Learning From Editors...

All right, so it was an automotive magazine. Even though I never owned one until after I was married (had been driving less than a year up until that time), I did feel some affinity with the inner workings of cars. I had spent many hours in mechanic’s overalls, fiddling with some mundane chore (taking out bolts, putting in bolts, retrieving various tools, etc.) for my father, who spent over ten years restoring a 1934 Ford with a rumble seat. I loved that rumble seat! At any rate, I felt qualified for whatever assignment they might give me… how hard could it be?

Of course, they wanted a sample of what I could do. They gave me a feature article that had been written for one of their clients by the man I was to replace (there were rumors he left to work for the National Inquirer), that had been rejected. If I could fix it up into something the client would approve, I would officially be put on staff. It was like the Fox throwing Brer Rabbit into the brier patch. Give me a set of facts, and I could arrange them into any flavor there was. Had spent years doing that. So, I poured over the last three issues of the magazine, fixed up the broken article to match… and I was in.

Thus began several years of learning the magazine trade from an editor whose teaching sessions were doled out in three to five minute sessions at his desk while he scrutinized my latest article. I stood looking over his shoulder while he read with a pencil.

"This is good…" It passes. "We don’t need this…" He scribbles out the excess words with the pencil. "OK… OK… this is great…" He chuckles. "This is crap…" He vehemently scribbles out the offending words. "OK… OK… good… crap… really crap…" and so on. The single most important thing I learned while working for this enterprise, was how to tell the difference between the good stuff and the crap.

Which is extremely important if your goal is to become a professional writer.

Later, when we moved farther north, the small town we settled in did not have any publishing houses or magazines in their local business repertoire. But they had a newspaper. Feeling fairly professional at this point (I had risen to the position of assistant editor before I left the automotive magazine), I armed myself with numerous clips, and applied for a position as reporter. All I needed to know was what flavor they wanted… exactly how did they want me to report things?

This editor was the full-fledged, journalism degree college type. "Flavor? For God sake – we don’t want any flavor. No slant, no bias, no nothing! Just the facts – the straight facts. We’re not running a factory for yellow journalism here. We’ll start you off with a couple of columns where you can’t get into trouble. Public opinion polls, and Coastal Cooking."

"Coastal Cooking?"

"It features a different person each week along with one of their favorite recipes."

Ah, yes. Interviews. No problem -- I was good at those. How could anyone possibly get in trouble taking snapshots and writing feature profiles of prominent local citizens?

You wouldn’t believe the kind of trouble a person can get into in situations like that.

What’s happening on the farm today: Pops is home and I’m hearing all manner of work going on in various corners of the place. Anything is possible. I might venture out of my study and find a doorway put through somewhere there wasn’t one before. Or some new renovation to the barn. A boat or canoe might even be taking shape out in the shop. The temptation is mounting to find out just what it is and any minute now I will have to go out and see…

Habit status: Day 13 round 2 (and tomorrow’s the big day)

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