The North by Northwestern magazine, of which I am the managing editor, went to press at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, after 22.5 straight hours of working on it. My staff and I began planning and working on it in early June. At 10 a.m. on Monday, I was reading an essay assigned for my creative nonfiction class, which I had vowed to attend despite my mental incapacity. Latte in hand, I would periodically suddenly find myself coming out of a dream, editing orphaned words in David Foster Wallace’s prose, seeing NBN logos and lockups swimming before my eyes. When I went to sleep, finally, I dreamed still of editing, always editing, make every word perfect, every colon semicolon comma.
By next Friday, my work will be done, another managing editor will have been chosen, and I can move on with my life.
I didn’t want this job. I was afraid of the responsibility, afraid that I would ruin something that has evolved to be a truly great publication created entirely by an unpaid staff during nights and weekends and odd moments of free time. There were multiple times over the course of this quarter that I thought that I would vomit from sheer stress, or at least cry. Though we met three times a week, there were only a few select times that I walked out of the building saying “yes, I think we’re going to make a magazine.” It still won’t be real to me until I can hold it in my grubby little hands. I may not even open it, for fear that I’ll discover one of the inevitable mistakes and know that I could have done better. Though probably no one else sees it that way, every mistake is in a small way failing the entire organization, which funds the absurdly expensive printing process, which expects perfection from a product that’s been shaped over the course of months rather than nights.
In the end, I don’t regret it. Not because I can stick it on my resume and send a hard copy to my entire family, but because I think it pushed and pulled me until I became better. A better writer, editor, person. It tested me in ways I would never have wanted to test myself. I’d never pulled an all-nighter before.
More importantly, there’s a responsibility I hadn’t been able to understand before in being the person that has the last say. I thought I just didn’t have the answers, but when it comes down to it, no one has all the answers. Someone just has to step up and make a decision. I formed opinions on things I didn’t realized I felt strongly about. And yeah, sometimes I just felt excited to be in control of this collection of stories and art that we were desperately pushing to the finish line. I realized that there were so many steps in the process I had never seen before, that somehow just appeared when I was editing — art direction, photo shoots, illustrating late into the night, getting a cover, features editing, last minute copy, negotiating with printers. I have a much greater appreciation for the editors I worked under, who dealt with all the pressure and stress and small bullshit but never let on.
Too late in the quarter, I was searching in my inbox for something when I came across an email from our former editor-in-chief, on the eve of the election for the print managing editor for last winter quarter, the quarter I began working on the magazine. In it he suggested we take to heart this quote from Lillian Ross:
A helpful editor should have the following qualities: understanding of and sympathy for writers; the editorial talent to recognize and appreciate journalistic and literary talent; an openness to all kids of such talent; confidence and strength in his own judgment; resistance to fads and fakery in publishing; resistance to corruption and opportunism, to exhortations from people, including writers and other editors, who are concerned with “popularity” and “the market”; moral and mental strength, and the physical strength to sustain these; energy and resourcefulness in helping writers discover what they should write about; literally unlimited patience with selfishness and egotism; the generosity and character required to give away his own creativity and pour it into a group of greedy and usually ungrateful writers.
This kind of editor is a rarity. If you’re lucky, you may find one. Avoid the following kind of editor: one who does not like writers.
I think at a certain point I lost sight of that. I wasn’t perfect. If I could go back, I would have been more compassionate, more patient, and never have let the little arguments and conflicts break through my composure. But that’ll be for next time. All in all, I think we did good. You can decide for yourself come next Friday.