Editors come in all types. Most of them, I think, start out meaning well. They want to do good by their writers and for their publication. But time and experience change some—not for the better. And when that happens it can have a long-lasting impact on an inexperienced but talented writer.
What I didn’t know until recently was that Pete Croatto, our sports specialist and a skilled, confident writer who works very hard, had come from such a background:
I think a large part of that mania comes from being a reporter at a small-town daily newspaper, where I was overworked, overstressed, and young. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes—which got editors angry—and pretty much meant they treated me like a child. It was a humiliating experience, one that ended with me screaming at the frustrated managing editor over the telephone.
Neither Nicki nor I can even imagine being that kind of an editor. Yes, when you have an unpublishable piece it’s frustrating. And scary. The tension as the clock runs quickly toward a fixed deadline is tremendous, and sometimes it comes out. But it shouldn’t. To me, this is an unforgivable action from someone who is supposed to not just supervise but mentor. Presumably older and wiser, certainly more experienced, the editor has the obligation to work with the writer, to make what the writer wants to say better, clearer, stronger.
That was 10 years ago, and I’ve been rebuilding my confidence clip by clip. But every time I make a mistake I’m filled with that hot shame of being 23 years old, rudderless, and at a complete loss of how something I love could cause such misery. I’m just now seeing that it’s time to get over it, that I’m human.
Fortunately, Pete has moved on. And become the writer he wants to be. I wish I could go back to that editor and tell him that whatever frustrations he had that day that he probably forgot them soon afterward. But his actions lasted a lot longer. It’s what I always try to remember in any interactions I have with writers. Humiliation kills. Kindness grows
Good writers truly are worth growing.