Every Word Matters
This week, I attended a question and answer session with editor Michelle Legro, who is currently the culture editor at the New Republic magazine. The topic of her discussion was titled “Editing, Publishing and job opportunities in NYC,” however what the substance of what she was talking about reached from summer internships, to the 2016 Presidential Race. She went into detail how editing took place at both The New Yorker, where she had worked as an intern during college, and compared editing at that large magazine to her first editing job at the small magazine company Lapham’s Quarterly.
Personally, I found the most eye opening thing to be how much emphasis the editors place on the type of work they want to feature in their magazines and subsequently how much they review a work so that they will be able to focus on exactly what message they want the piece to send. She explained that before a piece is published into a magazine it undergoes at least eight but probably more like twelve edits by various different people. She emphasized that after the first few edits all of the edits which follow, focus on word choice sentence structure and sentence placement to perfect the authors message. As I sit here writing this blog, I can help but think that I will be the only one to edit it, I probably will not review it more than once or twice, and I will not focus on how each and every word effects my message. The detail that the authors and editors of a magazine perfect their product it shocking and amazing.
As I thought about the influence that each word has on a work of literature as a whole I could not help but thing about Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “Theology.” The poem is four lines and contains only 38 words, however I am willing to bet that I will use more than 38 words to discuss it. For Dunbar each and every single word is so significant because his poem is so short. He does not have time to use the word yearning when he means longing. If his word choice is not spectacular, his poem will lack the meaning he desires.
I imagine that Paul Laurence Dunbar spent days, maybe weeks evaluating his word selection in his poem. He probably went line by line and word by word reviewing his work 50 times and as a result he was able the produce a poem with a deep and profound meaning about race relations in this country. For Dunbar as well as Michelle Legro, literally every word matters.