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.

Screening Room: Roger Ebert

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Roger-Ebert-The-Great-MoviesRoger Ebert passed away yesterday after a difficult and lengthy battle with cancer, one he fought in public with eloquence and bravery. He was a movie lover of the first rank; one of those critics many of us admired without reservation. (The worst some would have said of him was that he liked too many movies; hardly a resounding criticism.)

My essay on this sad passing ran today in Film Racket:

It goes without saying that Roger Ebert, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 70, was America’s movie critic. It also goes without saying that there will never be another like him, especially not in these media-atomized times. No other critic was better known or (arguably) more listened to; at least as much as any critics are listened to about anything. His trademark thumbs-up/thumbs-down judgement was derided by some as being too simplistic, but really, isn’t that the first question people ask about a movie: Should I see it? Ebert understood that no matter what else he was writing about, whether it was Pasolini or Jaws: The Revenge, he was more than just a critic, he was a journalist for a large-circulation daily newspaper, and so had an obligation to boil it down…

Below, a couple of the better moments from Ebert’s old Sneak Previews show with Gene Siskel, which is where many of us who came up in the 1970s and ’80s first learned to look critically at the movies as a popular art form.

First, here’s Ebert’s take on Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, which he terms (correctly, I think) “too little, too late”:

And here’s Ebert’s heartfelt and thoughtful rave about GoodFellas: