That Writing Life

No one ever pronounced that the life of a writer would be an easy one. It’s definitely not the kind of career you go into thinking it’ll be lucrative, and today, it may be one of few careers left in the world still practiced because you love it.

To be a writer, there’s more rejection than you’d imagined, and everyone, everyone,  always has their two cents handy, all too eager to drop into the pool of judgment. Just how good or bad was your article or essay was? The same one you just spent all night polishing, which is typical of the life of a writer.  It can always be better. There’s always a chance to cut and paste and cut some more.  And it’s true how most people perceive writers. We are always in our heads and can’t help but believe our input is the best, or at the very least among the exclusive crop. But you see, this is because we know how high the level of audience brutality can be. The majority of us that showcase that bravado on our sleeves and foreheads, to the contradictory, we are overly sensitive and highly altruistic. It’s a protective shield for when readers and even editors alike get too comfortable in ripping apart someone’s passion as a hobby or absent-minded.  We want so badly for others to imbibe in our point of view. Those sweat, tears and in and out bouts of carpal tunnel are no joke, and what hurts as much as one’s mean spirited criticism is when they simply don’t care.

But good writing will always prevail, and a great editor that knows how to deliver constructive criticism is forever appreciated. A skilled editor effortlessly eases ego back into passion, and while not they’re job to coddle, when in occurrence, is eye-opening.  I’ll always remember Jennifer from ZINK magazine. The way she detailed how and why a sentence here or there could be fixed, and the way she was almost enamored with every piece she edited, when handed back to you, you felt reborn with the power to write great. You went back to the drawing board to be better than you were before. In the writing world, a great editor with a wonderful sense of wanting to nurture is a gift to the game.  There are those with the ideas, and the others to fine tune.  Yes. Teamwork can make any dream work.

Additionally, it’s a glasses wearing rat race to turn your originally unfiltered thoughts into a classy Op-Ed, or to be the first one to break a trend or realization of sorts. The process and the prospect of topics never stops. It’s really quite daunting, but we own the challenge. Everything is a story, and everything can be delved into deeper. One has to carry a notepad and pen (maybe these days, take notes on a smartphone) just to keep up, especially if they obtain a begrudged daytime or part time job. And every writer means well when they compose. It’s hard for us not to. 

There’s advice everywhere on how to be a better writer. Sometime the most valuable nuggets can be found by those not in journalism. A subjective response is highly valued because it purely visceral and outside of their element, and again, tips from fellow scribes in a humbling tone are also quite golden. The New York Times runs a section called The Opinionator, and October of 2012, Aaron Gilbreath contributed “Writing with Miles Davis” a beautiful study of the underrated idea of less is more in writing.  He uses the jazz musician’s talent as a beginning to end metaphor in encouraging fellow writers to not cascade their work with superfluous notions in order to get their point across.  This piece was passed along to me when I was an intern at VIBE, and it was the Senior, now Deputy, Editor that made me aware of it, believing it would be helpful…which it was.  It’s a template that is necessary to read time and time again. Gilbreath wrote:

Many writers fall prey to the quintessential American notion that bigger is better. They overload their sentences, adding more adjectives, more descriptions, more component phrases, tangents and appositives to form sprawling, syntactical centipedes (like this one) whose many segments and exhausting procession repeat themselves and say the same thing in different ways, with different words, and exhibit an entire ideology:

Gilbreath was head-on in describing the epidemic plaguing even great writers.  Being superfluous is not intentional but comes from an amalgamation of wanting to impress and persuade, with a tad undertone of desperation in achieving so. When you feel in charge of continuing the tradition of the written word, in composing a picture with words, this will make even normally docile individuals a competitive scribe, leading to the focus lost on paper. Writers should feel compelled to “show how measured, uncluttered phrasing increase rather than decrease the impact” like Davis did on “Diane” and “It Could Happen to You” through his genius musicality.

When a story, article, or essay is finished, the feeling of accomplishment ravishes you from the inside out. For us, it’s like crossing the finish line.  You can breath, think hard about something else, maybe even write something the complete opposite to keep it all fresh.  But it never stops.  Like how we were so amazed that Denzel Washington, of his caliber, once admitted he still took acting classes and briefly returned to Broadway to refresh his skills, like in any field, it’s important to reboot.  Even after a triumph, you’ve got to reboot, and continue to find inspiration and count the many ways why what you’re still matters so much. Like I once saw in an ad for an actor’s academy in New York City, and it read “Trust Your Talent”. Do that, and hone it.

–C. Shardae Jobson

Writing With Miles Davis

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