I knew going into the editing process that I would need to make sacrifices. For starters, my first draft was 1400 words, and the editors ask for articles between 800--1200 words. The editor sent me a first cut at about 880 words, saying that my article was well written, but was better suited for a newspaper than a magazine. She also informed me that another writer had submitted a story about wildfire, and that our articles were too similar for both to go into the magazine. She asked if I would be willing to reconfigure my article as a side-story to the other piece, by focusing on Sleeper Lake only. It was either that or put my article up against the other -- like snarling dogs about to lunge into the fighting pit -- and the editor would choose the best fit for the magazine. I asked if she told the other writer I was already doing an article on wildfire, since I declared my topic at the original meeting. She said she couldn't do that, because sometimes people have great pitches that never materialize into articles. EJ Magazine, she said, was trying to simulate a competitive, professional environment, where no author has a guarantee of being published.
I met with her to discuss the matter further, and thought about it for a day before telling her that I wanted to stick with my piece. After all, I had worked too hard and invested too much time, brainpower, and passion to sit in a little side buggy while someone else steered the Harley. It turns out that the other author wasn't writing about wildfire on a national or international level -- he or she was only focusing on Michigan. But the most mind-boggling part of this was that the author hadn't even mentioned the Sleeper Lake Fire in the piece. I thought to myself, "Well, if I have to rewrite mine to focus on Sleeper Lake, the other writer should have to take on a broader focus." My reasoning was based on the fact that, in 2007, the biggest wildfires in the world happened in Greece -- not anywhere in the U.S. If the magazine was looking for balance, I thought that would be the most effective plan.
Essentially, the editor wanted me to emphasize why it's so good for a forest to go through the wildfire process. I sucked up my pride and got more info from the MSU professor's postdoctoral associates (the prof was too busy that week to talk), rearranged the article, and submitted a second draft at 1010 words. The editor send me a second cut at 550 words, suggesting that I go deeper into the positive effects on plants and animals, and when those effects were expected to start showing. I expressed significant concern at this point. I was very careful with my response, since I have a tendency to vent my aggravations vehemently through writing -- often in one unedited burst. My exact words were, "I'm trying to be cooperative, but the second edit is so far removed from its original context that I have almost lost my interest in the subject." I also said it bothered me not to know how she was steering the other article.
I started to question my motivation for persevering. Did I just want to see my name under a headline in the magazine? Was I hoping to show the article to potential future employers? What bothered me most wasn't the reduced word count -- it was the elimination of background information, style and, most importantly, meaning. In my mind, I was not overreacting. The second edit was an ugly beast of an article, and I barely wanted to be associated with the thing. How can I describe my disgust? Imagine having a child, and then taking that child to the doctor for a routine check-up. Next, the doctor pulls the boy's intestines out through his anus, wraps them around his body, ties a huge, gory not, and then tries to convince you that the boy is better off that way. He says something doctor-ish like, "This is what we call an extra-intestin-otomy. Studies show that it helps digestion if the intestines are outside of the body." Plus, bloody muscle red tones are in fashion this season!
For some reason, I still couldn't give up. I spoke to a second contact at the DNR Newberry office (my first contact was on vacation), rewrote once again, and turned in a third draft of a measly 670 words. Finally, the editor sent me a third cut (are you lost yet?) at 580 words, from the journalism professor who acts as managing editor for the magazine. As we were notified at the informational meeting, nothing makes it into EJ without the approval of that professor. I gave the third edit a fuck-if-I-care glance, answered the couple questions he had asked, and sent it back in. I just wanted to be rid of it already! It was turning into a bad rash that kept coming back, just when I thought the anti-fungal cream had done its damn job. Then in late December, the article appeared in that finalized form with pictures from TNC, even though that source had been cut from the article.
This dilemma posed a serious threat to my progression in the Masters of Journalism program. I literally wanted to cut all ties and drop out of grad school. But then, this wasn't the first time I had a tiff with an editor. In August, I wrote a band profile for UR Chicago Magazine that led to a falling out with the editor. I had been freelancing for the magazine since my internship in Fall 2006 when I still lived in that dismal town. The problem arose in April, when new management bought the publication and booted my original editor. In her place, they deposited a man who boasted enviable accomplishments such as writing for Rolling Stone (this is where you emit the ooohs and aaahs).