Another issue put to bed

It’s interesting how the vocabulary of living with children is borrowed for writing and publishing. A book or essay is said to be birthed. A magazine issue is said to be put to bed.

Which is what we did today — we tucked in our 36 pages for December — meaning it’s all set (electronically) and off to the printers, and except for the press proofs which we’ll give a final look-through tomorrow, it’s what it’s going to be.

One of the things I’ve liked best about this job is the rhythm of it, the ebb and flow of brainstorming ideas, finding and assigning authors, gathering stuff, making decisions about what’s in or out, the editing itself, layout, and proofreading that brings us round to this moment every month, another one done. I like the days of the cycle when the designer begins to set down the material we’ve worked on. But the last days of it are full and sometimes intense. There’s still decisions to make as we see the copy landing on the page,and we’ve got a deadline. I proofread with a ruler under every line and my lips move — I simply can’t trust my eye to read the word accurately unless I see it isolated on the line and say it.

We’ve made no pretense of being up-to-the moment in the small Mennonite world we inhabit — it’s impossible as a monthly — but at least until press time we try our best. We carried two news pieces in this issue referring to talks our MB seminary in Fresno, Cal. has been having with Fuller Theological Seminary, about being a distance education site. It provoked discussion at the conference’s recent annual general meeting. The executive board gave it “considerable deliberation” at their meetings following, according to their release. Then yesterday, in a news release from the seminary about the installation of their president, assistant editor K. spotted, in what was little more than a throwaway line, that the talks are off. Rats! I mean about the currency of the news pieces. We inserted a short note after one of them saying that Fuller had withdrawn, and that will have to do until we can get the longer (I was going to say “fuller”) story.

Typical putting to bed. I remember the evening-long procedures of baths and pyjamas, the string of last minute trips to the bathroom, the thirst requiring another drink, the begging for just one more chapter of the book, the sudden fears or recollections of what was supposed to be brought to school the next day. Busy, and often intense. Then, asleep — my goodness, in terms of children they were about as good as it gets.

Just like the issue we put to bed. It’s always my favourite. Not that it’s ever quite what we’d imagined, but it’s good enough. As I did at the bedsides of our sweet sleepers, I speak a prayer of release and blessing when I sign off on it. Tomorrow K. and I will meet to talk about the next — which I’m always sure will be the best one yet.

[some of my earlier favourites when put to bed]


What surprises me

sc00a574d3Since my work as interim editor is drawing to a close next week, I thought I might offer a few further blog-ruminations about it as I wind down. 

It’s been a surprise, sometimes, what people react to. (I mean the reactions, of course, that reach our office.) There was one article, for example, we carried this year that felt good but also a little risky to me — in its potential to be misunderstood — but nary a discouraging word. In fact, the author told me that it had provoked some excellent further conversation that was all very interesting and positive. 

But our last issue — November’s — which focussed especially on the practice of peacemaking this time (as the well-“practiced” boots of a World War II conscientious objector suggest on the cover, above), and whose articles and stories seemed straightforwardly good in their implications, not provocative… I guess there must be something about peace that loosens them fightin’ words even among nonresistant Anabaptists. We’ve had some affirming responses, yes, but a couple of letters I hadn’t expected too — with reactions such as “profoundly saddened” and finding the issue “extremely one-sided,” and then further to this bit or that, “frustrating — and faintly insulting” and “particularly troubling.” These were private letters, so won’t be published, and the details don’t matter; plus I’ve had a good exchange with both letter writers already. We love to get letters, both personal and for our Letters to the Editor column, but like I said, reactions can be a surprise.

One realizes again that the article one thinks one’s written, or the magazine one thinks one has put out, is never quite the same as the article or the magazine read by this reader, or that one. — This reality certainly keeps things interesting though.

Writing editorials

It’s Saturday and I’ve finally got a reasonable draft of my last editorial hanging on the line.  

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’ve been working this past year as interim editor of the MB Herald, a 36-page monthly magazine, print run 16,000, which goes into the homes of  members of Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches. For some years I worked as associate editor, and then I “retired,” to do my own writing projects, but in January 2009 I returned to fill in while editor Laura Kalmar was on maternity leave. I’m wrapping up my term with the December issue, which is underway; Laura returns for the January issue.

I’ve enjoyed being back for the year, except, I’d have to say, for the editorials. Many kinds of writing, there’s a structure or strategy about them, and once you figure it out, it’s not so hard. But I’ve never quite figured out the formula that would get me easily through an editorial. In our particular magazine it sits near the front, so it often acts as an introduction to the issue’s theme, but it’s also expected (I assume) that one might have an opinion/position of some sort on some aspect of the topic, and now and then about other things as well. The bits of advice I’ve picked up from other editors is that it should express a view but also be open-ended. Or something like that. 

Good editorial writing may be a gift, or a temperament. Fellow editor Doug Koop (ChristianWeek) doesn’t seem to find it hard and does a great job, and I always admired the rolling through still firm style of former MBH editor Harold Jantz.

In the editorial on the line, I’m weighing in on the recent MB study conference held in Saskatoon. I opined (a word I’m using in honour of another editor friend who was fond of it) that it was a good event but we need to address how our having too little time talking together in a large group setting relates to the value we say we put on “community hermeneutic.”  

The trouble with editorial writing is I have to figure out what I think, and it has to be “true,” not just there for effect. It has to be what I’m willing to commit to saying. What I think about a matter is the hard part and I can only write my way to it — but it involves too many starts and stops and procrastinations and re-writes and then revisions. This quote from one of writer Flannery O’Conner’s letters says it best: “Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.”

Eventually I’ve been happy enough with most of them. But now the last one’s on the line, almost ready, and I’m glad. 

(Re. hanging on the line: this is one of those little writing tips I’ve learned along the way. Once you have a draft of something you have to find a way to see it freshly when you come back to it. It helps to spread it out on the floor or table, or hang it up, and maybe read it backwards — last page first, I mean, and so on. It also helps to switch the column widths from draft to draft, or change the font.)