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Monday, March 21, 2005


Mr Tidy

As far as I'm concerned, *all* writing is a work in progress and there's always something that can be tidied somewhere.

For my own writing, the first words I slap down are of little interest except as guidelines to where I may want to go. Akin to a slap of marble or a block of wood: all one is really looking at is the material one has to work with. The finished product will bear little resemblance.

I am a terrible editor. In fact I am *not* an editor of any sort or skill so much as a rewriter, which I regard as pretty low life and not something to be mentioned around polite company.

But I have posed as an editor on three continents and my business cards have often proclaimed me as such.

When I was in Hong Kong, scrabbling as a despised writer/editor for one of the hotshot American ad agencies, I was part of a team on an account with a very tough and difficult client - and none come tougher or more difficult than tough difficult Americans straight out of Central Casting. I think that's part of the whole MBA training deal, or just before they've given their corner office and key to the exc loo, they go off to some secret mountain fortress where they're trained in how to bust balls.

Like all toughies, this one would tear anything we wrote apart and keep tearing til blueprint stage and even when the final job was printing. Because his roar was every bit as ferocious as his bite, we took it and met deadlines best we could.

One job was going so badly, we almost felt like jacking it in and suggesting he find another agency. It had gone thru umpteen writers including the boss man and his assistant and probably his glam trophy wife who'd wander in now and then festooned with shopping.

One night late at the printers, I was brought a brochure that had corrections even the skilled Chinese typesetter couldn't decipher. The job had to be done by the next morning and I was asked my advice. I looked at this hardworking guy who'd given up his nights and weekends and I said, "You know, Kenny? Who *cares* what the corrections say? I'm going to sit down and write the whole thing the way it should be. I don't want to see the proof. It's shapeless rubbish."

So I wrote the whole thing and signed off on it and it printed and we delivered it to the client's office and I went home for my 4 hours' sleep before the big meeting.

Naturally, the creative director went ashen when he saw it and told me that I was carrying the can and any reprint came out of my pay.

The big cheese came in and looked it over and barked some orders and pretended to spot some color defect and queried a wrong phone number; the usual.

He then asked about the writing and the CD did his thing and dumped me in it, to which I murmered something craven like I thought it could do with some tidying here and there. He grunted.

A half hour later as he walked out and we all rose and bowed and scraped, he pointed at me:

"You, my English friend - you tidy up good"

Ever after, each time some expensive writer had done his job, whether I'd been allowed near it or not, the CEO would jab a finger at me and growl, "You seen this, Mr Tidy? This got your seal of approval?" I'd nod and simper and tug forelock.

I do tidy up good.

I'm reminded of this by the two versions of my Weblogger Meeting report:

  • The cringe-making initial "slab", that the tireless Anita sent out (and which must exist as a cache somewhere)
  • And the final revised version which sits in my blog.

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