How to Stay a Bad Writer in 3 Easy Steps

Dick Dastardly - Bad WriterI’m a professional editor. I’m all right at the job. In the past, I’ve worked with some great editors, so I’m well aware of where I am lacking. But I do a reasonable job. And I am capable of turning a bad writer into a competent one — if the writer has any interest in that.

There are two attitudes that writers have toward editors. Some, like me, love editors — as long as they are reasonably good. They help the writer out enormously. Writing is a very introverted activity and just having a sane outsider to point out unclear sections is very helpful. But a good editor (much less a great editor) is a collaborator who can greatly improve a writer’s work.

Then there are writers who hate editors. I am not one of them. But I can speculate because I’ve had a recent run in with someone who is nominally my editor. That wasn’t truly an issue of my not getting along with an editor, however. I was never asked to change any text. Instead, I got a flood of complaints about constantly changing format requests. But I suspect that writers who hate editors feel much as I did.

I felt as though I was being abused. The “editor” was simply trying to assert her authority on me — not doing her job and not asking for anything that would actually improve what I had written. In fact, in the case of this “editor,” I don’t think the text for the vast majority of the work was read. And that is doubtless how editor hating writers feel: that what they produced is just fine and that the editor is just being difficult.

In my experience, writers who hate editors are bad. I suspect a lot of it has to do with their inability to take criticism. There are a lot of people who think they can write who really can’t do much more than talk on paper. And the situation is getting worse because the internet has created an explosion in the need for written content. So it isn’t hard to be a professional writer.

But there’s a problem. If you do something long enough, there is a good chance that you will become at least competent. And then where will you be? Because being a bad professional writer is great! I mean that. When I’m being paid to write something, I fret over it endlessly. I’ll spend an hour working on a single sentence if it is critical to the piece. But for the bad writer, it doesn’t matter. You just dump your thoughts on the page and collect your check.

Editors can stand in the way of that. They can force you to improve. And so, given that I would hate so see any bad writer lose out on the gravy train that they’ve found, I offer the following three easy steps for staying a bad writer:

  1. Submit a thousand words of really mediocre copy. Don’t worry about it being in the least bit interesting. Just dump some words on the page, make sure no more than two to three words are misspelled, and submit it.
  2. You will hear back from your editor who will, fearing for your fragile writer feelings, ask for a “polish.” But because the editor knows that you are bad writer, they will give a specific list of numbered changes to make. Ignore these changes. Spend maybe 15 minutes noodling with some of what you wrote, but be careful: don’t make any changes that would notably improve the copy!
  3. You will hear back from your editor who will, fearing for your fragile writer feelings but now somewhat pissed off because you ignored their previous request, ask for a “polish as I requested before.” The editor will usually restate the requested changes in a different way so that the two of you can pretend that you are not just a hopeless, arrogant, and bad writer who they would fire if they were allowed. Now you must go in and make all the changes requested. But don’t do them artfully; do them as quickly as possible. And then — this is critical — don’t do a final read through to see if it all makes sense. This last bit should be easy, because as a bad writer, you never do a final read through anyway.

At this point, the editor will just fix what the bad writer wrote. The truth is that the editor knows that the bad writer is incapable of doing any better. And even if they were, they wouldn’t care enough to spend the time to do it. What’s more, if the editor hurts the fragile feelings of the bad writer, the bad writer will just complain to the editor’s boss.

Eventually, of course, the bad writer will be fired. But they will just get another job where they will torture another editor.

The Alternate Reality of Hillary or Bust

Hillary ClintonI’ve been thinking about an alternate reality where there is a “Hillary or Bust” movement. I actually think that there is an implicit one. I read a number of articles when Sanders first started to take off about how we couldn’t support him. He wasn’t even a Democrat! Blah, blah, blah. The truth is that one concern I’ve had since the beginning has been if Sanders had won the nomination, the Democratic establishment would not have supported him. But let’s move back.

As you all should know by now, I’m really against the “Bernie or Bust” movement. Well, if it is just a rhetorical movement to help Bernie Sanders in the primary, then I’m fine with it. But there clearly are people who have convinced themselves that the difference between Clinton and any Republican is minor. I don’t think that they are all that wrong on this point. Where they are wrong is in thinking that Sanders is some kind of radical. For all we hear about incrementalism with regard to Clinton, Sanders is also an incrementalist. Americans really need to get out more, ideologically speaking!

But I think the “Bernie or Bust” movement is really quite small. In an alternate reality where Bernie were winning, I think there would be a huge “Hillary or Bust” movement. And it wouldn’t just be brats on Twitter and subgeniuses on The Young Turks. The “Hillary or Bust” movement would be more like the “Never Trump” movement. But given that Democrats aren’t generally authoritarians, they wouldn’t fall in line the way the Republican dissenters have.

It’s perfectly fine to complain that Sanders and other liberals are uncompromising. But the people making these complaints are no more willing to compromise…

This really isn’t about the Democratic Party, of course. It’s about the Labour Party and its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn. It isn’t just all the public slanders. It is that after Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party — because the people who make up the party voted for him — the establishment had no interest in helping him or aligning with him. This is the Labour establishment that has lost two straight elections — the second one of which was very much winnable.

The main (public) establishment complaint about Corbyn is that he really isn’t up to the task of leading the Labour Party. I largely agree with that. But instead of making the best of a situation they didn’t like, the Labour Party establishment turned its back on him. It is apparently better to lose another election (and in the process teach the prols who voted for Corbyn a lesson) than to get only part of what they want.

And that’s the thing I’ve noticed here in the United States. It’s perfectly fine to complain that Sanders and other liberals are uncompromising. But the people making these complaints are no more willing to compromise; they just happen to be in power and thus are getting everything they want (inside the party). So I really have almost no doubt that it were Sanders who had effectively won the Democratic Primary, there would be a “Hillary or Bust” (or “Never Bernie”) movement that was far bigger, more viscous, and more effective than the “Bernie or Bust” movement. Like with the Labour Party, the Democratic Party establishment would rather lose than win with the “wrong” candidate.

Note that this has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. She just happens to be the establishment candidate for the Democrats in 2016. And I’m fairly fond of her. Talking about “Hillary or Bust” is really just talking about about the way that those in power respond to change. So as much as I might not like “Bernie or Bust,” I think we have to admit that if things were reversed, it would be far worse.