Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When you fall in love with your editor

Back in the day
When I tell people I fell in love with my husband-to-be’s editing back at my first newspaper job at the old Transcript-Telegram, they think it’s a joke. Well it’s a kinda sorta joke.

I tell them I loved what he did with my words. I say it in a funny voice so they know it’s a joke. But partially true. Because in any area where you wish to excel, there can be some falling in love with the person you emulate. By that measure you can fall in love with a lot of people who are experts at the things you want to do better. Tennis coaches, yoga teachers, etc. Of course you’re not going to MARRY them all or want to marry them, though I did it in this particular case, resulting in three fabulous children.

There is nothing better for a writer than to have an editor who knows how to ask the right questions, how to make you delve a little deeper and find that extra nuance while at the same time making sure you resist the temptation to over explain and indulge in long-windedness. Like I really just did in that sentence, using over explain and long winded, which mean the same thing, but since this is a blog post I’m going to indulge.

I bring this up because I had the best experience working with Rebecca Hudson, the espnW editor for my essay about how tennis helped me recover from leukemia. When I wrote that I loved tennis, she asked me to delve deeper into why I love tennis. I really had to think about it.

It’s not always easy to explain why you like or dislike something.

When I reviewed plays, I sometimes wished I could say, “I liked it,” or, “It was boring,” or “It was a lot of fun.” Of course that would leave a lot of blank space. I had to explain why I thought this or that. A good way to go about it was to look at all the details — the setting, the costumes, the performers’ mannerisms ­, inflections ­— and describe them. In doing so I would give a picture of the play so that readers could see it for themselves and wouldn’t have to judge based on my opinion. And in describing the play, I would feel my own opinion begin to emerge.

So what about tennis do I love? The memories of my father at Atlantic Beach, but also the feeling that you get when you hit the sweet spot. I had gotten the memory part but had to dig deeper for the feeling the ball on the racquet part. Golfers probably feel the same way, or anyone else getting the passing perfect moment in a sport.

Becky also was great because as we went back and forth on it many times, she accepted my changes and suggested hers with good humor. I had to cover a lot of ground, starting with my AML diagnosis in 2003 up until today through the lens of tennis. At first it was way too long, so she suggested cutting out the early part by linking to my New York Times essay. I lived the writing of the Espn story for a couple of months in between doing other things. Occasionally I woke up in the middle of the night or early in the morning with something I needed to add or change, and she was always right there with me.

People have written about the interesting difference in tone when you text with varying punctuation, and the same applies for emails. For example, OK! means great; while OK (no punctuation) sounds either neutral or wishy-washy and OK. (period) Sounds angry.

My kids used to tell me when I started texting that I sounded angry all the time because I never used an exclamation point!

Even though most of us don’t use exclamation points in our formal writing, using them in texts and emails can be a good thing. I bring this up because Becky used them a lot when I sent her new versions, responding with OK! Or Got it! So I didn’t feel like she was angry or annoyed with a gazillion edits!


pamela perkins said...

How I remember when you had a 'crazy crush' on the editor -- your beautiful wedding -- your parents -- of course and then
Ben -- got him his fire helmet and yr Mother of course went to town!
Do you remember the little piano?
You and Jim were phenom for Sports --

Diana Louise Carter said...

There are a couple of Jim-isms that I can still recall all these years later that helped me become a better reporter. He talked me through a fairly traumatic reporting experience once -- I witnessed a fatal accident and then had to write about it shortly before the paper went to bed. He intimidated me to no end, but was a good editor!