I am a complicated person.
One day you’ll find me loftily tossing away the instruction manual for my “much assembly required” bookshelf, and the next I’m picking through search results for “best floss.”
I simultaneously love process, order, structure, and organization, and enjoy sending it all up in flames. (Ask my college best friend about the time I undid his perfectly alphabetized DVD collection when he wasn’t home.)
As a writer, I embraced this Pandora’s box of eyebrow-furrowing paradoxes. “Call it my complex creative spirit,” I probably said, on one of my high horse days (to which there was much eye-rolling in the land). You can usually get away with such woo-woo excuses when you’re a writer because, let’s just say it already, no one really expects you to be super reliable.
You know it’s true. Writers rank up there with dreamcatcher makers, crystal collectors, self-proclaimed animal mediums, and Santa Claus in terms of how much adult people believe in us.
It’s part of why a lot of editors and writers fight.
I probably would have continued shrugging off my inexplicably annoying writer tendencies had it not been for the opportunities I’ve had to become an editor, most recently moving out of my former post as proofreader to the stars (shine bright, shine far) for a new challenge: Managing Editor here at CYC.
Channeling my “you don’t need the instructions for the cable box” self, I dove in without buckling my seatbelt, caring not if my hands and feet were inside the vehicle at all times. As most sink-or-swim learners can attest to, you fall down a lot with this method.
For me, being a Managing Editor helped me constantly self-reflect on my own journey as a writer, editor, and well… person.
With one foot in both of these editorial camps, I’ve gained some lessons applicable to both the writers and editors of the world alike, and picked a few favorites to share.
I’ve worked in many a different writing atmosphere in my life so far: college newspaper staff, university alumni magazine teams, organizational communications departments, freelance writers’ pens.
Each one had their own system, and each one I tried to beat.
When someone gives me a deadline, my natural follow up question (that I usually say only to myself) is “But when is this actually due?”
For the editors reading, I know…. Ready your rotten tomatoes and eggs to throw.
As a writer, I need hard deadlines because otherwise… nothing would get created ever. Have you seen the Tim Urban’s TED Talk “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator”? Dats me.
The instant gratification monkey up in my brain is one convincing MFer, who is responsible for why I have called the customer service numbers on the back of many food packages in the hopes of getting free coupons when I should have been, I don’t know… writing?
I will get you that draft when it is due, and not a moment sooner. (There are exceptions… shining diamonds in the rough in my history of midnight draft submissions.) Never really thinking about the big picture of the writing/editing process, I thought my just-in-time submissions hit the mark.
Then I took the helm as Managing Editor and witnessed the bird’s eye view of an editorial calendar, and I realized that the whole editorial process is a whirring machine, relying on the many different players pushing the post or article along in a timely fashion… assuming there is a draft to work with.
Meaning all my writerly hemming and hawing, deadline extension requests, and shitty first drafts (that I submitted) caused the machine to work overtime, or essentially made other people’s (managers, editors, formatters, etc.) lives harder. I soon realized the Job-level patience that former colleagues and bosses had used with me in the past.
Now, I would not say I have a 100-percent success rate of on-time draft delivery, but it’s surely improved.
Editors, when writers understand the bigger picture and process, they’re more likely to turn in stuff when you need it and not at the absolute last minute. Talk with your writers and tell them not just what you need, but why.
And writers, I promise there are practical ways to make inspiration strike at moments other than the day before the deadline. Seriously. Try putting yourself in your editor’s place; make their life a little easier by not always treating the drop dead date as your goal. It can be done, I swear.
Come by one of the soirees held at my home, and you’ll notice that among the conversation threads, one topic always seems to show up: Gina is terrible at getting back to people.
At one such event last year, friends from different circles were meeting and mingling, when out of the cacophony of sound I heard it: “She doesn’t text you back either? I thought it was just me!”
ALERT ALERT ALERT … DANGER DANGER … weeeoooooh weeeoooh … (that’s an alarm for those of you who don’t have the sound turned on)
Before I could frantically redirect the dialogue, everyone was swapping stories about times they knew I ignored or screened their phone calls, left their messages on Read for days or even weeks at a time, and how I considered a 3-day window for returning texts perfectly reasonable.
I’ll admit, Gina the person is bad at communication.
So, as Managing Editor, I had to get my shit together — a la scheduled calls, promptly responding to messages, email follow-ups… a whole new wooooorld!
With my perspective flipped around (being the chaser instead of the chasee), my perceptions of appropriate communication norms ever-so-slowly began to tilt.
In a perfect world, everyone would plan ahead, respond to messages, answer emails promptly, and cross the street at the crosswalk. But we all know the world does not work like that. (See: 2017).
So, when you go from ‘person who turns things in’ to ‘person who has to make sure other people turn things in’, usually a different approach is needed. It starts with you — I’ve found that being responsive to others makes it a helluva lot more likely people will respond to you. What magic!
While writer Gina is cool like a cucumber in the fridge, I soon learned that Managing Editor Gina needed to reach Siri-level heights of remembering to set reminders, follow-ups, check-ins, and other such digital pokes, instead of my previous go-to: reading messages and forgetting about them.
Along the way, I realized that all communication styles are not created equal. Editors need to develop strategies for communicating with the Ginas of the world, as well as the people who are already kicking ass in the communication department.
Some people are phone call oriented. Others prefer chat. Email can be the golden goose, or maybe it’s time to get a carrier pigeon.
Getting to know people helps editors figure out these nuances and helps make communication more fluid all around.
Making a point to communicate well can actually make writers’ lives much easier, too. If you’re a deep work type of creative who doesn’t want to be disturbed by buzzes and pings when you’re ‘in the zone,’ come up with dedicated times at the beginning and/or end of the day to get back to people who are trying to reach you.
As a writer (and person), I am painfully aware of my own failures to do simple communication tasks. But it took being an editor to really learn from them.
I used to have epically visceral reactions to my work being edited. Like, legit “keep your crusty hands off my draft, you scoundrel” type sensitivity.
Writing is vulnerable as hell. Being a professional writer means you’re constantly putting yourself out there for the masses to judge and criticize.
If you write for a living, then you’re kind of supposed to get over it, right? Stop feeling sensitive or attacked when someone hacks up the work of art that you sweated out in the dead of night or pored over for days, tweaking every minute detail?
That doesn’t happen. Sure, we as writers get more comfortable with the process over time, but having your work edited is never devoid of emotion. Your ‘darling’ words always intertwine with you, the person, some way or another. And while you might intellectually understand that you have to kill them off sometimes, their death is not always without mourning.
Damn, that got dark pretty fast… Puppies and horses that are friends! Kids who befriend their mailman! Anything from Upworthy!
(Are you in a better mood yet?)
Anyway, when I first made the jump from mostly writing to mostly editing, remembering the feelings side of this whole thing became a key lesson I’ve held onto.
To demonstrate, an anecdote from my earlier editing days:
When I was “Editor at Large” of our college (a title I don’t think will ever be topped by how cool it sounded… like I was making off in a convertible with a red pen, shouting “You’ll never catch me, suckers!”), I had the sometimes uncomfortable task of editing one of my good friend’s articles.
She wrote me an email one day: “You didn’t say one nice thing about my article.” In the message, she wrote about how when I edited her pieces, I was all red pen slash-and-burn and very little, if any, positive encouragement.
At first, I got defensive — I’m just doing my job! — but after consideration, I realized she was right. Yes, it was my job to point out her mistakes or places to fix, but without taking the time to also celebrate her victories of the pen, I had turned her writing journey into a daily trek through the inky battlefield of “wrong,” “fix,” “change.”
That’s not exactly the Disney World of funtimes to wake up and do every day.
That lesson continued to ring true as I became Managing Editor, where I not only worked with people’s writing but also, well… people. I realized the importance of keeping in mind people’s life circumstances or changes, current stress levels, or other such seemingly unrelated topics in my process.
Sure, my job is to make sure that a post or article improves in quality, meets certain standards, pleases a client, or otherwise is up to snuff. But it is just as much my job as an editor to ensure that the road to meeting those requirements gives kindness to the person behind it.
Empathy is a good practice for life in general, but even more so for an editor.
I now realize that writers have a tough task — thrusting their vulnerability into the spotlight — so editors have a responsibility to understand that and deliver feedback or other directives tactfully.
If you want to learn how to deliver better feedback, a good start is the “compliment sandwich,” where you say something positive, offer constructive criticism, and then follow it up with something encouraging.
Writers, try your best to remember that edits aren’t meant to be personal attacks. You and your editor have the same goal: to make your work better. Remind yourself of this when the edits hit your soft spot.
If there is one thing I have learned from growing up and through different life experiences, it is that there is almost never one right way to do anything — and almost nothing stays the same, so stop trying to control every aspect of your life, you ninny. (Filing that away for “possible future toasts I’ll give at weddings.”)
Over the last year, sometimes I have logged onto my computer and kicked serious ass. Ran Trello, managed pitches, scheduled meetings, coached writers, coordinated calendars, and all-around ran the CYC ship like a well-oiled m-f-ing machine.
On other, grasshopper days, I hopped between approximately 36 browser tabs, confused myself, forgot deadlines, and left my to-do list totally abandoned in a flurry of stress.
Just as I am as a writer, or as a human being, I am inconsistent… Sometimes to a puzzling degree.
I can’t say with any degree of certainty, now that I have been a Managing Editor, that I will become a precrastinator, always answer my messages in a timely fashion, or put Brené Brown to shame with my emotional intelligence.
But what I can say unequivocally is that the opportunity to put on a new hat, try on glasses, and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (why are all empathy clichés related to fashion?) has helped my ability to understand others in my industry, and myself, even just a little bit more.
Some days that means I’m the loopy writer whose siesta was interrupted by reminder pings that her draft is late. Other days I’m the sergeant-apprentice, trying to make the world go round with the efficiency of the German train system.
I’ll probably never be one thing all the time. But experiencing the day-to-day life of more than one group has taught me valuable lessons I can use wherever I may land.
Gina Edwards is an unapologetically snarky blogger with a love of parentheses (but who isn't?) and beer with funny names. She's currently be-bopping around Santiago, Chile on her bike, teaching her native language to fancy people. Her skills include making hilarious puns, no-bake cookies, and mountains out of molehills.