Friday, May 05, 2006

Check It Out

I was reading in Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek about casting calls from hell when the directors and producers, instead of paying attention to the actor’s audition, are taking phone calls, reading the newspaper or chatting with each other. Basically, when they’ve checked out.

So I started thinking back to cases in my own experience as an editor reading unsolicited stories where I’ve checked out, whether it’s because I’d rather be outside running barefoot through the grass, sitting on the back deck with a beer or perhaps just propped up in front of the idiot box letting my mind rot watching one of the countless unscripted drivel shows that pervade all the major networks. Or maybe I was checked out because it was raining that day and I’d stupidly forgotten to bring an umbrella with me and I was drenched, or I’d just gotten in from a marathon session of shoveling snow and my back was aching and my nose was still painfully numb with a suspected touch of frostbite.

But I came to a realization that made me proud as an editor. And I certainly can’t speak for other editors, but here’s how I approach a project in which I decide what’s accepted and what’s rejected.

I try very hard to catch myself whenever I sense that I'm becoming checked out. And if I recognize the symptoms, I immediately stop reading the story and do something else. If I don't I'll likely reject the story, not based on the story or the talent of the writer, but merely because I’d given up on the tale before it even began. Like those checked out casting directors Wil was talking about.

Let’s pause to remember a few things here. An editor is, (regardless of what frustrated rejected writers such as myself sometimes like to believe), above all, human. They are prone to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So, though not purposely, it’s possible that if they read your story while having a really shitty day, they might reject it. Is it possible that they would have accepted the very same story on a day where the sun was shining, their supper hadn’t been burnt, or delivered late and with the wrong toppings or the baby hadn’t kept them up all night crying from an ear infection. Yes, it’s possible. One likes to believe that I truly brilliant story would cut through the rest of the bullshit in that editor's day. But as we all know, sometimes the bullshit can run so thick that we miss out on some gems.

And that’s why I continaully try to coach myself when I’m reading as an editor to try to catch those moments when I’m “checked out” -- if I do, I immediately stop reading the story, make a note that I’d started it and why I’d stopped and move on to something else.

In my own experience, pausing to do that has led to accepting stories I would have originally dismissed offhand, the way one absently swats at a fly as well as recognizing a good story by a talented writer that just didn’t hit home for the project, but prompts me to ask them to send me something else.

Doing this, of course, extends the selection process of editing. Sometimes to painful extremes And despite the writer in me, the one who anxiously wants to hear back on my sub now, not in another 3 to 6 weeks, I stick to this method. I try to sacrifice time and leaving writers anxious over rushing through the selection process and thus potentially missing a great story or a great writer.

That just wouldn’t be fair to the final project, the writer or to myself.


Spencer said...

I always thought he was a hottie! Have a wonderful weekend.

Anonymous said...

I think all the writers are appreciative when longer return times mean that an editor has given their story all due consideration rather than letting a box of manuscripts languish in a closet (which has happened to me) or has gotten distracted by a thousand and one shiny things (which I assume has happened at a few venues) or has bitten off far more than they could chew and then backs out after leaving authors waiting or short-listed for months (also happened to me... more than once.)

We appreciate updates like this too. Take the time you need. :)

lime said...

your method is one of integrity and deals honestly and fairly with your own weaknesses in a way the is not punitive to others. kudos! what a world if more ppl approached life this way

Fran said...

You can always be relied on to be the complete professional you are and strive to be. But I would like to know what would keep you from checking out when your wife is trying to have a conversation with you?