The Third Cut is the Deepest

We writers are required to have a thick skin. It’s right there in the job requirements, alongside other necessary qualities such as:

  1. Cat-centricity. Not to be confused with eccentricity, though that’s a common stereotype, too. Hemingway famously owned a white six-toed cat and I have Sydney, so it’s gotta be true.
  2. Caffeine and alcohol addictions. Surely you’ve seen writers hunched over their laptops in your local coffee shop. I was one of them for much of last year. And again, ol’ Ernest can vouch for the booze part.
  3. Introverted-ness. Anybody who holes up inside and spends large amounts of time creating fictional worlds isn’t exactly eager to deal with the real one.

Stereotypes aside, we do love words. Especially our own. So when we’re asked to tear apart creations we have obsessed over perfecting, it feels like a slow death of sorts.

Now, just to be clear, I absolutely love my job. It’s hands-down my best gig ever. As far back as college, I dreamed of working in the publishing industry. I still pinch myself every now and then, not quite convinced this isn’t some blissful dream from which I might awaken. I really need to knock that off, because I keep showing up to work with unexplained bruises on my arms.

So far, so good.

In the publishing industry—much like NASA—space is everything. A magazine has column inches that are guarded more fiercely than some borders. Stray even an inch over and all sorts of alarms will sound.

We’re in the process of laying out our fall/winter visitor’s magazine, and there’s a big section on food and drink. I spent hours diligently researching and writing this spread (pun intended) and was very happy with the final outcome. I delved deeply into the history of South Dakota’s iconic dishes and really put my mark on it. (Yeah, another pun.) By the time I’d finished, I loved it. Our managing director loved it. Our creative director didn’t not love it, but his job is to make sure everything fits neatly into the tight confines of a 65-page publication.

Guess whose article didn’t fit neatly into the tight confines of a 65-page publication?

editing

OK, so I got a little carried away. Maybe readers don’t need to know that “bison herds numbering in the millions once roamed the vast prairie freely” or that “Cornish immigrants working for the Homestake Mine in the 1870s carried pasties in their lunch boxes” when I’m just writing about buffalo burgers and meat pies (not nipple tassels, as some of you might be thinking). What can I say? I’m a completist. The characters in my novels all have carefully-developed backgrounds, so why shouldn’t readers know that kuchen (the state dessert) was brought to South Dakota by German immigrants in the 1880s?!

Well, because of that jewelry ad. That’s why.

FINE. I get it. But I can’t promise I won’t cry a little when cutting down my own articles. By the time our creative director sent the article back for a third edit, I was a brokenhearted, slobbering mess. On the inside, of course. Outwardly, I projected the same calm, cool, and professional demeanor that defines me. Other than wailing, “My words! My beautiful words! All gone!!,” you’d never know I was in any sort of distress whatsoever.

Thick skin, people. Thick skin.