When an earthquake strikes, don’t do this. Listen to your editor.
This is a true story.
A few days ago a pretty nice relationship we had with a marketing agency we’d been working with went south. I want to say, looking back, that it wasn’t that bad. But looking back, it was that bad.
The agency had made a mistake on the boutique content writing outfit Richter Scale of about a 7, without any explanation or apology, just an update of the damage via a chat message. A tense talk the next day went a little better. The agency admitted they’d made a mistake, and actually offered to help us. My partner and I talked through our options.
With all of that “adult” stuff out of the way, I decided (maybe “decided” doesn’t really explain the process I went through) to send a follow-up message of my own telling the agency what I really felt about their behavior, both on a personal and professional level. It was my Leeroy Jenkins moment and I went in with guns blazing—ironically, and in perfect duplication of Leeroy, after a wearying and methodical attempt at triage by the other half of Storyline Creatives, who also happens to be my editor.
Remember that magnitude 7 earthquake? After my heart-to-heart, it was a 10. Houses flattened, children screaming, big smoking crater ripped clean down the middle of main street.
That pretty nice relationship we had—it had just gotten sucked down into the bowels of the earth.
Picking up the pieces
My editor is one of the nicest, most level-headed people I know, no matter what she says about her hot Armenian blood. On the afternoon of my one-man earthquake, I couldn’t tell what was going through her mind over lunch. I just had this strong feeling that while she sat there next to me silently chewing her sandwich, somewhere in her mind’s eye she was picturing me choking on my edamame and yellowfin salad.
Actually, I could sympathize. She’d brokered a peace treaty out of what should have been a fatal episode. She’d actually gotten the agency to accept responsibility over the phone. This meant the business we had with them—an advertising campaign we’d already paid for by swapping services—wasn’t dead. Actually, it was better than that. We could actually benefit from the fiasco. They owed us, didn’t they?
What you see on the screen after Leeroy Jenkins’ shitstorm is nothing but Jenkins and his crew lying dead on the ground in their armor and a bunch of freaked-out dragons wheeling about overhead. What I was thinking at that very moment, while the other half of my company was possibly dreaming of my death by raw tuna, was this: Leeroy Jenkins should have listened to his war council.
The most denigrated term in MFA (Master of Fine Arts) writing program speak is probably the “epiphany”, or the idea that in order for a story to work, your main character has to not only go through some kind of life-altering event, but must come to terms with or process that event in the form of a resolution.
The truth is, I don’t know any writers who explain stories in terms of epiphanies, and maybe epiphanies don’t even pop up in MFA seminars at all and are just spitefully attached to them by jealous griping writers without MFAs or work. Maybe epiphanies are just explanations found in Cliff Notes.
But, writers, let me tell you this: I had an epiphany this morning and it was real. This epiphany ties Leeroy Jenkins, bad online behavior and the perfect writer-editor relationship together in one neat bundle of what I would comfortably describe as epiphanic wonderfulness.
And as usual, I didn’t come up with this by myself. After I didn’t choke on my yellowfin salad, and after plenty of coaching from my patient editor, I realized that in the wake of our marketing agency disaster, my feelings didn’t matter. What mattered, in this case, was our little creative writing agency, a business we’d dedicated a good chunk of our lives to for almost three years. Running in there and firing blindly at dragons for a few seconds might have salved my injured sense of fairness. It might have cleared my chest. But strategically, it was a huge, dumb mistake.
Simply, I hadn’t thought of the big picture. My editor had.
She’d thought of the big picture because that, I realize now, is what good editors do. They look at the writing they’re in charge of and make decisions based on what’s best for the writing, not the writer.
Or think of it this way: Have you ever struggled for days to come up with the perfect metaphor for a story? If your readers don’t need that metaphor, and your editor is wise enough to see that and asks you to cut it, you’ve got a good editor.
Look, it’s no easier to let go of a beautifully crafted metaphor than it is to keep your feelings about a colleague’s questionable behavior bottled up inside. But I have realized through the course of this episode—and by connecting the dots to scores of previous Leeroy Jenkins moments in my personal and professional life—that what’s at stake in both cases is bigger than you. It’s either keeping your business or your job, or publishing your writing, that matters.
If you think your ego is more valuable than your work, go ahead and jump into that den of dragons. You’ll end up dead every time.
If it’s your career that matters, put your guns away.
Don’t believe me?
Ask my editor.
When Max Sheridan isn't shooting dragons to soothe his ego, he's writing stories and designing comeback campaigns for Nicolas Cage. (What, you don't think he needs a comeback campaign?) His second novel Hubble is coming fall 2020 from Run Amok Books. Talk to Max at your own risk here.