Editing the Legs Off Your High Horse

by Bill Brenner on December 15, 2010

Erin and I were talking last night about the often shaky relationship between copy editors and writers. We writers tend to see copy editors as nitpickers who just want to make our lives harder. Copy editors tend to see writers as spoiled brats. But what happens when the writer is in the grip of OCD?

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR6HPzhlvoc&fs=1&hl=en_US]

I usually shy away from posts about the mechanics of writing and editing because it’s all so — mechanical. And it’s not really relevant to the topics of this blog.

Or is it?

The writers Erin has worked with for more than a decade are professionals covering a particular topic. They get paid to offer their expertise. But there are also the writers who do it for therapy. It’s a critical tool in any 12-Step program and if you’ve been treated for OCD like I have, writing is considered an important method for removing obsessive thoughts from your head. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Most of the time it does.

Here’s where the writers in Erin’s world intersect with people like me:

Sometimes you get someone who writes as part of their recovery program AND as a professional journalist. Most writers have a certain amount of prima donna in them (that goes for the guys). You turn in an article and feel insulted as all hell when the editor has the stones to change something or tell you it needs work.

Now, if you’re like me — a recovering OCD head case with an arsenal of addictive demons pointed at my head at all times — that tendency toward the prima donna becomes monstrous. That’s why I picked the song clip above for my mood music today. Because I’ve had many, many days where I got on my high horse over my writing performance and really did feel like the “Motherfucker of the Year.” That’s really what the song is about: Rock stars whose talents attain them a certain level of recognition getting fat in the head, thinking it’s their way or the highway forevermore.

People like us think we’re better than others. Even though we’re so messed up we can’t see straight.

It’s that type of person — someone like me — who NEEDS an editor.

A good editor can be a  lot like a 12-Step counselor. They’re ready and willing to take a buzz saw to the legs of your high horse. They tell you how to do better. That’s something every writer should be grateful for. 

There are bad editors who can make an article worse and leave a writer feeling dejected for no good reason. But then there are good cops and bad cops, good priests and bad priests. That’s life.

The point is that when you have a good editor, you should expect to be knocked several pegs down the ladder of reality.

I’ve been blessed to work with some great editors in my day: Gretchen Putnam and Al White from The Eagle-Tribune; Anne Saita and Eric Parizo from TechTarget, and now Derek Slater. Eric and I used to have some pretty prickly backs and forth and I after awhile I enjoyed and even looked forward to these moments. We made a lot of decent stories into good stories.

The latter three were well aware of my OCD when we worked together. They could have thrown up their arms, but they chose to work with me instead. I’d like to think I’m a better writer for it. And a lot LESS of a head case.

I still write from a high horse. I still need to have the legs sawed off from time to time.

I’m Narcissism Inc.

I don’t know if I’d want to work with someone like me.

But I’m aware of the problem and I work on it every day.

And I happen to be married to the toughest, most loving editors around.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel December 15, 2010 at 11:18 am

Totally in agreement with you, Bill – also agree with you about Al White being a great editor (never reported to Gretchen, so I couldn’t say). I’ve had some ordinary editors, but when I’ve had a good or even great editor, I feel like my writing is magnitudes better.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf December 16, 2010 at 3:37 am

Bill, I’m one of Erin’s colleagues. I love this post, and I especially love the post of yours that you link to, “The Freak and the Redhead: A Love Story.” That love story reminds me a lot of the love story of my husband and me. He’s not OCD, but he has ADHD, which he generously passed along to our two sons [grin]. Despite the chaos that ADHD brings to our household, he and I are still madly in love after 17 years.

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