The Impatience of Editing

Posted by Michael on February 25, 2013

By Jason Bittel

I know, that sounds like a bad way to start – as if my groups are a bunch of slackers and ne’er-do-wells, bums requiring the iron fist of a good editor.

But that’s not what I mean at all. In fact, what I mean is my groups’ stories are so damn interesting, I wish they’d finish them already so I could read more. And that’s a good thing.

The truth is, I don’t have scads of experience simply editing a piece. When I was “Editor in Chief” of a small fashion magazine, I either wrote most of the pieces myself or didn’t have enough turnaround time to really work with my writers. I’d edit for length or clarity, but there was little talk of narrative, frame or focus. We were just trying to get shit done.

But Think, Write, Publish is a horse of a different color. The participants have had months now to stew and ruminate and fester and other-words-that-result-in-bad-smells-but-connote-positive-things-to-writers. All of which is necessary for the right narrative to emerge, but it makes for some slow progress as an interested reader. Now that I’m slinging pitches out into the world, I wonder how serious editors manage this hurry-up-and-wait existence – always on the cusp of reading something they find interesting enough to green light, but knowing they won’t see a decent flash of it for months on end.

Not to mention, the internet has hardwired us to want it now. If you want to learn about ants, 10,000 bits of information await your meandering clicks. And this is a scary thing for writers. Why spend a year on a piece if you know the internet’s already got it covered six ways to saturation? This kind of stuff keeps me up at night.

But here’s what I’ve learned: Most science communication on the internet sucks. (This isn’t entirely true, of course, but it’s essential you say it with me five times each night before you go to bed.)

What you do, the way you write, the way you are learning to translate and distill science and policy – this exercise is of vital importance. Because I don’t want to read the same three sentences about a topic getting posted and reposted all over the internet by blogging octopus monsters. I want to read thoughtful, artful, surprising displays of science communication that read like a thriller, teach without preaching, and knock the wind out of me with their fucking beauty.

I can wait a year for that. I think a lot of people would wait a year for that.