Writing for the Internet Without Losing Your Soul #1: Hand in very clean copy.
This will be the first in a series of posted-whenever-I-feel-like-it thoughts on writing for the Internet. If you have something you’d like to ask me about writing for the Internet, send me a Tumblr ‘Ask’ and make it clear you’re asking as part of this “Writing for the Internet Without Losing Your Soul” thing. Or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll try and address your question/comment here. Let’s share ideas and complaints and advice.
These days, I am the Music/Film/Special Issues Editor at the Baltimore City Paper. After freelancing for seven years, I am on the opposite side of things, assigning articles, helping good articles become great, trying my best to teach young writers how things work so we have more good writers out there, and all of that. I am learning a lot. It’s wonderful. As you might imagine, I also end up with a lot of thoughts and opinions on writing and editing and I end up talking these things out with my coworkers and our amazing interns and writers both young and old and I think some of this stuff is worth sharing.
So, let’s get started: EDIT YER SHIT DUMMY.
The most frustrating thing I see online is copy just being dumped onto the Internet untouched. The writer files to the editor, and because the editor is busy with a million things or because they are not actually an editor so much as an assigner and perhaps, curator, they throw the article online and that’s that. This has to end but of course, it isn’t going to end and it’s only going to get worse. In "Everyone Their Own Editor" by John E. McIntyre, the Baltimore Sun writer discusses the way in which corporate shitlords that own all newspapers and magazines and websites are actually doing away with copy editors. The point is editing is up to you, the writer. You have to be your own editor before you file it to the editor. That’s fucked, but that’s how it goes.
The way I learned to write better was through editing. Editors sending copy back with notes and demanding changes or just pointing out things that I shouldn’t do or places in a piece where I cheated or insincere ways I presented my argument was very helpful. I also learned by filing a piece and then seeing what was changed between my copy and the copy that ended up online or in-print. I took note of those changes. I didn’t get mad at them or view it as my words being bastardized or some bullshit because I knew I was a fairly smart but still very green writer. Related: A post I wrote a while ago titled "On Being Edited (And How to Not Be a Big Fucking Baby About It)."
After the break, you can read one of the worst things I’ve ever filed. There are lot of reasons why: In June, I was working full-time at both City Paper and SPIN, so my time was crunched and my brain was fried, and I just didn’t have the time to focus on things like I usually did and maybe should’ve said no to the assignment. Not to mention, the evening I was editing this one last time (it was already about 9 hours late), these like 19 year-old art kids came over to my apartment to give my partner a tattoo? So I was super distracted. And if I’m being honest, I also on some level knew that Grayson Currin my editor, the best editor I’ve ever worked with, would probably clean my piece up a whole lot and if not, he’d at least give me some real talk about how badly I fucked it up and tell me how to fix it, and either way, the piece would be improved. I was being lazy. I’m sorry, dude.
But I think it’s instructive to see how a pretty weak piece was turned into a pretty strong piece thanks to good, attentive editing. And if this is going to be a thing where I inevitably call people out for being bad at writing or editing from time to time, I should start with my own shittiness. So yeah, here’s the version that ran in the Independent Weekly, in print and online: "Sage Francis helped launch a self-serious revolution, but he let it beat him, too"
Below the cut, the weak-azz version I filed. Make note of how Grayson fixed it. Then realize most editors don’t do that anymore.