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The Story

It starts with an idea. Maybe from one line in an article buried deep inside the New York Times. “So and so decided it was a good idea to tell kids yadi yadi yada.”The writer, then reading the story stuffed between two iPod listening zombies on the subway, quickly makes a mental note and continues reading.

The line festers over the next few days. Showers are consumed with thoughts and the dinner table has brief “what if,” conversations. The writer thinks there is a story there, but is just not sure where it is exactly.

A week later while sitting in the dentist’s office, the writer notices a magazine he had never heard of before. Quickly glancing through he discovers the magazine may be an outlet for the story, and in a moment of shamefulness, rips out the masthead and stuffs it in his pocket.

The masthead, a few months old, sits on his desk crumpled with sweat form the long hot day stuffed inside his jacket. Then in a moment of inspiration the writer jots down some thoughts, calls a few people and writes a pitch.

The editor’s comments are typical. “Who are you? Why do you think this is a good story? How does it fit in my magazine? I think there is potential but I don’t think it’s there.”

By this time the writer is committed. The time thinking alone has already breached every aspect of his life, and the small line buried deep inside the New York Times needs to be explored.

It takes three weeks, several more calls, hours of thinking and two more pitches to the editor. Finally the editor bites, and the writer has an assignment.

“Go ahead and give me a 1,000 words,” the editor quickly jotted down in an email. “I need it by next Tuesday. Is this possible?”

It is Friday, but anything is possible when given the chance.

The writer works tirelessly dialing numbers scribbled weeks ago on notepads littered on top of his desk. Answering machines mean voicemails and the fear of a deadline missed. Sunday rolls around and panic is starting to set in.

The story, just now shy of 600 words needs a solid source. Several people have agreed to speak, but none on the record. The writer, seasoned and familiar with the fear of missing a deadline quickly jots a note to the editor.

“I have a solid story,” he begins. “But I may need a few more days to find a source willing to go on record.”

“Tuesday,” is all that comes back.

The writer quickly works wonders pulling out all stops. His home life is a whirlwind of anxiety. The paycheck is dismal, just a $1.25 a word, but the story needs to be told, and if he doesn’t who will?

Finally, early Tuesday morning he finds a workaround to not having a source. Dashing off 1,000 words he gives it a quick once-over and hits send. For the first time in a few weeks his brain takes a moment and stops thinking about the story.

The next day the editor writes back. “Good, but not good enough. I like this, this and this, but can you strengthen it here and here? Also, I know what you’re trying to say, but I don’t think you quite nailed it. Please reread and fix.”

Quickly the writer goes over the changes. Hardly a sentence is intact. Feverishly he continues to call the people who were kind enough to chat. He pours over notes, googles for hours and bangs out drafts. After two days he is satisfied and hits send.

The cycle continues three more times. And then the editor replies with a simple, “Thank you, I think the story is good and I appreciate all the work.”

Three months later on a cold fall day, the writer is back on the subway and sees the magazine in a man’s hands. He quickly asks if he could borrow it for a second and scans the index for his name. There it is half way down, with a large page number pointing readers to enlightenment.

“Excuse me sir,” the writer asks, “But did you read this story by any chance?”

He points to his handiwork.

“Oh that one? Yea, skimmed it this morning on the pot. Cool idea, but the writer sucks.”

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