July 23rd, 2008

Pleasing Everybody

I interviewed a painter the other day—a nice guy I’ve interviewed before, apparently 10 (!!) years ago. (It does feel strange to be able to say I’ve been at anything for 10 years!) I admire his work for its well-researched subjects (historical aviation pieces, they are), for its technical proficiency, and most of all for its sharp, photographic quality.

 

He said a lot of interesting things during the course of our conversation: that he tries to do something new with each painting, so he’s always learning and doesn’t get bored with the process (I do the same thing with quilting. Oh, yeah—and writing); that he sets mini-goals for each painting day, so the process doesn’t overwhelm him; and that he paints, first of all, to impress himself.

 

I wouldn’t have phrased it quite that way—I have only on rare occasions impressed myself—but I think the philosophy is a sound one for a writer, and I think it’s one I follow. I write to please myself—and it’s not always easy to do. So if I feel the plot of my final-final-REALLY-final draft of my MG (unless it’s YA) fantasy novel is stronger now, I know it must be. (Of course, this cockiness is pre-CP-reaction…) If I feel the manuscript of my very first novel, which is next on the re-write agenda, is infused with humor—I know it’s pretty funny. If I read one of my features out loud, and nod at my computer monitor before hitting “send,” and shipping it off to an editor, I know the piece is pretty strong.

 

But it’s important to remember that—muses willing—I’m not the only one who will be reading what I write. Luckily, I have a couple of gigs that remind me of that with some regularity.

 

One of them is my newest editing gig. I’ve been in charge of publications before, and am in fact in charge of one right now that’s considerably bigger (in pages and circulation) than this one—but never has my work been so closely read. (Okay, maybe by fact-checkers… but that’s a different type of reading.)

 

I recently wrote a piece I knew would be controversial. I wrote it with the blessing of the editorial council, and with a thorough vetting by someone in the know. So far I’ve only received one angry email and one phone call, which is waaaaaaaaaaaaay less than I was expecting. But the phone call cracked me up: the woman wanted to know who wrote the piece (I don’t take bylines for stuff I write for this publication, since my name’s so dang big on the inside front cover, haha), because she felt it was misleading because certain information was omitted. I’d like to know what she plans to do once she has the writer’s name. (I’d really like to know if I plan to call her back and tell her it’s me. I’m on the fence at this point.)

 

That’s just the most recent story. The best one comes from last month, when I ran a big piece on local high school graduates—a nice story by one of my trusty freelancers, profiling half a dozen happy teens. I wanted it for the cover story, but didn’t have a cover photo—just the senior photos of the profiled kids. So I turned to the wire service we use for this pub, found a great, bright and lively photo of some high school graduates from Maryland or somewhere, and used that. The caption beneath the cover photo ran something like this: “Across the country, high school seniors are looking back on their completed high school careers, and looking forward to new challenges, blah blah. Pictured here are Student X and Student Y of Generic High School, blah blah. Turn to page 10 to get to know some of our local graduates, blah.”

 

And I got an email from one of the readers.

 

“I’d just like to know why you put a photo of kids from Maryland on the cover,” she wrote.

 

I’d just like to know how much dang time she has on her hands. I mean, I’m not sure I read captions that closely. Ever. Even the ones I’m supposed to proof. You know?

 

But hey—at least I’ve got readers.   



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