“My rambling brat (in print) should mother call, / I cast thee by as one unfit for light, / The visage was so irksome in my sight.” — Anne Bradstreet, “The Author to Her Book”
Dear Montana Kaimin,
The other day, I sorted my portfolio and a certain stack of newspapers and remembered completing my undergrad at the University of Montana.
The worst part was definitely Spanish, in which I mainly learned charades and spent all-nighters memorizing las palabras and asking: 1) What the hell am I doing in life? and 2) Did I really just eat half this cake?
The best part, however, was working for you—and you, at least, answered that first question. I was a paid copyeditor for two years and also published twenty-three columns beneath a cartoon that made me look like a panda. Editors spent more time playing Nintendo than dropping stories in the slot, and occasionally a photographer would throw up in a garbage can before the paper went to print at midnight. I learned AP style, began building my portfolio, and heard terms like “pitch,” “copy,” and “slug” for the first time. We squeezed homework in between stories, and no one ever cleaned the microwave. It was the best part of my college experience.
But there was a catch.
My published columns were never exactly the columns I wrote—and I hated you for that. It could have been anything: a disrupted sentence structure, a rearranged paragraph, a misplaced semicolon. Goddamn you all! I’d protest the whole thing by refusing to bring home copies on pub day. I’d read it once, slam it on a bench, and tell it to think about what it had done wrong overnight.
But as it turns out, dear Kaimin, you were right more than you were wrong, and I’m sorry for being that temperamental writer. I knew almost nothing about editing—or writing, for that matter. I was brand new to publishing and just didn’t like my things touched.
The reason writers hate being edited is simple: No matter how you slice it, to be edited is to be criticized. Not only that, but our writing projects are our babies, and it’s hard not to come out swinging.
I’ve since come to appreciate collaboration and the role of an editor. I moved on to another publication, and my articles are usually better after a good developmental edit, even if it still stings; new ideas just make a strong piece stronger. And, as we’ve learned from this blog, even editors need editors. Although it’s true too many hands can make a mess, and, yes, I’m still right about avoiding words like “munch” and “lavishly,” the pros outweigh the cons.
And that’s a lesson a thin-skinned writer has to learn.
So, I’m sorry, dear Kaimin. I loved you then, but I love you even more now. Thanks for being the best part of my undergrad and for being my first—the first to give me professional writing and editing experience, the first to publish my column, and the first to take a whack at my writer’s ego.
All my love,
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