"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poems by Anne Bradstreet

 



To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

- Anne Bradstreet, c. 1612-1672





Title page, second (posthumous) edition
of Bradstreet's poems, 1678
A Letter to Her Husband

My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my magazine, of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?
So many steps, head from the heart to sever,
If but a neck, soon should we be together.
I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black,
My Sun is gone so far in's zodiac,
Whom whilst I 'joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,
His warmth such fridged colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn;
Return; return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heart I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father's face.
O strange effect! now thou art southward gone,
I weary grow the tedious day so long;
But when thou northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.

- Anne Bradstreet, c. 1612-1672

 
 
 
 
By Night when Others Soundly Slept

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow'd his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

- Anne Bradstreet, c. 1612-1672




Biography - http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/anne-bradstreet

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Bradstreet





 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: "An Exaltation of Larks," by James Lipton

50 Collective Nouns to Bolster Your Vocabulary
 
Lucas Reilly
January 18, 2013
Image credit: Michael Lyons
Collective nouns may seem like quirky ways to describe groups, but 500 years ago, they were your ticket to the in-crowd. Most collective nouns, or “terms of venery,” were coined during the 15th century. Many were codified in books of courtesy, like the 1486 classic Book of St. Albans. St. Albans was a handbook for medieval gentlemen, and it contained essays on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Appended to the hunting chapter sits a list of 164 collective nouns, titled “The Compaynys of Beestys and Fowlys.” (Contrary to the title, many terms actually describe people—a biting example of ye olde satire.)
 
As silly as some sound today, the phrases were formal and proper descriptions. St. Albans was, after all, a vocabulary-booster, a primer designed to help gentlemen-in-training avoid the embarrassment of “some blunder at the table.” Over the next century, the book’s popularity bloomed. Similar courtesy handbooks caught on, and by the end of the 16th century, a slew of collective nouns had entered the lexicon.
 
Some have achieved widespread currency and acceptance, like a “flight of stairs,” “a board of trustees,” and a “school of fish.” Others, like a “murder of crows,” barely cling on. However, a handful of obscure phrases have made a comeback, thanks to James Lipton’s wonderful compendium of collective nouns, An Exaltation of Larks. Here are a few from Lipton’s book that you should add to your repertoire.
 
1. Business of Ferrets
2. Labor of Moles
3. Mustering of Storks
4. Shrewdness of Apes
5. Gam of Whales
6. Smack of Jellyfish
7. Host of Angels
8. Fusillade of Bullets
9. Baptism of Fire
10. Quiver of Arrows
11. Tissue of lies
12. Murder of Crows
13. Unkindness of Ravens
14. Dule of Doves
15. Clowder, Cluster, or Clutter of Cats
16. Kindle of Kittens
17. Mute of Hounds
18. Pass of Asses
19. Ostentation of Peacocks
20. Team of Ducks (when flying)
21. Paddling of Ducks (when on water)
22. Trip of Goats
23. Sloth, or Sleuth, of Bears
24. Charm of Finches
25. Hill of Beans
26. String of Ponies
27. Hand of Bananas
28. College of Cardinals
29. Shock of Corn
30. Band of Men
31. Knot of Toads
32. Wedge of Swans (when flying)
33. Parliament of Owls
34. Superfluity of Nuns
35. Abominable Sight of Monks
36. Untruth of Summoners
37. Doctrine of Doctors
38. Damning of Jurors
39. Sentence of Judges
40. Rascal of Boys
41. Gaggle of Women
42. Gaggle of Gossips
43. Impatience of Wives
44. Tabernacle of Bakers
45. Poverty of Pipers
46. Fighting of Beggars
47. Neverthriving of Jugglers
48. Herd of Harlots
49. Worship of Writers
50. Hastiness of Cooks
 
According to Lipton, the terms above “are authentic and authoritative. They were used, they were correct, and they are useful, correct—and available—today.”
 
 
 
Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

An "exaltation of larks"? Yes! And a "leap of leopards," a "parliament of owls," an "ostentation of peacocks," a "smack of jellyfish," and a "murder of crows"! For those who have ever wondered if the familiar "pride of lions" and "gaggle of geese" were only the tip of a linguistic iceberg, James Lipton has provided the definitive answer: here are hundreds of equally pithy, and often poetic, terms unearthed by Mr. Lipton in the Books of Venery that were the constant study of anyone who aspired to the title of gentleman in the fifteenth century. When Mr. Lipton's painstaking research revealed that five hundred years ago the terms of venery had already been turned into the Game of Venery, he embarked on an odyssey that has given us a "slouch of models," a "shrivel of critics," an "unction of undertakers," a "blur of Impressionists," a "score of bachelors," and a "pocket of quarterbacks."
 
This ultimate edition of An Exaltation of Larks is Mr. Lipton's brilliant answer to the assault on language and literacy in the last decades of the twentieth century. In it you will find more than 1,100 resurrected or newly minted contributions to that most endangered of all species, our language, in a setting of 250 witty, beautiful, and remarkably apt engravings.
 
About the Author
 
James Lipton is the creator, executive producer, writer, and host of Inside the Actors Studio, which is seen in eighty-nine million homes in America on the Bravo network, and in 125 countries, and has received fourteen Emmy nominations. He is the author of the novel Mirrors, which he then adapted and produced for the screen, and of the American literary perennial An Exaltation of Larks, and has written the book and lyrics of two Broadway musicals. His television productions include Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala, the first presidential concert ever televised; twelve Bob Hope birthday specials, reaching record-breaking audiences; and The Road to China, the first American entertainment program from the People’s Republic. He is a vice president of the Actors Studio, is the founder and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, has received three honorary PhDs, is a recipient of France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
 
5.0 out of 5 stars
April 4, 2001
Format:Paperback
 
Here's a real gem! AN EXALTATION OF LARKS (Ultimate Edition) is the culmination of more than two decades of Lipton's research of "nouns of multitude," which he prefers to call "terms of venery." (noun archaic usage - the practice or sport of hunting; the chase; more commonly the gratification of (sexual) desire.)
 
Many of these terms are commonplace: plague of locusts, pride of lions, litter of pups. Imagine, though, hearing these expressions for the first time. Lipton invites us to "sharpen our senses by restoring the magic to the mundane."
 
Lipton traced a number of these terms back to the 1400s, specifically to THE BOOK OF ST. ALBANS, printed in 1486. In addition to today's ordinary terms, he discovered some that had a fresh sound, precisely because they had not made the 500-year journey to our modern era.
 
Lipton identifies six sources of inspiration for the terms. He lists these "Families" with the following examples:
 
1. Onomatopoeia ("a formation of a word by imitation"): a murmuration of starlings, a gaggle of geese.
 
2. Characteristic (by far the largest Family): a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes.
 
3. Appearance: a knot of toads, a parliament of owls.
 
4. Habitat: a shoal of bass, a nest of rabbits.
 
5. Comment (pro or con depending on viewpoint): a richness of martens, a cowardice of curs.
 
6. Error (in transcription or printing; sometimes preserved for centuries): "school" of fish was originally intended to be "shoal."
 
Lipton enthusiastically joined the "game" of coining terms, which had been in progress for more than 500 years. In 1968 he published his first EXALTATION OF LARKS, which contained 175 terms -- some from Middle English, some original. Neither the hardbound nor the paperback edition went out of print before the Ultimate Edition (with more than 1,000 terms) was published in 1991. As Lipton puts it, textbooks and various media "used the book like sourdough to leaven new batches of terms."
 
Lipton believes that a pun or a play on words detracts from the vigor of a term. Alliteration, likewise, is unnecessary. Rather the success of the term hinges on identifying the "quintessential part" of the group of people or things and allowing it to represent the whole: a blur of impressionists, a brood of hens, a quiver of arrows. (Lipton's research on this last item revealed that as early as 1300 a poetic soul rejected the available words "case" and "scabbard" and turned "quiver" into a noun.)
 
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS includes a few pages detailing Lipton's lexical odysseys and triumphs. Most of the book comprises the lists themselves. The origin of some of the terms is explained, and more than 250 of the terms are illustrated with witty engravings by Grandville, a 19th Century French lithographer. More than half the book lists terms in 25 categories, such as professions (an aroma of bakers), daily life (a belch of smokestacks), and academe (a discord of experts).
 
Lipton includes several versions of games in which players coin new terms. His index lists his 1,000+ terms with a blank replacing the first item, which is the source of a term's poetry. The reader is thus encouraged to discern the essence of the thing collected. The page number facilitates the comparison of newly coined terms with existing ones.
 
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS is indeed "a word lover's garden of delights."
 
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Images of Engravings by Grandville
 
~ click any image below to enlarge ~
 
 
 

 


 
 
 



 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Repost: Should You be a Writer or an Editor?

Should you be a writer or an editor?
Part I: The writers.
 
Posted by Christie Aschwanden on January 15th, 2013

 
Are you an editor or a writer? How do you know? What are the crucial differences between the two specializations? The question arose when Slate science editor Laura Helmuth was visiting a class that Ann Finkbeiner teaches at the graduate program in science writing at Johns Hopkins University. Ann, hoping to help her students figure out whether they were natively editors or natively writers, asked Laura about the difference between writers and editors.
 
Laura punted.
 
Ann didn’t know, either.
 
After the class was over, Ann and Laura gave the question some more thought and then enlisted other writers and editors to help them answer it. We’ll run their answers in two separate posts today and tomorrow. Today, the writers.
 
Freelance writer Ann Finkbeiner:
 
I’m almost purely a writer. When I first started writing, my superb editors—people like Warren Kornberg and Tim Appenzeller—astounded me because they could say things like, “take the last sentence of every paragraph and make it the first sentence,” or because they could see the structure of a story that in my head was just a bunch of buzzing flies. “Wow,” I thought, “such seriously smart people.”
 
I still think they’re seriously smart, but I also think that’s what editors do: They stand back and analyze. I was busy trying to understand the science in the first place, then get it right, then write it so that readers could see how beautiful it was, then rewrite it 6,000 times for clarity, accuracy, concision, and elegance. An editor looks at the thing as a whole, analyzes its structure, and moves the boxes and connectors around until the story is logical, seemly, and stable.
 
So then what do writers do? They walk around with their recorders permanently set to “on,” listening for scientists using words oddly, for scientists saying they’ve just heard the strangest things, for scientists talking excitedly to other scientists about something the writer has never heard of and doesn’t understand anyway. They ask around and search the Internet to see whether this odd, strange, exciting thing might be a story, whether it makes that “click” that stories make. They go through the odds-against struggle of convincing an editor to feel the same click. If they don’t succeed, they try another editor. If they do succeed, they begin the joyous process of talking to scientists and understanding 100 times more about this story than they need to know. And then they try to structure it and almost can; and then they start to write it and they absolutely cannot, but they do it anyway.
 
My best example of the difference between writers and editors is when a writer-friend and I were having identical problems with our editors. We just had some neato little anecdotes (skinny physicist crawls around on Mexican border at midnight) and neato sentences (“Rumor had it she was a whore from Pahrump”) and neato people with neato quotes (“Pardon the expression, but I point the fucking telescope at the sky and see what’s out there”). And the editors were insisting on meaningful context (why were they trying to ban atmospheric tests?) and big thoughts and implications (does the nation need science advisors?) and beginnings, middles, and ends.
 
We all won, of course. Without the Mexican border and whore from Pahrump, the story has no flavor or color or sound, and the reader no point of personal contact. Without the context, implications, and structure, no one would even know it was a story.
 
Independent writer and editor Deborah Franklin:
 
Probably everyone skews at least a little bit more one direction than the other. I consider myself a writer who also edits.
 
A Writer:
 
* Paints with words. Walks through life making connections between disparate things, noticing splashes of color, snatches of conversation. Remembers what was said and what people look like. Has a vision. Sees a blank page as fun, as permission, as a place to let go and just try things. Is willing to imagine. Not afraid of working alone, struggling alone with a problem for long stretches at a time. In fact, enjoys it.
 
* Loves language and writes things that people love to read.
 
* Would rather watch a movie than act in one. At a party, would rather sit on the stairs and watch and listen to people than be the one in the middle of the room holding forth.
 
* Is curious. Asks good questions. Is not afraid to ask obvious or embarrassing questions. Is a good listener, and a quick study who thinks well on his/her feet. Has enough spidey-sense to recognize a good quote or idea or scene and knows to record them in some way. Is a voracious reader.
 
* Has internalized the ethics of journalism: Accuracy, fairness, no plagiarism. When it’s you and the source in an interview, you’re on your own; if you haven’t internalized those rules you will someday fail in a big way.
 
* Doesn’t mind long, unpredictable work hours. Knows how to make deadlines and will stick with a task until it’s done, until the story has a beginning and a middle and an end. When you’re an editor, you can stop and walk away when the time runs out. When you’re a writer, the task’s not over until you have a complete story on the page. Must be able to live with, and maybe even thrive under pressure and insecurity.
 
* Can live on a shoestring, at least at first, and/or periodically throughout your career. These days, staff writing/reporting jobs are few and far between. Freelance writers who make a substantial income have an excellent combination of talent, luck, experience, flexibility, and the ability to identify side jobs to make it work. It’s very hard these days to raise a family on one writer’s income.
 
Slate columnist and former science editor Daniel Engber:
 
I don’t think this is a binary variable, that you’re either a writer or an editor. It’s a spectrum, perhaps like being gay or straight, and (for those who care to do so) there’s room to maneuver in between the ironclad identities. I would probably call myself a writer who edits, or a writer who can edit, or a writer who has edited. Likewise, there are lots of amazing editors who write, or editors who can write, or editors who have written. And there are lots of jobs that are well-suited to intermediate types, or types who scoot around the spectrum from one year to the next. (Slate happens to be an excellent place for people who hover near the middle.)
 
So how do you know which activity you prefer? You have to try out both and see how they each inspire and annoy you. If you need a hint, there are some broad personality traits that might align with your placement on the spectrum. Editing jobs are both collaborative and hierarchical, and so invite a certain adherence to a higher goal and respect for external authority. Writing jobs tend to be more conducive to an individualistic mindset, and one that bristles at group directives.
 
New Scientist correspondent Bob Holmes:
 
Like many people who’ve been around for a while, I’ve spent time at both ends of the editorial hatchet. In the end, though, I’m a writer at heart. When I analyze why, I come up with three main reasons:
 
1) I prefer depth over breadth. (If I really meant that, of course, I’d still be doing science instead of writing about it. But given that all journalists are dilettantes, I prefer deeper rather than broader dilettantism.) I’m always impressed by how much editors know about so many different subjects, because they range widely over the stories written by many different writers. When I was a features editor for New Scientist a decade ago, I liked that sense of seeing the whole landscape. But the downside is that when you do this you rarely get to explore the finer topography of any particular topic.
 
Now that I’m a writer again, I particularly enjoy the feeling of knowing that I’ve spoken with every important source on a story and have all the information I need to understand the subject. (I don’t get to that point with every story, of course, but it happens often enough to keep me going.) That’s a satisfaction that editors rarely get—instead, they generally have to trust their writers on the legwork.
 
2) I prefer doing over helping. Editing has its own highs, such as the joy of sitting down in the morning with 4,000 words of meandering, flabby prose and getting up at the end of the day with a tight 2,400-word story without having cut anything of substance. But even then, the writer gets credit for scoring the goal; the editor only gets an assist.
 
I’d rather be the main mover on fewer stories each year instead of a helper on many. Looking back over the years, my most memorable stories are all ones that I’ve written, not ones I edited.
 
3) I prefer a freelance lifestyle over a steady job. Of course, writers can have steady jobs too, and editors can freelance. But for the most part, editing work seems more constant, more institutional. Every week has its quota of words to be tuned up and stories to be commissioned. Usually, editors work in an office, with colleagues, schedules, regular paychecks, and a clear career ladder to climb. That has many advantages, and for many people it’s exactly what they want.
 
But I’m happier with the greater flexibility of a writer’s life. When a deadline is looming, I work harder and longer than I ever did as an editor. On the other hand, I can also walk my dog in the middle of the day or knock off early to go skiing. I can make bread or start a pot of soup during breaks between interviews. And I’m here when my son gets home from school. All this unpredictability would no doubt drive some people nuts—but for me, it’s one of the big attractions of the job.
 
*Image by Shutterstock.
 
 
Are you an editor or a writer?
Part II: The editors.
 
Posted by Christie Aschwanden on January 16th, 2013
 
 
Writers and editors work together all the time, but the two clans are somewhat mysterious to one another. Mutually suspicious, even. How do you know which career path you should specialize in? And how do editors become editors, anyway? Ann Finkbeiner and Laura Helmuth asked several journalists to describe the differences between writers and editors. In an earlier post, writers explained what it is they do. Today, the editors weigh in.

Scientific American online news editor Robin Lloyd:

I didn’t choose editing over writing so much as it chose me (same goes for journalism and science writing). As a reporter, a few of my superiors mentioned over the years that they saw me on an editing track, so I just kept saying “yes” when I got offers to do fill-in editing. Then I got an offer to be a writer/editor, and I said yes. Then I got an offer to be an editor, and I said yes. And so on. Over time, I have gained confidence in my ability as a short-form editor, though I still have much to learn, especially with long-form editing. I have an ear for prose that “sounds right.” I find that not everyone has that. One of my editors once told me I have good syntax. So I looked up “syntax” and thought, “Yeah, I do have good syntax.” I also did well in grammar class in 10th grade.

More seriously, my motivation as an editor is clear, compelling communication for the reader. Delivering that is my first job. Readers are looking at every word for an excuse to bail out—to stop reading a story. My job is to prevent that and to keep them reading this story by focusing on clarity, pacing, logic, arc, and sparkling prose (rewards). Also, I enjoy teaching and helping people.

I like reporting and writing on deadline, and I did it quite a bit for more than a decade, but I find editing on deadline a bit more relaxing and rewarding. It’s about the right size for my ego and skill set for now. Based on my experience, of course, I think that one becomes a better editor after a good chunk of foundational years as a writer.

I’ve seen many edits by many people who are paid as editors. A handful of them are great editors. I quietly learn from them.

Independent writer and editor Deborah Franklin:

Not every writer can edit, nor every editor write, but it sure does improve both sets of skills if you find yourself fortunate enough to spend at least a little time wearing each hat. I started out as a writer (for magazines and newspapers) and never sought to be an editor (for magazines and radio)—in fact fought it for many years—but the time I’ve spent editing has definitely improved my writing and my life!

An editor:

* Is good at puzzles, at seeing the flecks of green in several scattered puzzle pieces and understanding that they fit together to form the green hillside at the top of the story/painting, not the puddle of green algae at the bottom. Is thoughtful and analytical; good at spotting holes in arguments and seeing through well-written hand-waving. A voracious reader.

* Is more of a team player than a loner. Sociable. Likes dealing with different types of people (e.g. the infographics expert and the physics writer and the psych reporter).

* Is verbally articulate on the phone as well as in person. Can write a good, conversational email that makes the writer feel understood, appreciated, liked, and motivated to make the story better.

* Is part therapist; knows how to talk friends (or writers) through tough spots, and doesn’t hold their insecurity against them.

* Has good parenting skills. Knows to first point out some specific things you like about the writing and the story before being negative about things that don’t work. Not a pushover; knows the value of discipline, and knows how to deploy it.

* Knows that only one part of the job is working with the writer. Doesn’t mind being interrupted; is organized, can multi-task gracefully, and is able to quickly switch gears during a tough day.

* Finds meetings tolerable, maybe even fun.

* Can manage up as well as down in an organization. Understands how to represent the reader in fiercely defending the story, whether to the writer, the top-editor, the fact-checker, the copy-editor, the art director, the photographer, the illustrator, the social media czar, the publisher, or the advertising director. Is honest and kind and empathetic. Not a stick-your-finger-in-the-air-to-see-which-way-the-wind’s blowing kind of manager who just tells people what they want to hear. Rather, a calmly firm and compassionate listener/leader who has a strong enough ego to make and defend a good argument, but not an ego so big that it sucks all the air out of the room.

* Prefers/needs to work hours that are more easily contained. Editors often work long hours, too, but it is easier to walk away from the job at the end of the day as an editor than as a writer.

* Does not mind that the writer often gets the credit for a collaborative effort. Is able to take a parent’s pride in a successful, beautiful, groundbreaking piece.

Slate science editor Laura Helmuth:

My editing muse is Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones. For 50 years, he’s been the least famous or recognizable member of the band. In videos, you glimpse him only briefly as the camera pans across the stage to focus on Mick Jagger as he struts or Keith Richards as he snarls. Charlie sits behind his drums with a slight smile, nodding his head as he watches the real rock stars entertain the crowd. Charlie doesn’t wear spandex or eyeliner or weave beads into his hair, which is gray. He never had a drug problem or stole his bandmates’ girlfriends. He is easily the most boring musician of his generation—steady, calm, and resolutely not in the spotlight.

Editing requires most of the same skills writing does, but it also demands, if you’re going to be a good editor, a huge dose of humility. You will never and should never get the credit for a great story. Editors who seek recognition for their work are mostly bad editors—the Phil Collinses of the editing world, people who may be fine as solo artists but should really never work collaboratively. Other editors think they can write better than anyone else—and maybe they can, but then why are they working as editors? Those are the Keith Moons of the editing world. They will drown out their writers’ words and then vomit all over the stage.

An editor’s job is to make writers sound better, sound more like themselves. You cannot be proud and be an effective editor. The best writers don’t need much from you, and the worst ones may not appreciate how much you’ve helped them. If you edit well, your work will be invisible to a reader and as unnoticeable as possible to the writer. If you suggest a metaphor or joke or perfect transition that your writer uses, you should be satisfied even though no one will ever know it was yours (even writers forget where things came from, as they should, those clever magpies).

You cannot be jealous. If you are sitting in an office all day and you send someone to India to write a story about tigers and he emails one morning to say that he finally saw a tiger, an email full of exclamation points, you must be genuinely and purely delighted for him, to the point that you have a stupid smile on your face for the rest of the day. Imagine this: You have a great idea for a story and suggest it to a writer who then writes a terrific story, better than what you could have written. If you can imagine this being the most satisfying part of your job, you should be an editor.

Editing is like match-making. Perhaps the most important part of your job is knowing your audience. What writers would your readers fall in love with? Which stories should they sit next to at a dinner party? What fields of science would surprise and amuse them? You have to think about what your readers know they want and satisfy those desires, but you also have to keep introducing them to unexpected treats. And you’re constantly trying to attract new readers.

You have to think long-term. Every story you edit should be a pleasure to read, but the mix of stories you publish in a given day or month or year should build its own form of pleasure. You have to follow a lot of fields at a shallow level and know when they’re ripe for coverage, which may be years from now. You have to say no to a pitch in a way that makes writers want to keep pitching you when they find that perfect story in the future. You speak to journalism classes in the hope that one of the students will come to you someday with a scoop.

Editing isn’t as creative as writing, and it lacks the thrill of pursuit of reporting; it’s more business than art sometimes. You have to think about budgets and how your publication is funded and who the competition is (and how to smash them). You have to be conversant in marketing-ese and sit in on a lot of meetings. You’re basically a project manager, working with the art department, copy desk, publication staff, and technical development department on individual stories and long-term strategies.

There are actually a lot of good reasons not to be an editor, now that I think about it. But the best thing about being an editor is getting to work with writers. When they’re performing, you have the best seat in the house.

*Image by Shutterstock.

 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Select Poems by Sir Thomas Browne


Sir Thomas Browne · Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall
 
There is therefore but one comfort left,
that though it be in the power of
the weakest arme to take away life,
it is not in the strongest
to deprive us of death.

— Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici.


  
 
An Evening Prayer
by Sir Thomas Browne, c.1605-1682

THOU whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples sentry keep;
Guard me ’gainst those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open whilst mine close;
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob’s temples blest.
While I do rest, my soul advance;
Make me to sleep a holy trance,
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some holy thought;
And with as active vigour run
My course, as doth the nimble sun.
Sleep is a death. Oh, make me try
By sleeping, what is it to die!
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
Howe’er I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with Thee!
And thus assured, behold I lie
Securely, or to wake or die.


... from Religio Medici, the Second Part, Section XII, 117, ed. Pickering

XII. We term sleep a death; and yet it is waking that kills us, and destroys those spirits that are the house of life. ’Tis indeed a part of life that best expresseth death; for every man truely lives, so long as he acts his nature, or some way makes good the faculties of himself. Themistocles, therefore, that slew his Soldier in his sleep, was a merciful Executioner: ’tis a kind of punishment the mildness of no laws hath invented: I wonder the fancy of Lucan and Seneca did not discover it. It is that death by which we may be literally said to dye daily; a death which Adam dyed before his mortality; a death whereby we live a middle and moderating point between life and death: in fine, so like death, I dare not trust it without my prayers, and an half adieu unto the World, and take my farewell in a Colloquy with GOD.
 
... “In fine, so like death [is sleep], I dare not trust it without my prayers, and an half adieu unto the world, and take my farewell in a colloquy with God. [Here follows the poem.] This is the Dormitive I take to bedward; I need no other Laudanum than this to make me sleep: after which I close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and sleep unto the Resurrection.”
 
 
Portrait, Sir Thomas Browne
English Classic Poet
 
 
Religio Medici [excerpt]
by Sir Thomas Browne, c.1605-1682

Search while thou wilt, and let thy reason goe
To ransome truth even to the Abysse below.
Rally the scattered causes, and that line
Which nature twists be able to untwine.
It is thy Makers will, for unto none
But unto reason can he ere be knowne.
The Devills doe know thee, but those damned meteours
Build not thy glory, but confound thy creatures.
Teach my endeavours so thy workes to read,
That learning them, in thee I may proceed.
Give thou my reason that instructive flight,
Whose weary wings may on thy hands still light.
Teach me to soare aloft, yet ever so,
When neare the Sunne, to stoope againe below.
Thus shall my humble feathers safely hover,
And though neere earth, more then the
heavens discover.
And then at last, when holmeward I shall drive
Rich with the spoyles of nature to my hive,
There will I sit, like that industrious flye,
Buzzing thy prayses, which shall never die

Till death abrupts them, and succeeding glory
Bid me goe on in a more lasting story.



The skull of Sir Thomas Browne
resting on two volumes of Religio