Writer’s Desk: Be Nice to Your Editor

Your editor’s desk may look like this. Be nice to him.

Matt Zoller Seitz is one of our greatest critics. That means he doesn’t just have a vivid viewpoint on movies but that he’s first and foremost a lucid, enjoyable, and thoughtful writer.

In a piece he published on RogerEbert.com a few years back that listed some great advice for young critics just starting out—including “Just write, damn it”—this point stood out:

Always make your editor’s life easier, not harder. This is a job, not just a pursuit. Your bosses do not exist to make you feel good about yourself. They have to crank shit out, and a lot of them don’t care how brilliant it is if it comes in late or has accuracy or structural problems that they have to solve. Journalism isn’t filled with just-OK writers because that’s what editors want. It’s filled with just-OK writers because editors don’t want to have to put out fires after regular office hours unless there’s a damned good reason. So hit your deadlines. Turn in copy that’s as smart and clean and exciting as can be under the circumstances. Take responsibility for your words…

It’s almost impossible to say how important this is. Unless you’re out there blogging or self-publishing on your own with nobody looking over your shoulder, we all have editors. And we should. They’re the helpful folks who keep us writers from making fools out of ourselves with sloppy spelling, errors of speed (“its” when you mean “it’s”), and so on.

Be nice to your editors so that they can focus on making your writing better, not just cleaning up mistakes. Writing is a solitary activity that must turn into a team sport if you’re going to go anywhere with it.

Hit those deadlines. Be responsible.

Writer’s Desk: Render It Eternal

Even in fiction, when we’re writing, we are often reliving something something we already experienced. A thought, a view, a conversation, a stab of pain or shiver of beauty.

Part of the reason writers do that is simple: Fuel for the engine. But sometimes we write about an experience in order to go through it again, to remember what it felt like, get it down on paper, and let it some extent, live forever.

Anais Nin wrote in her diaries:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render it all eternal…

Writer’s Desk: Look Out the ‘Rear Window’

Rear Window is one of the great movies of the 20th century. Suspenseful, humorous, inventive, and skillfully manipulative; it’s the best of what Alfred Hitchcock had to offer at his height. It is less remembered for the brilliance of its sprightly script by noir master Cornell Woolrich.

James Duncan of Writer’s Digest teases a half-dozen writing lessons from Woolrich’s script:

1. When in Doubt, Cast Doubt

2. Pile on the Doubt With Doubters

3. Trick-or-Trait!

4. All Five Senses Builds a Fine Atmosphere

5. Location, Location, Location!

6. Juxtaposition is SO Romantic

Not sure how to make these work in practice? Just go watch the movie again. You’re welcome.