I’ve surpassed myself.
I have spent two-and-a-half days writing one story. And I’m still not entirely satisfied.
Yesterday, in desperation, I had Curly have a look at two draft versions and give me her suggestions. Not just her vote on which was better but if the story itself was boring and long-winded.
Yes, I admit that I had a problem pulling together all the people that I interviewed. But I think the greater problem is pleasing my boss. If it was up to me, I might have the story one way. But I don’t know what my boss wants. She’s never clear about what she wants. She can’t articulate.
But she can be critical.
In another historic moment a couple of weeks ago, she asked me to rewrite an entire story. I have never in my life been asked to rewrite an entire story. This is not arrogance. It’s just that I have been writing since I was a child and I did not do myself the honour of calling myself good but by the time I actually started working as a journalist I realised I was better than most.
But I’ve been an editor too. And it’s an editor’s prerogative to change things. Even if the writer is good, the editor has an objective perspective that the writer, being too close to the story, can’t have and I respect that.
However, asking a writer to rewrite the entire thing – from scratch – is drastic. If I was taking it personally – which I admit, after the initially numb shock and good behaviour, I did – I would be insulted. Especially, when objectively, after the rewrite I thought the first version was actually better than the second and because she rewrote the second version anyway.
My boss has a certain writing style – which sometime borders on cliched snappy – which might be wonderful in one, two or three stories but not every one, every week. Anyway.
The next story I wrote – which I think was pretty well written and well researched and even opened with a personal story which I hoped my boss would like except she changed it – has been gathering dust in the editorial system, half edited by boss so I can see changed the opening. Intermittently she asks me questions which are fair enough but really, the reason I didn’t include those details were because they were too technical. But I can’t say that outright so I waste an entire evening looking for the details.
See I’m becoming defensive.
And it’s not just me. My colleague Joy has it worse. Boss once took a look at her story and msned her on the lines of ‘that’s the most badly written thing I have read in a long time’ or some such. Shocked Joy offers to rewrite but asks for advice on what can be improved. Boss goes: “Look at it yourself and you tell me”. Joy, who has worked in journalism for a couple of years, is now thinking of becoming a librarian.
But even knowing this, the fact is I’m having a crisis of confidence. The one thing over the years I’ve been sure of is that I can – well.
But the other day, when boss came over and was doing fake chat, she asked me if I painted. And I said no, the only talent I have is writing. And then I looked and realised she rewrites practically everything I write and I added ‘sort of’.
I have now come to a stage where I am no longer sure if I can write coherently. What next?
PS: This is not the time, if ever, to be pointing out typos. I don’t edit my own stuff remember?