Over a mug of root beer, the editor of What’s Up Yukon, Darrell Hoo
key, extols his particular Christmas Wish List.
Topping the list, Wish No. 1, is what he calls his “Steve Martinian” wish: “For all of the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.” How beautiful was that?
He’s smiling, he may be joking, so we’ll move right along …
Wish No. 2, he says, is for aspiring writers. What he really wants is for them “to embrace the tediousness of writing.”
He pauses, for effect, or to see if I understand what he just said (I don’t, so he explains).
“It [writing] doesn’t happen like it does in the movies; it is hard, hard work; get over it.”
Hookey says it’s happened once in the past 30 years when writing “just flowed” – when he wrote something that his editor hardly touched because “it was so clean”. Even so, he would finish one double-spaced page (this was back in “the old days of typewriters and paper”) in the time that it took his editor to mark up the previous one for the typesetter. That story went on to win a newspaper award.
“However,” he continues (one leg crossed and shifting his root beer back and forth in front of him), “every other story I’ve written in the past 30 years has been a struggle.”
He rubs one eyebrow as he searches for an example: “Did someone willingly break the rule? or did they willfully break the rule?” he asks in a pop-quiz voice.
“There’s a big difference between the two, and the writer has to decide.” Another example: “Did someone speak French to me? or did they speak French at me?” There’s “a negative connotation” with the second one, he says.
“There are a thousand decisions to make in writing one 500-word story.”
Hookey pauses to answer his cellphone; after all, he reminds me, “I’m still working”.
In summary, Wish No. 2 is that writers embrace the reality that writing is just plain no-frills hard work.
On to Wish No. 3 …
“Learn to love the long sentence, ’cause nothing’s more beautiful than a long sentence written well; a baby’s first smile, however, does come close,” Hookey smiles, then adds, “Sadly, journalism schools are teaching students to make their sentences shorter – to make them more understandable.
“But short, punchy sentences just do not do the language of Shakespeare any justice at all,” he says thoughtfully, rubbing his chin.
I half expected him to recite a poem, here, but it was naught to be.
Wish No. 4: “Do not overuse the first-person style of writing.” A pause again, for emphasis, and to flick an imaginary crumb off the table.
“There are only two reasons to use a first-person style. The first: “It allows the writer to offer commentary. The second: “Is when the way the interviewee responds to a question (and/or the questioner) tells you something about their character.”
Hookey shares an example of a junk collector he knew who had a “boy’s enthusiasm at a very advanced age”.
“I could not say he had a childlike enthusiasm – not ‘childish’, which is another tricky one – because that would be offering an opinion. And I’m just the writer … I am not entitled to an opinion.
“So, I told it in the first person so that I would be able to offer many observations that painted a more complete picture.”
Now, Wish No. 4 actually is Wish No. 2, incognito; you see, Wish No. 4 is “Double check everything [so close, you see, to “embrace the tediousness”] because it is not the copy editor’s job [Thanks Boss!].
I wait, with baited breath, for Wish No. 5. I know it’s going to be good – the grand finale.
“Lastly,” Hookey says, “another Steve Martinian wish [longer pause]: thirty million dollars, tax-free, every month, in a Swiss account [OK … he’s kidding this time … I think].”
So there you have it: the five things that an editor (or at least this editor) wishes for at Christmas time.
Merry Christmas, editors and writers … and to all a goodnight.