After publishing my first article, the editor said to me, “These meetings are pretty dry. Can you spice up your articles with some humor or something?” I assured him I could, and for the rest of the school year I wrote lighter articles, trying to draw readers in by a humorous narrative of our monthly meetings. Since the editor merely thanked me each time I stopped by the newspaper office to hand him my typed sheets (no email in those days!), I assumed he was happy with my writing.
Then, while reading the last issue of The Oredigger, which came out at the end of the school year, just before everyone finished their finals and left for the summer, I came upon a letter to the editor that stopped my heart. A student complained that throughout the year the student council articles had been annoyingly cutesy and unprofessional, not befitting an upstanding population of students such as ours. At the end of that letter was a note from the editor, saying that he had no control over the article that was submitted by student council.
I felt sick. I was so shocked to find out that after 9 months of articles, not only had a reader disliked them so much that she went to the trouble to gripe about them for several paragraphs, but had also waited to speak up until I had no chance to redeem myself. Not only that, I felt betrayed by the editor for apparently agreeing with her, yet never mentioning his dissatisfaction to me throughout the year, or at least showing me the letter before it went to publication to give me a chance to respond.
However, I took their criticisms to heart as I re-read some of my articles, and I had to agree. They were way too cutesy. See the sample for yourself, and I think you’ll agree. So now I was embarrassed and ashamed, and not just a little, or for a short while. I just re-read that letter to the editor (which I saved…why?) and I feel the same emotions as I did in 1977. And I still have trouble not being cutesy.
It was an awful experience, but I’m sure that it took the edge off subsequent critiques and rejections, and it taught me some good lessons about consideration for my audience and keeping in mind the purpose of a piece of writing.
It occurs to me also that this is not the only time in my life that God has used a traumatic experience to take the edge off of others that followed. Maybe that is one way that I can give thanks in all circumstances, knowing that right in the midst of them God can be using them to strengthen me and give me wisdom for the future.
(By the way, in case you’re wondering, the caption on the photograph mentions slides of a wet t-shirt contest, but that was only a ploy to get more people to come to the meetings. They were actually scenic slides from a trip to the mountains—honest!)
Posted by Ramona