Saturday, May 12, 2018

[Daily] Saturday 2018.05.12 - Beautiful weather; McPhee on editors

It's a beautiful day in San Francisco, sunny, high in the upper 60s, windy. I forced myself out of bed to go for a run this morning. As I stepped outside and smelled the air I felt immediately energized—perfect running weather. For the first time, I made it first in line at Andytown.

Not wanting to squander this day, I wandered to one of the sunniest cafes I know, Neighbor's Corner. They were closed due to a power outage. I went to Hearth instead and read for a few hours: first, some of Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel and then a chapter of John McPhee's Draft No. 4. I noticed the days-of-week of Steinbeck's journal are almost aligned with 2018, and I had happened to have made it to early May, so I made an effort to read through Friday May 10; there's no Saturday entry and it picks up tomorrow, Sunday.

In the McPhee, I read the chapter on editors and publishers. It was mainly a portrait of William Shawn, longtime editor of The New Yorker (he held a tenure of 35 years) and the first of McPhee's editors there. The portrait was McPhee's lens through which he made points about editors: what they are when they are good or bad; weird biases even great ones can have (e.g. Shawn did not like reading about cold places or unusual food). I liked this particular passage regarding the role:
        Shawn also recognized that no two writers are the same, like snowflakes and fingerprints. No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of that fact, there is no real competition between writers. What appears to be competition is actually nothing more than jealousy and gossip. Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You develop yourself by writing. An editor's goal is to help writers make the most of the patterns that are unique about them.
        There are people who superimpose their own patterns on the work of writers and seem to think it is their role to force things in the direction they would have gone in if they had been doing the writing. Such people are called editors, and are not editors but rewriters. I couldn't begin to guess the number of onetime students of mine who have sent me printed articles full of notes in the margins telling me what the original said. An editor I know (not professionally) tells me that he sees this topic from the other side and most writers need what they get. He will never convince this writer. My advice is, never stop battling for the survival of your own unique stamp. An editor can contribute a lot to your thoughts but the piece is yours—and ought to be yours—if it is under your name.
I like that sentiment—it's not a novel idea, but well said. He goes on to talk about "nut graphs" in the next paragraph. This section brought on unpleasant memories from writing for The Tech (where pieces got edited last-minute by sleepy, overworked student editors to the point of inserting factual errors, and nut graphs were often discussed).


I have a chunk of coding to chew through this weekend, so I'm now home. Despite the work, I'm in enviable circumstances: south-facing window open a crack, a splash of rye in my old Facebook whiskey glass, listening to Seong-Jin Cho's Chopin Preludes.

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