June 9, 2009
Making It Work, Redux
Last year, right around this time (by "this time" I mean "the time of year when my boss reviews my performance") I posted the following reflection on the vocation of an editor. Now seems an appropriate time to revisit those reflections. (By "an appropriate time" I mean "a particularly strategic time"; by "revisit those reflections" I mean "suck up again to my boss.")
May 15, 2008
I Can Make This Work
It's annual performance review time here at InterVarsity Press, which reminds me to make a quick pitch for our sister blog Andy Unedited. There you'll find a limitless supply of profound insights by my esteemed boss, Andy Le Peau, conveyed with inimicable wit; you can almost picture his rugged good looks as you read his brilliant prose.
Where was I? Oh yes. The annual performance review at IVP is generally not so much a smackdown of bad behavior as it is a consideration of where we--employee and supervisor and, in a larger sense, publishing house--go from here. I suppose our Formatio authors would approve; they likely would recommend even a daily examen as a way to stay conscious of where you're headed personally and vocationally. Maybe that's overextending the significance of an annual job review, but such is Christian publishing.
A few years ago, in conjunction with my annual review, I was sent through a self-evaluation process in which I reflected on accomplishments from various eras in my life, with an eye toward my boss figuring out what in the world to do with me. Not to brag, but I had a pretty distinguished year in the first grade, writing a new school song that vastly improved on the jingoistic nonsense we had been subjected to at assemblies for two semesters. While my proposed anthem was ultimately overlooked by the school administration, I very much enjoyed reflecting on the experience of writing it, editing it and presenting it to my friends and fellow students.
Where was I again? Oh yes. My very patient guide through this self-evaluation crunched the numbers of my various bragging rites and discerned that I have a knack for "extracting potential." I thought that was a funny phrase, to be honest, but it became the organizing idea for the remainder of my self-evaluation and a framework for organizing my work from that point on.
As it happens, potential extractors can have a relatively fruitful career as editors. Even the most underdeveloped, ethereal book idea excites the imagination of a potential extractor: "I can," he whispers to himself, "make this work." Likewise, even the most highly refined draft of a manuscript has room for improvement--at least according to the potential-extracting machinations of the editor. Any idea is worth thinking about, then thinking about some more, than rethinking once it's been set into type or dispensed with a rejection slip.
Ah, there's the weakness of the potential-extracting editor: it's hard--real hard--to let go, to say "No" with conviction to the poorly conceived idea on the one hand; and on the other, to celebrate the accomplishment of a recently published book without mourning the potential as yet unextracted.
My wife used to meet regularly with a mentor who occasionally would grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say, with defiance, in an outdoor voice: "You are a leader! Lead!!!" I always thought that was funny, endearing even, but now at least once every year around annual performance review time, I imagine myself in the office of my disarmingly attractive boss, staring him in the eye as he grips my shoulders with his vicelike hands and nearly shouts, in that commanding voice of his, "You are a potential extractor! Extract!!!"