Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Editing: An Overdue Hug For My Dirty Old Man

The worst son of a bitch I ever worked for was an old rascal named X: a chainsmoking elderly richnik who dreamed of becoming a media baron in Toronto, Canada.

I hit the jackpot--so I thought--when a Hapkido classmate got me a writing position on X's special new project: a magazine called Odyssey. Salary: the then outrageous amount of $500 a week. After years of failure I lived the good life, I'll tell you. But at the same time I spent money like a drunken sailor I saw the writing on the wall a bit more clearly every day: X shot down every idea I proposed. Worse, he shot down stories on ideas that he'd proposed: "Jesus, kid you're brilliant--an article about a new gas tank that will reduce auto gas consumption...when some of our lead advertisers are involved in gas and oil. Moron!"

And so it went, for two hellish months, while I collected my heavenly checks, wondering why he'd hired me and exactly what he did want. At the end of month two I was fired without notice. The Hapkido classmate who'd got me the job told me that I was the third writer hired and fired in the last six months. And off the record we agreed on two things: the magazine appeared to be either a tax write-off or a vanity project. And: only a failed writer could enjoy trashing young writers that much.

Stop there: if we dare to start off with back story, we'd best have something worth the wait. So let's cut to the present and get to the point: Over the years X has evolved from a hateful memory into a useful interior ally as my Senior Editor. Oh, he's nowhere in sight when I start, that's for sure. It's party time, at the beginning, for the Muse and me. We make mud pies, we horse around, not a thought in our heads about making mistakes--or the extra time we'll have to spend to remove the kitchen sink that we keep throwing in. We ignore all thoughts of angry shouts that we're not cost effective. Party time, party time!

However, at the second draft, it's time for the Dirty Old Man. Let the brutal bastard 'fire' words, phrases, even entire pages if they're slacking on the job or if they can't carry their weight. Unlike the younger self who ate doody for $500 a week, I'll engage in knockdown fights with the current DOM about lovely descriptions or wonderful quips that he insists on cutting. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But I've come to find a balance between my calls and his.

And, with a sigh, I have to say I dig the brutal bastard. Still, I won't let him within a country mile of me during the first draft. Brutal bastards have their place--but they don't belong at a party.

4 comments:

  1. Clearly, you know how to put a brutal bastard in his place! Using the words the DOM intended to discourage you as motivaion to do stellar work... beautiful;)! Lovely to see his words didn't break you but rather made you stronger!

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  2. Thanks, Felicia. He was a miserable old man, that's for sure. But, still, I think he'd get a kick out of knowing that he's still around--though in reduced capacity.

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  3. I love the way you've turned such a horrid, soul-sucking experience around and used it to make you a better writer. Bravo!

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  4. Thanks, Reese. I can still hear that original 'dirty old man' sneering at me whenever I took time to rewrite a piece I'd written for him: "Polish, polish, polish, eh, kid?'

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