When a High School English Teacher Gave One of Our Stories an F

At the Washingtonian I always thought that writers, not editors, made the magazine successful so when it came to editorial spending I tried to spend as little as possible on full-time editors. That meant sometimes we needed editing help to get an issue out and we used part-timers.

One of our full-time editors had been the head of the English department at a top DC private school and one time when we needed help he said that the man who had succeeded him at the school might be looking for summer work. We arranged a part-time deal and sent the English teacher a story to edit. A note in my files from our managing editor on what happened:

P— P—– called to say that he had reluctantly concluded that he couldn’t edit the M—– piece because the problems with it were gargantuan and would require too much work. He said that it was poorly written, confusing, with little coherence and many unclear sentences; that the writer was lost in particulars and he couldn’t get any overview from the piece at all. He felt very badly about turning down the work.

He said he had never turned down a piece in his life; he would even learn German to write a review about a German book if he had to; but he couldn’t fix this piece.


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