My first ever post on Phillymag.com wasn’t really mine. Sure, it had my byline and the artwork I created for it, but not one single word that was written flowed from my brain onto the screen. But before you go thinking I’m a total fraud, let me explain.
I wrote up my first post for the popular city online publication with a joyful little smile on my face. It was about Alexa Chung’s up-and-coming denim line launching in a Philly store. Of course, I couldn’t even afford a button from the Alexa Chung line (Seriously, who pays $110 for a t-shirt?) and I’ve never even heard of the store it was being featured at, but I gave it a go. I quickly sent it over to my editor and totally did a happy dance in my cubicle.
I get a message from her. “Rebecca, want to come over to my office so we can edit this together?” Writing was always my strong suit, so I absurdly thought she would simply praise my work and tell me I’m off to a great start.
Oh, god, was I wrong. By the time I walked in her office (which takes about four seconds on a bad day), she was already going in on my article. My heart dropped into my stomach. Maybe I wasn’t going to be good at this, after all. She swiftly made her way through the three paragraph piece; snipping here, changing words there, and deleting entire sections all together. Finally she pushed the “Publish” button, but I felt the strangest urge to cry (or a flip a table, whichever).
But, luckily for me (and the tables of the office, I suppose) I quickly realized three things:
1. It wasn’t personal.
2. She only wants the best for the website (which is totally fair).
3. She only wants the best for me.
It was easy to take it personally when she edited my every word, easy to feel like a complete failure. Easy to feel complete discouragement. But it was actually the complete opposite. A few days went by of her meticulously editing my pieces, and soon she only had to change a few words here and there or delete a comma. She was building up my confidence in writing, teaching me how to handle lengthy pieces, guiding me to efficient and streamlined writing, and ultimately making me a better writer in all. I would study her edits and store them away in a folder in my brain labeled “So You Can Do Better Next Time”. I often reference that mental folder now while writing posts. In the four short months I’ve been here, I’ve gone from having every word changed, to full pieces that are not only entirely mine, but that generate a lot of buzz on the website.
Although I don’t plan on remaining in the editorial world postgrad, my copywriting skills have improved tenfold if nothing else. In my Intro to Copywriting class, I remember my professor giving me falsely approving nods on copy that we both knew was terrible. (Joe Glennon, what a trooper.) But now, as I’m knee-deep in his advanced copy class, I can see that – although still not ready to embark on a copywriting career – I’m improving. I’d like to think his expert teaching abilities are the sole reason for the improvement (although I’m sure it plays a much larger part than I’m aware of), but a lot of my honed skills have to do with me trying to fit an entire story into a six-word headline to publish on a post. It’s a lot harder than you might think. Seriously. It’s awful. But I didn’t magically learn how to do that on my own. I learned from having someone (whether it be my editor or my professor) completely rip apart my stories or idea. I learned from failure. And if you ask me, that’s the best way to learn: Once you’ve failed, you’re less scared to fail again. You move beyond yourself and your fear of falling. You make progress. And after all, progress just looks like a bunch of a failures.