Dear Genius, revisited

As I’ve said before, one of the things I like to do for inspiration around the time I’m writing a revision letter is to read excerpts from Dear Genius, a collection of children’s book editing legend Ursula Nordstrom’s letters edited by Leonard Marcus. (Hm. Doing a search, I can’t find the entry. Maybe I just meant to post about it. As I meant to post from UN’s essay “Editing Books for Young People,” which I don’t think I got around to, and now I’m not quite sure where the article has got to.) I wish there were more great editors’ letters collected like this (I’ve heard that there’s another great editor, a man, whose letters were collected, but his name escapes me and I haven’t tried to figure it out lately).

Anyway, in my convalescence this evening (it’s feeling better except when I try to bend over to pick anything up, actually. I’m trying heat next, now that I’ve iced it and taken ibuprofen), I’ve been trying to finish up a revision letter that I’m horribly late on, and I’ve been spending the evening with Ursula’s good-natured snark looking for inspiration. She is so good at cheerfully encouraging her authors and pointing out problems and possible solutions. I’m not finding a whole lot of actual revision editors, but her comments on books in the midst of other correspondence is still very encouraging.

In the spirit of a recent entry by Cheryl Klein (well, with much more snark, so be warned), I was amused by Ursula’s account of her weekend to a friend:

TO MARY STOLZ            April 29, 1957

Dear Molly:

Just tried to telephone but you are out larking around on this beautiful day and I’m glad about that. I’m sorry I had to ring off last night and trust you really did understand. I’d returned from a quite unpleasant weekend–the only bright spots during it were when I turned aside briefly to READ A DAMN MANUSCRIPT. Then I returned to my mortgaged little gray home on the hill, feeling quite sorry for myself to be frank, and the telep
hone was ringing and it was an author telephoning long distance to tell me good news about the third chapter, which was better than bad news about the third chapter but frankly no news about the third chapter was what I was longing to hear at that time on Sunday. So I talked and then hung up and then two neighbors dropped in, and there I was in my damn slip, about to take a bath, but I am so poor I don’t have a courteous lady-help to go to the door and say “Sorry Miss Nordstrom is at prayer meeting and won’t be home all night.” I don’t even have an upstairs to which I can retire while the neighbors ring the bell and then peer in through the cursed picture window. So I let them in (I put on me wrapper–of course) and they sat. The wife needled the husband and the husband needled the wife. Suddenly the wife said, with a weak smile to me, a propos of something particularly mean the husband had thrown at her: “I just never seem to do anything right,” and on the word “anything” her voice broke and the eyes filled up and I thought oh Lord and at that moment the phone rang and it was you and so that’s why I didn’t want to go on talking too long for fear the lovely couple in my living room would have been in a real hassle by the time I returned……    They were.

I am about to write the adult’s Hole is to Dig. I know I’ve spoken of this project to you before. The first page is: “Self-pity is to wallow in.” I was wallowing in it last night.

Isn’t that great? So candid, and I think it gives a good picture of one editor’s life, how she has to balance the personal and the professional, how her professional life bleeds into her personal life.

That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn recently to avoid burnout–how to carve out that time for my personal life so that I’m not “on” most of the day. (She says as she takes a short break from working on a manuscript at 9:30 p.m.) And making sure I take the time in my personal life to work out (see previous post), watch movies I want to see, have social time, go visit family–those allow me to be more refreshed for the times when I need to push a little harder to meet a deadline or to catch up on a pile of submissions (which will hopefully be my next project, after reading the next Hallowmere manuscript, and reading


  ‘s most recent, and going through

  ‘s latest revision… You get the idea). I’ve found that when I set a particular day of the week aside for new projects I can keep up with both new projects and existing projects better, but as Cheryl says, an editor has to make priorities for herself every day, and the books under contract always have to be first priority. 

So if you’re waiting for a reply from me, here’s to your patience. 🙂 Thanks for understanding.