The Vancouver Sun building
(The editorial dept. was on the 4th floor)
(The editorial dept. was on the 4th floor)
After graduating from high school I went directly to a job in the newsroom of the Vancouver Sun, one of the city’s big daily newspapers. It was a dream come true.
I wanted to be a crime reporter and the thrill of being accepted as a copy runner (that is, an apprentice reporter, nowadays called an ‘intern’ which back then meant someone studying to be a doctor.) I was the only girl ‘copy-boy’ working with one or two other young fellows who had the same dreams and aspirations as me.
We’d stand at our post in the centre of the big newsroom amidst the sound of clacking typewriters and bustling reporters busy at their desks banging out the day’s news.When one would shout “COPY!” I scurry as fast as I could to grab the sheaf of 8” x 6” newsprint on which the story was typed and race over to the editor’s desk. The editor would take it, scribble a few things, and minutes later yell “COPY!” and the paper would be picked up from the editor, rolled inside a tube and shoved into a pipe-like gadget that would suck it up to the composing room where the story would be typeset for printing.
Me, posing at the desk in the news room
What a thrilling time it was! The reporters were exciting characters to be around, all of them smoking up a storm, their coffee cups not always full of pure coffee (Often we’d discover bottles of whiskey stashed in the coke machine or filing drawers). In the midst of deadline they could be furious as angry lions and we didn’t dare tarry when they shouted “COPY!”. Once deadline was over, things would settle down, and often there were parties in the newsroom. Sometimes buckets of fresh oysters would appear, and plates of goodies and even we lowly copy-runners were invited to join in.
One of the top women writers on the news desk, Simma Holt, wanted to train me for her job taking police calls and following up the stories. But the news editor wouldn’t hear of it and eventually I was encouraged to take a position in the news library instead. That proved interesting, because I was put in charge of the crime files and bios. And in the news library I honed my research skills.
My editor/writer's desk
Now, years later I find myself working as a full-time writer. And recently one of my old dreams came to pass when I was appointed “Vancouver Expert” for Planet Eye,www.planeteye.com which means I’m a kind of ‘roving reporter’ posting local news.But what is also interesting is that these days, because of my own travel website, TRAVEL THRU HISTORY www.travelthruhistory.com, I am also sitting on the other side of the desk in the chair of the editor.
This week I’ve been spending quite a lot of time editing stories for my website and editing my own work too, or stories from the people in the writing classes that I teach. Lately I’ve taken the time to enrol in a few editing classes so that I can hone these skills. It’s very interesting being on the other side of the desk, wearing the editor’s hat. Now I understand why editors are strict about the submissions they receive, and how easy it is to get your work rejected if you are not careful to submit ‘clean copy’.
I used to wonder, when I was a kid back in the newsroom, exactly what ‘clean copy’ meant. It didn’t mean a piece of copy paper with no coffee stains or cigarette burns. It means a piece of work well written, with a strong lead, informative body and satisfactory conclusion; no spelling errors; tight sentences; clear writing.
I’m being much stricter now with the copy that I accept for my travel e-zine. I enjoy editing, but I will not rewrite another person’s work. Unfortunately, on occasions, when I’ve made suggestions to a writer for changes that would make their story acceptable, the writer doesn’t want to change or edit their work. Therefore, no publication.
We writers must learn to edit and send ‘clean copy’ to our editors/publisher.
Never send a first draft, it will only get rejected. And accept the suggestions that are offered to you for improving your work. It’s a learning process, all part of being a writer. Eventually the self-editing becomes easier. It’s always helpful if you’re in a critique group too, because then you get fresh eyes looking at your work (but this must be through another writer’s eyes -- your Mom or your best friend aren‘t likely to understand the craft of writing.) It doesn’t hurt, if you’re a novice writer, to take a few courses from the experts. You’ll learn a lot and it will help you understand the intricacies of writing.If you’re weak on grammar, get a copy of “The Elements of Grammar” by Margaret Shertzer, or Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”. And for heaven’s sake, use your spell-check or refer to a good dictionary or thesaurus!
After all these years, from those days back in the ‘50’s in the Vancouver Sun newsroom, when I was this starry-eyed, innocent kid who wanted to be a crime reporter, and spent hours at home sitting at her old Underwood typing out historical fiction novels, I am today a writer/editor with a number of publications to my credit and a new ‘job’ as a roving reporter. And one day, very soon, I’ll have my most important body of work, Shadow of the Lion completed, ready to send off to an editor/publisher and I’ll remember the rule: Send out CLEAN COPY!