Thursday, May 5, 2011

"I'm a writer."

Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I called myself a writer.

City council elections are next week, and as the political reporter, I worked on putting together a Q&A for the people running for the councils across the county. Everyone responded to me surprisingly well, staying well within their word count and happily providing answers to whatever I happened to ask.

Except one guy, who sent me three pages of responses.

My editor went nuts. It was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, and I had to find a way to trim this guy's responses down. I panicked.

Finally, in a fit of despair, I called the guy and asked him to come into the newsroom. I told him we could sit down and edit his response together. Surprisingly, he agreed, and half an hour later we were sitting in the conference room, looking at a copy of his response.

I went to work on it, cutting out large sections that were repetitive or didn't have anything to do with the subject at hand. He dealt with it with a decent enough attitude, though he would occasionally wince at my ruthlessness. To him, every sentence was painstakingly crafted and the piece was honed to perfection. It was his baby, and I was telling him to choose the best parts and leave everything else out.

Two pages in, he looked at me and said, only half-jokingly, "You're loving this aren't you."

I looked at him and frowned and said I really wasn't trying to be mean. I was just helping him trim it down, and I understood how he felt.

"No," he said. "You're an editor. You edit."

"Yeah, but I'm a writer, too."

He looked at me like he was surprised at what I was saying. But at the same time, I could see the realization dawning in his eyes. I did understand. I was acting like the editor just then, but I'd been on the other side, too, watching with horror as someone chopped away at my immaculate prose.

That moment stuck with me. And since then, I've had a different way of thinking about what I do. It doesn't matter how I write. It doesn't matter that the vast majority of my works are less than six hundred words. It doesn't matter if the bones of my real novels are written on a cheap laptop while I'm in my pajamas.

I'm a writer.

And I always will be.

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