"Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too..."
I had an epiphany the other day at work.
There I was, red coffee mug in hand as I sat at my desk scanning news online and developing story pitches. I'd just returned to my seat after making my usual rounds with reporters at their desks, checking in with them about their progress, questions, problems, and any new story/source leads they might have dug up since the last time I talked to them...about one hour prior.
And after returning to my desk, it hit me: One of the reasons I'm a good editor is that I have no qualms about continually bothering writers to ask what they're working on. I glanced down at my coffee mug, our publication's name printed in bold white letters on the side, and it suddenly all clicked.
I am Bill Lumbergh.
Now I hate micro-managing, but it seems like time-management skills are lacking in our generation's set. And can I blame them? Social media like Facebook and Twitter, breaking news, instant messenger, Gmail, viral YouTube videos of hippies crying over double rainbows... It's a feat in itself to shut out the digital noise and focus on the task at hand. All that Internet babel is entertaining, but it's like Kryptonite for writers whose ink-dipped quills are now computer keyboards -- the distractions suck all productivity and focus from any articles, books, columns, or blog posts.
At work I have the opposite problem. My writers don't seem to get too distracted by the online clutter; instead they get distracted by their prose...to the point of it being nearly debilitating. They agonize over each word, each interview question, and it severely limits how much they end up producing on a weekly average. I assure them that we'll work together to make their stories (nearly) perfect, that they just need to get the first draft written, because really, that's the hardest part. And I should know: This was my biggest problem when I began writing fiction. I never had a problem cranking out non-fiction, but with fiction simply getting words down on paper that first month was so stressful. Every word, every sentence, had to be perfect. Then gradually I realized that if I didn't let go of that perfectionist mentality I would never finish any books. I realized that I wasn't married to anything I wrote, that it was all malleable and fixing problems was what the editing stage was for -- to smooth out language, to reconfigure story structure, to cut and hack mercilessly with a red pen.
I don't think my writers get this, and I completely understand. It's hard when you're a perfectionist, when writing 1,200 words feels like pushing out a 10lb baby minus any epidurals. But there comes a point when you just need to let go. Especially if you have nearly a decade of journalism experience under your belt (which my writers have). Quality is key, but taking two to three days for a 1,000-word story is semi-ridiculous to me. Maybe it's because I've been on both sides of the spectrum and know how long it should take (as a reporter, and later in life, as a novelist) to punch out 600 above-par words. Perhaps I'm just too impatient, or my expectations are too high, but it is driving me batty how slowly my writers write.
And so I Bill-Lumbergh them.
Holding my coffee mug adorned with our company's logo, I meander over to my first reporter's desk and pop my head over her cubicle wall, leaning on it with my elbows, a tired look in my heavy-lidded eyes (because let's face it, I get no sleep now that I wake up at the buttcrack of dawn every day), as I drawl a "How's it goiiing...." in her general direction. "What are you working on?" I usually ask, or "Have you made your calls yet?" (Never: "Yeahhh....looks like we're gonna need you to come in on Saturday, too....." Okay, maybe once. But it wasn't my fault, the event just happened to fall on the weekend.)
This is usually followed with a typical response as to why they haven't gotten a hold of a source(s) yet, why they haven't started writing their story, why they haven't finished, etc. etc. (Just so I don't sound like a total Bill Lumbergh, this is after we've gone over what they'll be writing on for the week, who they should probably speak with, how they should frame their structure, what their angle is, and what other follow-up stories could be written concurrently. Normal editor/writer meet-ups, I don't just wander around micro-managing, I swear.)
Sometimes I can tell this me-with-coffee-mug-leaning-on-cubicle-wall thing is annoying them, but if I didn't feel like I had to come by so often, I wouldn't. I honestly don't care how what you're doing online or how much you obsess over the word "that" -- if you wrote more stories (I think a fair story count would be something like 2-3 per day) I wouldn't incessantly bother you. And saying, "There's nothing to write about" isn't really an answer in my book.
Not to say that we're not cool with each other. We have our inside jokes and some water-cooler chat (typically concerning certain Bravo TV shows), but I often wonder if they've made the Bill Lumbergh/Crystal connection yet. And if (when?) they ever do, I wonder how the parallel would haunt them, my head not only popping up over their cubicle walls, but in other odd places...behind doors...out of bathroom stalls...when they open the office microwave...in their car's rearview mirror on the way home...even in the reflection of their coffee in their mugs at work. I'd be there, everywhere and anywhere they go, hounding them with my "How's it going's" and requests for more work.
Maybe I should invest in an Initech mug at work and truly freak them out.