Sorry Expectations, Reality Always Wins
Today I had to get my picture taken for the newspaper.
Even though I’ve been an intern here since the end of May, I’ve finally entered the big boy’s league and I get to have my picture next to my byline.
It’s pretty cool.
What’s not cool is that I’ve been sick for a week, and I’m not the most photogenic person as is. (Fourth grade school picture: Harry Potter. That’s all I’m saying.) I walked into the photo lab and asked the nice photographer if I could have my picture taken. He directed me to a small room with huge lights and cameras, a big gray screen and ketchup and mustard bottles sitting on the ground. (Secret lunchroom? I didn’t question it.)
Instead, I sat down on a stool, leaned to the left and cocked my head (which is the perfect position for headshots).
Then he asked if I was ready. I was not, but I said “sure.”
I hope my hair looks okay…but it’s too late for that.*
And then I learned an important lesson. Life’s going to throw a bunch of unexpected things your way and you’re going to have to deal with them, ready or not, head congested or nasal passages in perfect working order.
I’ve been pretty low-functioning all week and not really on my A-game. I’m a little cranky and I know I’ve been taking things too personally. I feel like I’m letting people down, but in actuality, I’m probably the only person I’m letting down. Prescription: sleep more and chill out.
I know, it sounds obvious, but it’s a concept I can’t seem to grasp. I keep working, working, working. My hands and brain won’t let me stop writing. (Case in point, I’m at the office writing this right now before I move on and work on another piece for the paper.)
I feel like if I stop writing, well…I guess nothing will happen. I suppose I could take a break and pick back up where I left off in a week or two and everything would still be happy-merry-sunshiny.
But since I’m already writing, I’ll tell you what else I’ve learned today.
Interning at a newspaper has taught me some things about editors. They’re really helpful. And some things about writers. They sometimes take things personally when their writing is butchered, which is also what happened today.
I started a piece with a vision. I was excited about it. I saw gathering information and interviewing sources as an adventure.
And then things got hard. (Cue audio clip of angsty teenager complaining about how unfair life is.)
Sources weren’t as helpful as I had assumed they would be. I grew frustrated, then distracted, then I lost my vision. I threw together what information I had gathered and handed in the piece. Some part of me knew it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. My editor also knew this wasn’t what he wanted it to be.
He reminded me of my original vision, of the piece I had set out in search of. It had a much more interesting angle than the piece I was staring at on my computer screen. Ultimate decision: I would delete the piece and start again.
Part of me wanted to cry because all my previous efforts were proven futile. But part of me was relieved that I would have a chance to redeem myself and this piece.
I didn’t see this coming a few weeks ago. I’ve never had to highlight and erase 90 percent of an article and start again. But there’s a first time for everything. It’s a learning experience, right?
My high school didn’t have a school newspaper that was an after-school, extracurricular activity. Instead, it offered a journalism class each semester where three levels of students (one, two and independent) worked together to create a newspaper every few months.
This is where my journalistic endeavors began.
I was an editor all three years, and I’ve had to edit some pretty rough pieces. I’ve seen the eye-rolls and the groans of frustration (80 percent caused by normal teenage angst, 20 percent by the edits and suggestions I made). I’ve had to hand a kid his piece back with more red pen marks than typed words and say, “It’s really good. No, really, but you just need to rework it.”
And I was serious. It had potential. It just wasn’t up to par at the moment.
It’s frustrating when you’re the one receiving feedback on your writing. Writers are usually reluctant to hand in a piece until they are sure it’s something that they’re proud of. So when they’re told it’s good but not great or that the angle is all wrong, it doesn’t produce a warm fuzzy feeling.
To have been in both positions, to be an editor and a writer, makes it more understandable and softens the blow. Does it still suck when someone suggests major changes to a piece you’ve worked really hard on? Of course it does. But should you be personally offended? Not at all.
Editors are there to help you improve. They don’t want to insult you by suggesting changes. On the contrary, they want to see you produce the best piece you’re capable of writing. (And yeah, okay, they want great stories for the publication, but that’s not the point.)
It’s necessary to the craft to have an outside opinion, many outside opinions, in fact. Editors catch the mistakes you made, the holes in your argument. And if they’re not interested in what you’ve written, chances are readers won’t be either.
I’ve realized all this today. Instead of drowning myself in self-pity after a failed attempt, I thought back to those times in high school when I had to be the “bad guy” and had only good, sincere intentions. I acknowledged defeat, accepted the suggestions and promised to rewrite the piece, making it better and more relevant.
I guess that perspective is the moral of this story. That and always look in the mirror before you have your picture taken.
Oh, and when correcting someone’s work, never use red pen. Purple is a much friendlier color.
Going to take a much-needed chillaxing break,
*I got a preview of the picture. My hair looks fine but my (fake) smile could use some work. I blame the cold.