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Part 74 - Edit

You need an editor, whether you know it or not.

· frustration,mind

"Without editors planning assignments and copy editors fixing mistakes, reporters quickly deteriorate into underwear guys writing blogs from their den."

- G. Vecsey

Steve Cavendish stepped down from his post at the Nashville Scene to save jobs.

Steve is one of the best editors in the business. To have Mr. Cavendish edit your work makes you a better writer. Steve, like his predecessor, the inimitable Jim Ridley, is a writer's editor. He knows how to tease a good story out of the best of writers.

Precious first timers, who believe their words are magic and perfect, often weep and gnash their teeth at the gall of an "editor" altering their carefully-crafted prose. I once heard a young friend say, "I mean, it's writing. I've been to school. Why would I need an editor?"

She said this in front of an editor, a writer, and a songwriter (it's Nashville). All of us — writers who edit and editors who write and the one who crafts songs out of whole cloth (He works with editors too.) — we just nodded and smiled. We edited our knee jerk responses, which would have sounded something like, "Shut the fuck up."

If the naive and precious last through a few years of "cut-and-slash butchery" of their work, they start to see with new eyes. Their tastes improve. Sheepishly, they begin to notice the flaws in their precious writing, the unclear prose and unnecessary adjectival decoration. They start to understand the editor's vital, unsung artistry, and they begin to see the "butcher" as a surgeon.

A good editor makes a good writer better. Much better. Sometimes, he elevates a great piece to brilliance.

I'm not a great writer. I have moments of insight. On occasion, I can string together passable phrases to form passable sentences. But I am not a great writer. I am, generally speaking, competent. But even that's a bold claim, considering the crowd with which I run.

There's also the issue of dyslexia and (as I'm sure you've noticed) my inability to catch spelling mistakes. But I can tell a story. With a good editor, I sometimes even tell pretty engaging stories.

Steve never edited my work. My loss. If I've learned anything over the years writing for public radio, newspapers, and magazines, and composing courses, reports, and memos, it's that I love working with amazing editors. I not only love them; I need them.

Ben Adair took my very first public radio piece and turned it into a good bit of storytelling. David Krasnow has twisted and cajoled and teased my words to make a really fun (if small) body of work for Studio 360. Kim Green has worked with me over the years to the point where I trust her to fix my words without question.

Steve never edited my work. My loss.

Non-Sequitur Alert:

I have a notion we could all use a little editing in many of areas of life.

I look at yoga teachers as editors. They take a practice and help turn it into something better. Without yoga teachers, we might all "deteriorate into underwear guys," haphazardly moving through poses in our dens.

I look at trainers as editors. They take pushups and help turn them into better form and more useful movement.

I look at my lawyer-clients as editors. They take memos and help me turn them into treatments for telling better stories.

I look at friends and family and co-workers as life editors. By showing me a variety of beautiful ways to live, they help turn this life into a kind of artistry.

Steve never edited my work. My loss.

I have a notion that the Nashville Scene — a longstanding pain-in-the-ass publication that breaks hard news, shines light into dark corners, and pokes fun at the establishment — is in for a sad stretch. When the CFO takes the wheel and says, "[We're] ... in the midst of a changing of a guard, at all levels of the organization," I see a shift in priority, and not for the better. When the CFO takes the wheel and guts editorial in favor of advertising, we're in for fewer breaks, less light, and no more poking fun. (Advertisers don't like poking fun.)

I am heartened by the amazing editorial work from some of our oldest broadsheets. The Washington Post is a beacon of editorial standards and solid reporting. This makes me smile.

But when they say all politics is local, I think that may apply to journalism as well. The Fourth Estate needs bastions at the local level. The Scene's gutting of qualified editors is a sad turn.