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The Singer? Or The Song?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Joe Williams, Mar 14, 2008.

  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    This thought was inspired by the thread on Bill Simmons' piece on the tragic athlete death, and sentiments expressed here that the crappy fourth section of that piece (going by the consensus here), in which he lapsed into pop culture stuff about The Wire, "got through" because he is, after all, Bill Simmons.

    Should that happen? I often have argued that, since my byline was going on the piece, I was willing to take any criticism that came from the choices I made, in style, material included, material excluded, and so on. Anything short of profanity or something libelous, I felt, could stay and I would own up to it.

    At the same time, I know that the desk has saved me on many occasions and that a few particularly adept word handlers have polished some of my stuff into something much better.

    So should certain writers get free access into print (on paper or Web page) while others have the fingerprints of copy editors all over their stuff? And when does someone cross that threshold from their copy being eminently handle-able to being untouchable? Seems like good, rigorous editing would have done Simmons a favor in this case, but if he has a contract that prohibits editors from changing his copy -- or if he is such a prima donna that, in practice, it discourages anyone from handling his copy -- then he ends up losing, with a lesser story under his byline.
  2. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I've worked at a shop where I was told not to cut our staff's stories, but I was free to cut whatever content taken from AP or other newspapers.

    However, my take on it is, NO ONE's copy is sacred. If jgmacg gave me a story with tortured syntax (which I admit is probably nigh on impossible), I'd change it. And I'd sleep better at night because I changed it.

    I have no patience for prima donnas. If I had one among the student writers I have writing for me, he or she wouldn't be getting assignments from me for very long.
  3. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Active Member

    NO ONE is above editing. Repeat: NO ONE is above editing.

    Bill Simmons needs an editor. So does Mitch Albom, Mike Lupica and Joe Posnanski. So did Jim Murray, Red Smith and Grantland Rice.
  4. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    I could understand if some of the big-name egos in this business had a "Gotta call him about any changes you want to make" clause (official or unofficial). But I can't understand any "No changes!" treatment, just based on the times I've been way grateful that somebody caught something.

    Now, the "Change it and let him learn about it once it's published" approach truly does suck.
  5. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Great editing is invaluable to the creation of great writing. And great writers.
  6. funky_mountain

    funky_mountain Active Member

    sam mills is right on, and jgmacg is even more right on.
  7. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Active Member

    Yup. Not only is the hay already out of the barn, but it's also out there in front of the readers ... with the cattle's waste still in it.

    With some of the guys I've worked with in the past, changes usually did merit a call. A couple tactfully argued. Some whined. A few thanked me.

    Repeat: NO ONE is above editing. Especially Bill Simmons.
  8. PeteyPirate

    PeteyPirate Guest

    My mother tried to edit me once.

  9. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    It might look like different standards, but there is a subtle difference between breaking a rule out of ignorance and knowingly breaking a rule for effect. Editors (and savvy readers) know the difference, and in the first instance you change it 100 percent of the time and in the second instance you leave it if, in your subjective judgment, it works. It's not a status thing, it's a matter of giving no leeway if the writer is always a slob and giving a lot of leeway if the writer sweats and bleeds over everything and is breaking grammatical rules for a reason. Poetic licence, but first you have to qualify for one.
  10. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Thank you, Danny...
  11. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    If any of the young effin' studs here have any doubts about the importance of good editors - or about the idea of giving themselves over entirely to the process of a good edit - they should dig up some information on the giants. William Shawn, Harold Ross, Harold Hayes. Read the letters of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Lardner to know how important Maxwell Perkins was to them. A. Scott Berg wrote a fine biography of Perkins a few years ago. Would Raymond Carver even exist as a phenomenon of American short fiction without Gordon Lish? Impossible to say - but unlikely.

    And while I understand that most young writers at most smaller papers aren't going to get routinely great edits, or even good ones, they can learn the process of an edit: listening with honest humility to criticism in service of the betterment of your work; the give and take of this 'graf for that one - always polite but always firm; how to concede a point or how to win it; the best defense of your own work; when to let go of something you can't make work; and how to take it all in, process it, swallow hard and go back to the desk and make the piece better.

    Because one day, if you stick to this and it sticks to you, you'll be given the chance to work with a great editor. And if you know what you're doing, you can turn that opportunity into a successful partnership.

    I was given that chance ten years ago by a gentleman named Bob Roe. Every long piece or book I've done since then has had his hands on it, and I can honestly say that without him, my work would have amounted to a great deal less. A great deal less. He got me closer to the best version of what I imagined for that work than I could have ever done alone. And for that I'd like to publicly thank him.

    To really succeed as a writer, I honestly believe everything you do must be done in service of the work. Everything. Including - or perhaps especially - setting aside your own fragile, insufferable ego.

    Only a fool won't take an edit.
  12. Claws for Concern

    Claws for Concern Active Member

    I still thank from time to time one of the first guys who edited my text when I was a youngster in the biz. He made me a better thinker about what I and how I write and what's most important to the story. I'll always owe a debt of gratitude to him for making me better. Thanks AK.
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