Editing session 1: In which I realize I might not be nearly as boring a writer as my journalism would have everyone believe

I’m about to make a whole bunch of excuses about why this post is late. You can pick whichever one(s) you think is/are most convincing.

  1. I’m in grad school. For those of you not in-the-know, this means I’m constantly reading and translating into APA style. An annotated bibliography deadline is looming.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, I have other classes that don’t have anything to do with journalism. Unfortunately, these classes require some of my time.
  3. I, too, eat and sleep and (attempt to) engage in physical activity.
  4. Some of my best friends in the world are about to graduate college and scatter all over the country. I’d like to savor the time I have with them. Therefore, a night at our favorite pizza place and a day in Kansas City took precedence over this blog. I can’t promise this won’t be happening more and more in the weeks to come.

On to my first editing session, as promised.

I won’t lie: I was pretty nervous to edit with Jacqui last week. I’ve worked under her in class settings, but less so in traditional reporting ones. So I’m still learning about her style.

Spoiler alert: I shouldn’t have been so worried.

That’s not to say she wasn’t (constructively) critical, or that she let me off easy or that she didn’t give me a lot to think about to improve on. She did a few things that cemented to me how good of an editor she is and how much I can learn from her as I try to improve my own skills as a writer, reporter and editor.

First, she told me I needed to tell her what I liked from these drafts. Sandwiched between self-deprecating statements, I managed to stammer out a few things I didn’t hate. This helped me relax. It also helped set the tone for the rest of our discussion: one of mutual understanding and encouragement, not overt criticism.

What stuck with me was a remark she made, slightly off-handed, but powerful all the same. She said she was an editor who knew how to read a first draft, and not all editors can. I’ve worked with a number of editors and edited a fair amount of copy, and I never thought about how a first draft should be edited. Jacqui didn’t go into great detail about this, but these are aspects of our talk I picked up on, and I don’t think they were an accident.

  • Thou shalt not get caught up in copyediting.
  • Thou shalt not be critical without also being constructive.
  • Thou shall focus on nut graphs, big ideas and structure.
  • Thou shall send thy reporter off with clear instructions and good spirits.

We didn’t obsess over details. Instead, Jacqui outlined the big issues I needed to work on: eliminating jargon, getting to the point and drawing clear connections in my nut sections, and aiming for a voice that’s as vibrant and passionate as it is when I write recreationally.

When I left her office, I knew I had a lot of work to do on my rewrites, but I also felt confident that I could make those changes. Part of that is my slow acceptance that I’m not a horrible writer, just an improving one. I’ve been stunted in finding a journalistic voice that is closer to my casual writing voice. I know I’m not nearly as boring a writer as some of my journalism might let on. To get there, I need to relax and divorce myself from my notes.

And part of my growing confidence is how Jacqui handled the edit. She let me go on a mini-rant about why I think I’m struggling. She didn’t rush our edit despite the fact that it was after 5 p.m. on a Friday. And she didn’t make a criticism without justifying it and helping me understand how I could improve. I’m not ready to submit my drafts to the deadline gods just yet, but after digesting everything we talked about and trying to apply it, I was happy with my progress when I sent her second drafts this past Friday.

My editors constantly remind me how big a role compassion plays in the editing process. I could easily tear down a reporter who makes a mess of a crime brief or comes back bewildered from a city meeting. And as reporter, my editors could easily get on my case about using too much education-speak and writing veritable novels. But what’s the point? Nobody wins by acting powerful and throwing their weight around.

So with my head held high, and my bag weighed down by about 100 pages of education-themed research, I march on toward my deadline.