First editors are literary parents. They teach you right from wrong. They nurture you, praise your best work, and offer gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – suggestions. Good or bad, they’re the foundation for your writing. If they’re gifted, they help transform you into the writer you want to be.
Phil was my first professional editor. (I’ll write about another tomorrow.) He ran a weekly newspaper in my hometown, where I landed a college internship. Journalists are stereotyped: crass, cynical, burned out, angry, but with edgy and dark humor I’ve never heard anywhere except a newsroom. Phil was a gentle exception, maybe because I was the young and naive intern.
During that summer, he assigned great feature stories that let me shine. But I also had to cover township government. Township officers held meetings in old country schools that hadn’t been torn down, buildings with mice and outhouses. Board officers talked about riprap and ditch mowers and rural garbage rates.
Try injecting drama into that, John Grisham.
Phil was on vacation when I started. I filed a township story the night before his return. In an attempt to sound smart, I used the word “myriad.” After highlighting the meeting’s hot topic (riprap) I typed something like, “The board discussed myriad topics” and listed them bullet style.
The note on my desk the next morning: Shelley, welcome! Please, while you’re here, do not, under any circumstances, use the word myriad. Have you ever seen myriad in a newspaper, magazine, or novel? My money’s on NO. Have you ever heard anyone say myriad in a conversation? And in that rare instance, did that person use it correctly? Of course not! That person said ‘myriad of.’ There’s no ‘myriad of.’ There’s just myriad. Nobody knows that. Even writers don’t know that. Myriad — A STUPID WORD.
(Let’s set aside arguments claiming myriad was used originally as a noun, then exclusively as an adjective, and therefore can be used both ways. Thanks to Phil, this blog belongs to the Myriad Adjective Club.)
So … it’s been twenty-plus years, and I’ve paid attention. Phil was wrong: people do use the word myriad. And Phil was right: they rarely use it correctly. I have a myriad of plans for my future! Phil would slap you with a rolled-up newspaper.
Then I discovered an exception. When I was ready to rejoin the dating game, I read an intriguing profile. Among this man’s sentences: “I enjoy Minnesota’s myriad parks.”
Myriad parks! Minnesota’s myriad parks!
I asked him out. We had myriad dates. And now we’re getting married.
Thanks a myriad, Phil.