Friday, May 1, 2009

What is wrong with punching an editor in the face?

Okay, so today I open my email messages to find that article I wrote for The Escapist has been edited. That's a good thing, because you know it's gotten so far along the production line they're giving it polish before they whack it up on the intersplice/tubes.

My reaction to editing, in particular getting marked-up stuff back has always been the same, and I suspect it's the same for most up and coming writers or journalists. First there's the wince, and then you don't want to look at it. There's always that moment when you think "damn, that's a lot of red marker".

That initial experience is a really bad one. You just feel bad about your writing, and start to think you may not make it in this business after all. Okay, so maybe it's not that dramatic, but it's certainly no stroll on the boulevard. What I like to do when confronted with this feeling is to go away for about five minutes, and do something you really enjoy doing.

For example, this morning when I got the feedback I first winced and then went to spy on the comely lass next door with a telephoto lens. Okay, so I watched a bit of Seinfeld. Whatever, it's not important. Anyhow, when I came back five minutes later with an open mind and fresh perspective, I noticed the things they changed were to fit the style of their publication and a few things which were a bit stodgy with my writing.

They changed quite a bit, but often the changes were incidental and didn't mean a thing in the broader scheme of the article. I know that's what a good editor or sub editor does. They change the article without changing the crux or the style of it too much. Often, you'll see something changed and you can't figure out why they did it, but it doesn't make the article any worse and that's the mark of a good sub.

Back to my article. So I get the mark-up back, and everything's pretty standard. My article's not a complete mess, and they're just changing it to fit in with the style of the publication. Now, they removed a couple of my quips and softened it up around the edges (I was writing about a form of political protest), so why didn't I complain?

First of all, I'm not working for a major metropolitan newspaper with a readership nudging the million mark. So I know that the changes are not going to change the perceptions of me as a writer to a lot of people. Secondly, it's their damned publication and they're paying me to write the thing.

This is very important. I've spoken to a number of people about making the transition from student to professional, and the bitter squabbles you get into over incidental crap in uni will get you fired out in the real world. In uni, it'sperfectly fine to bitch and moan about every single little change which is made to your work (I often encouraged the people whose work I edited to contact me if they had any concerns) because it's a learning environment where you can ruffle a few feathers.

In the real world, if you march into an editors office with your incidental problems the standard line will be "Oh, I'm sorry we changed your work. I thought we were paying you...maybe we should stop paying you". Of course, this is second-hand stuff so my sources may be exaggerating but there's a way of dealing with criticism.

You go away, you get rid of any negative feelings and you look at them clearly and rationally.

Of course, if they change your article for the sake of pursuing ideological whims, march into their office and give them a piece of your mind. Stand up for your work and what you're trying to do as a journo, but pick your battles carefully. When newsrooms are downsizing and the economy is in the shitter, you'll do well not to unduly rub anyone the wrong way.

Especially those who sign the cheques.

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