“I think maybe what you need to challenge yourself to do is just to be a touch more of an asshole.”
When I read these words I knew for sure that my editor was awesome.
Since being admitted to the Glimpse Correspondents Program and landing in New York, there’d been a good deal of anxiety on my part. Other correspondents were writing about North Korean refugees and legacies of violence in Cambodia, while I was hanging about in Brooklyn, going to pickle festivals and stalking local banjoists.
My first Glimpse drafts were slow coming, and when I did finally send them off to the editor, Sarah, they were massive, awkward things, not quite sure of what they were supposed to be (probably not unlike myself circa 1997). One was full of generalities and didn’t go deep enough. The other was all detail and lacked a strong overarching narrative. Neither one was really fit for public consumption.
Part of the problem was that I was so focused on one of the pieces. I’ve been alluding to it here as the Urban Americana piece; in it I wanted to get at the whole rustic aesthetic gripping the city. All the flannel and beards and banjos and pickles; all the un-metropolitan texture. I’d spent so much time getting lost in this (and working up a large bank of observed details with no coherent thesis to unit them), that I was left only with scraps out of which to build the other piece.
It was, however, this neglected piece that took form and was submitted, edited and finished first. Perhaps because there was so little to work with, it wasn’t that hard to write – a collection of anecdotes and observations from the hipster cinderblock enclave I’d chosen to live in.
The first thing Sarah told me to do, much to my surprise, was to trim it down. She encouraged me to strip out unnecessary episodes, and to get down to characterisation. This was kind of uncomfortable for me. This blog maintains a pretty austere absence of characters; I tend to write about other people’s lives only slightly less than I write about my own (unless you count things I’ve eaten). The story, however, required that I talk about the private lives of friends and friends of friends – their frustrations, their squalid living arrangements, their visa issues, their run-ins with the law.
While that piece skipped along towards completion, the Urban Americana piece was proving more problematic. There was just too much to say; too many bits to try and rope together. Sarah had an uncanny ability to figure out what I’d been trying to say all along, and bit by bit she guided me through the wealth of superfluous detail, encouraging me to probe deeper and deeper into everything I was describing. Then, after several drafts, she told me to be more of an asshole, and everything fell into place.
The final pieces look almost nothing like the original drafts submitted, except that they’re both still very long. They pack little emotional punch and aren’t really intended to uplift; they’re not your typical Glimpses pieces. They are, however, funnier and richer than they might have been. They’re better written than I expected them to be, largely because Sarah knew exactly what was worth keeping and what wasn’t. You can check out her handiwork below.
I believe a round of applause is in order…