developed my own style, much as writers do. The editors and writers in the room last night all know the value of the writer-editor relationship, though many of them gripe(d) about it their entire lives. It is a natural confrontational relationship.
I developed the philosophy some years ago that if I made assignments clear and took the time to write them out completely, the editing process would work better. Not many editors have the time–nor take the time–to do that and the result is rewrites, questions, re-thinking. And that’s not good in a deadline-centric business. I always liked to tell writers why their story was important to the publication and how I planned to use it. I instructed them that if my outline didn’t lead to the complete story being told, to call me and talk about it, with their suggestions.
I have worked for a number of editors who simply give you a minimal assignment (“Hey, would you do a story on John Jones?”) and expect a maximum result. Some want you to do deep research, talk to 15 contacts and turn in a 250-word story. Some will say, “That’s not what I wanted,” after not spelling out what they wanted.
I think the best editor I’ve ever had is my pal Kurt Rheinheimer at The Roanoker magazine, a guy who keeps the assignment simple, but lets you know what he wants, then takes your story and fills it out, if it needs to be filled. He doesn’t say a lot, but he doesn’t hold back and he trusts his writers.
So, today, I am grateful for the editors, both good and bad, because I’ve learned a lot from both.