THE HAZARDS OF BEING AN EDITOR
THEY ARE GOOD values, those fundamental tenets taught us by the Judeo-Christian culture. Those beliefs have enabled us to build America, cure polio, go to the moon and feed the poor. But, as a former writer for this magazine used to say, no deal is perfect. There is one glaringly erroneous but widely held value that runs throughout our culture. We revere writers to the point of imitation. We think, God help us, that a good education is not complete unless we are writers.
That fundamental misunderstanding of reality is both a curse and a blessing for those of us who put bread on our tables and unleaded in our Toyotas by calling ourselves editors. It is usually a curse. It fills our offices with writing dentists, writing lawyers, writing librarians, writing aviators and even writing writing teachers. They are a diverse lot, but generally share one common trait: They can’t write.
The writer’s curse extends beyond those to whom writing is a hobby and real estate or architecture is a profession. It causes thousands of our young people to waste big chunks of their lives in the halls of academe, studying journalism or English, reading Thomas Wolfe and Tom Wolfe, and dreaming of the day their essays will grace the pages of Esquire and The New Yorker.
The odds of entering a college or university and emerging four years later as a writer are about the same as entering a Las Vegas casino with two bucks and a yen for three-card monte and emerging a millionaire. (In some cases your casino odds are going to be a little better than your college odds; it all depends on what casino you choose and how long it’s been since the house has been beaten.)
But the fact is that those of us who aspire to be writers are not a reasoning lot; we are driven by romanticism and ego. (I speak from personal experience.) We are, as a group, willing to work long hours for short wages and the thrill of seeing our names in print. We labor under the naive concept that by reporting to you that Councilman Smedlap overspent his budget by $31.62, or that the quiche is overcooked at Chez Fred’s, we are somehow changing the course of history. We think each story marks a small stride for mankind and moves us a step closer to our first national best seller.
For years a controversy has raged in the editorial offices of D with regard to journalism graduates. Wick Allison, founder of D and now president of its parent company, has always held that journalism graduates make horrible journalists -and worse writers -and therefore should be categorically barred from consideration as job applicants at D. For years, I was the only journalism graduate on the staff, an exception that Wick said merely proved the rule. Since I invested four years of my life in journalism school, it is, of course, incumbent on me to take a differing view.
My experience with graduates of college journalism programs as magazine writers has yielded this unmistakable truth: Journalism schools are benign, not malignant. There is nothing about going to journalism school that will keep an eager, smart and well-motivated young person from becoming a good writer someday. Therefore, in dealing with potential contributors to this magazine or potential employees, I never hold it against someone if he has been to journalism school. He is generally no more qualified to write than someone who attended the Midas Muffler Academy, but is certainly not less qualified.
The fact is that there is no set of credentials that identifies a person as a writer, a creative person who can put words on paper in a manner that other people will pay to read. Writers are rich and poor, sophisticates and slobs. One of the most talented members of the Fort Worth journalism community for many years, for instance, was a charming individual who had this problem with green teeth. If only he had brushed them once every time that he wound up in jail for public intoxication, he would have had a blinding smile. But, boy, that guy was good at the typewriter.
By contrast, one of the best writers D has ever had, contributing editor Jo Brans, is an impeccably groomed woman who looks like a schoolteacher, probably because she is. She is one of those rare writers who is good enough that, as an editor, I basically don’t care what topic she chooses. Good writing is good writing. “What do you want my story to be about?” she asks. “About twenty pages,” I reply.
The dilemma facing all editors is that there is no simple way to tell a Jo Brans from the bus loads of also-rans who would do us all a favor if they’d simply give up and take up stamp collecting or some other form of self-entertainment. True writers are born and made. They have an innate creativity (there is no substitute for it and there is no way to teach it) and they have usually sharpened that talent through the learning process, be it in a college or at the magazine rack of the corner drugstore. But there is just no way to spot them by perusing their resumes or glancing through clippings they have written for other publications. (Sometimes, excellent clippings can be the work not of the writer but of a skillful editor.) And that brings us to my problem, and the problem of every other editor who cares about the quality of his publication.
There is no substitute for answering every phone call, discussing every story proposal, reading every manuscript (at least in part) that comes in. And that is why I do, and will, respond to everyone who has the requisite imagination – or audacity – to propose a writing project for this magazine.
It is my opinion that there are probably 50 people within a 50-mile radius of Reunion Tower who have the skills, talent and wherewithal to write a good magazine article. I only know of about 20 of those people, counting my staff and contributing editors. One of the parts of this job that 1 consider a duty is to constantly be looking for the other 30.
For those of you interested in becoming one of the 30, I suggest a few common-sense rules. Read our magazine before submitting ideas. (When you ask me on the telephone for our address or how to spell my name, that tells me you’ve never seen our masthead.) Don’t send photocopied query letters with “Dear blank” at the top. Never propose to write anything about J.R. Ewing, the “Metroplex” or Tony Dorsett. Never mail us anything you can’t afford for us to lose; we probably will. Most of all, however, don’t think that the editors of this magazine think over-the-transom proposals are categorically worthless.
I know someone who got a job with agood magazine that way. Me.
By D Magazine
Home & Garden
Adding a little spice on cold nights is a snap with these hotter-than-hot finds.
By D Magazine
Our portrait of Dallas: A daytrip through grit and glitz.
By Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons