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Everybody, it seems sometimes, wants to be a.writer. “If I just had the time,” they tell me at cocktail parties, they would turn out great feature material about funny old Uncle George. And who am I to discourage talent? But when your life consists of dealing with people whose profession is writing, you get a little skeptical about the business called freelancing.

Maybe the last words on the editor-writer relationship were written recently by Jack Limpert, the editor of The Washingtonian, in the premiere issue of Washington Journalism Review. Jack gave me permission to reprint his remarks because he speaks for all editors.

You learn as an editor, Limpert says, to recognize a few basic patterns, such as:

A Death in the Family. A writer who’s done good things for us in the past hustles us for three advances on an upcoming Everybody, it seems sometimes, wants to be a.writer. “If I just had the time,” they tell me at cocktail parties, they would turn out great feature material about funny old Uncle George. And who am I to discourage talent? But when your life consists of dealing with people whose profession is writing, you get a little skeptical about the business called freelancing.

Maybe the last words on the editor-writer relationship were written recently by Jack Limpert, the editor of The Washingtonian, in the premiere issue of Washington Journalism Review. Jack gave me permission to reprint his remarks because he speaks for all editors.

You learn as an editor, Limpert says, to recognize a few basic patterns, such as:

A Death in the Family. A writer who’s done good things for us in the past hustles us for three advances on an upcoming piece. Each time because mother had to have an operation or there was a death in the family. How can you turn down a $150 advance request when the guy is burying his stepfather tomorrow? There can’t be many relatives left, but maybe he’ll get married and have kids.

Genius Speaks for Itself. The writer can’t spell, can’t construct sentences, but isn’t that what copy editors are for?

Flawed Talent. A writer with credits in New York and elsewhere comes into town. Has good references from local people, which I check out. Agrees to do an article on the Nobel Prize network in Washington, and on pepper, a subject on which he claims to be an expert. I reluctantly give him a $300 advance. This is back in December.

Some time later, get a call from a local restaurateur who says the writer had come in, interviewed him on the subject of hot piece. Each time because mother had to have an operation or there was a death in the family. How can you turn down a $150 advance request when the guy is burying his stepfather tomorrow? There can’t be many relatives left, but maybe he’ll get married and have kids.

Genius Speaks for Itself. The writer can’t spell, can’t construct sentences, but isn’t that what copy editors are for?

Flawed Talent. A writer with credits in New York and elsewhere comes into town. Has good references from local people, which I check out. Agrees to do an article on the Nobel Prize network in Washington, and on pepper, a subject on which he claims to be an expert. I reluctantly give him a $300 advance. This is back in December.

Some time later, get a call from a local restaurateur who says the writer had come in, interviewed him on the subject of hot food, eaten dinner, and bounced the check. We sent the restaurateur his $23.

Then in June I get a letter from the writer saying he had lost a political battle at another magazine and “consequently” was backpacking around New Mexico. He would, however, get the Nobel piece in by July I. The pepper piece, alas, had “not hit critical mass.” So I answer him, care of a New Mexico bar, and say go ahead on Nobel article, figuring I might as well get what 1 can out of the guy. Haven’t heard from him since.

They Come at You from All Directions. II call up my favorite restaurant one night to order a take-out pizza. The guy who answers the phone, a waiter, food, eaten dinner, and bounced the check. We sent the restaurateur his $23.

Then in June I get a letter from the writer saying he had lost a political battle at another magazine and “consequently” was backpacking around New Mexico. He would, however, get the Nobel piece in by July I. The pepper piece, alas, had “not hit critical mass.” So I answer him, care of a New Mexico bar, and say go ahead on Nobel article, figuring I might as well get what 1 can out of the guy. Haven’t heard from him since.

They Come at You from All Directions. II call up my favorite restaurant one night to order a take-out pizza. The guy who answers the phone, a waiter, asks me to look at a piece – the memoirs of a waiter. I say okay, pick up pizza and article. Give to our food section editor, who can’t make up her mind about running it. Every time I go into favorite restaurant, waiter is there asking me about it. Don’t go there as often.

The Strike It Rich Syndrome. A woman, a great writer, always needed advances. One of the rare cases where I personally advanced her money – $300. She also borrowed my personal tape recorder, took it to Boston, and lost it. Finally she went to New York to interview a film director. Moved in with him. I didn’t hear from her for a year. One morning got a S300 check in the mail from one of the film director’s companies. No note. Never got tape recorder.

The Keep Your Mouth Shut Lesson. A long-overdue piece arrives. Too long and wanders all over the place. Writer says he knows it’s not any good but he asks me to look at a piece – the memoirs of a waiter. I say okay, pick up pizza and article. Give to our food section editor, who can’t make up her mind about running it. Every time I go into favorite restaurant, waiter is there asking me about it. Don’t go there as often.

The Strike It Rich Syndrome. A woman, a great writer, always needed advances. One of the rare cases where I personally advanced her money – $300. She also borrowed my personal tape recorder, took it to Boston, and lost it. Finally she went to New York to interview a film director. Moved in with him. I didn’t hear from her for a year. One morning got a S300 check in the mail from one of the film director’s companies. No note. Never got tape recorder.

The Keep Your Mouth Shut Lesson. A long-overdue piece arrives. Too long and wanders all over the place. Writer says he knows it’s not any good but he figures I can help him rewrite it. All the frustrations of the past year come out and I really lay into the guy, tell him I’m tired of people expecting me to do what any self-respecting professional writer ought to do before he brings a piece in. He is shaken, but takes it. I feel better. Next day I get a letter from him saying by the way, the reason it took him so long to finish the piece is that he’s got cancer and the radiation therapy has been very hard on him.

Other Awful Possibilities:

“Listen, I know this has a different angle from what we talked about two months ago, but I think you’ll like it.”

“I need a quick response because I’m going to Brazil tomorrow for six months.”

“I’m a charter subscriber and my daughter writes beautiful poetry.”

“I don’t have any clips, but I was the best writer the Fresno Bee ever had.”

“This story is so hot I can’t talk to you about it over the phone.”

Editors react differently to all this. One editor we had could lie to writers better figures I can help him rewrite it. All the frustrations of the past year come out and I really lay into the guy, tell him I’m tired of people expecting me to do what any self-respecting professional writer ought to do before he brings a piece in. He is shaken, but takes it. I feel better. Next day I get a letter from him saying by the way, the reason it took him so long to finish the piece is that he’s got cancer and the radiation therapy has been very hard on him.

Other Awful Possibilities:

“Listen, I know this has a different angle from what we talked about two months ago, but I think you’ll like it.”

“I need a quick response because I’m going to Brazil tomorrow for six months.”

“I’m a charter subscriber and my daughter writes beautiful poetry.”

“I don’t have any clips, but I was the best writer the Fresno Bee ever had.”

“This story is so hot I can’t talk to you about it over the phone.”

Editors react differently to all this. One editor we had could lie to writers better than they could lie to her. Another sees every letter and phone call as a loaded gun. Which raises the question of why would anyone want to be an editor, anyway? Nobody ever comes up to you at a party and says, “That was a great piece you edited,” least of all the writer. You spend much of your time being a psychiatrist at much less than $50 an hour. You’re a welfare worker without the civil service protection. But then, who in his right mind would be a freelance writer, either?

than they could lie to her. Another sees every letter and phone call as a loaded gun. Which raises the question of why would anyone want to be an editor, anyway? Nobody ever comes up to you at a party and says, “That was a great piece you edited,” least of all the writer. You spend much of your time being a psychiatrist at much less than $50 an hour. You’re a welfare worker without the civil service protection. But then, who in his right mind would be a freelance writer, either?

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