WASHINGTON — Editors know that when I send in a column, they have to work on it right away, because if they don't, I am certain to ship them a new, improved version just a few minutes later. And more versions will be on the way. I am constantly re-editing myself; it's an infuriating compulsion of mine. Nothing I write is ever truly finished until it's in print.
Editors know that when I send in a column, they have to leap on it as if it were a grenade in a foxhole and they're bucking for a posthumous Medal of Honor. If they don't do that, they know I'm going to send them an improved version just a few minutes later, and that others will follow. To them, my tendency to re-edit myself is a completely inappropriate habit, like a peignoir on a nun.
Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to want to rewrite it almost immediately. I become an agent of change, but a really annoying one, like President Obama if he talked like Fran Drescher.
Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to want to rewrite it almost immediately. I become an instrument of change, but a highly irritating one, like one of those stamp vending machines at the post office that will break a $20 bill but give back only nickels.
Editors know that when I send in a column on deadline, I'm going to rewrite it almost immediately, because they know that I know their deadlines are a lie. A newspaper deadline is exactly like the speed limit: You know it's phony, but you also know there is a real limit, and because no one discloses that limit, you have to guess. This becomes an elaborate game of chicken, except your opponent is not some pimply teenager in a car but a seasoned, professional editor, by which I mean the snotty know-it-all from eighth grade who hunched protectively over her exam paper as though it were a priceless palimpsest with directions to the Ark of the Covenant.
Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to rewrite it again and again in violation of their bogus "deadline," which is hiding a real deadline known only to the editor. This is exactly like the real highway speed limit. Unfortunately, in both cases, you have to hazard a guess, and in both cases the penalty for guessing wrong is bad. In my case, I wind up getting a tut-tutting lecture about how it's too late to catch any of my factual errors or imprecise language, and that, unfortunately, the column is going to clearly imply that Sri Lanka is "a species of frog."
Editors are frogs. If you throw them into a pot of boiling water, they will leap out and lecture you, promulgating all sorts of obnoxious, creativity-stifling rules about obedience to deadlines. But if you write a column on supposed deadline, and then gradually make changes over a long period of time, they will not notice what is happening to them, and will slowly boil to death, at which point, dipped in a tangy mustard sauce and garnished with parsley, they are actually quite tasty.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.