It all started when…
Mr. Fetherling set down his Diet Dr. Pepper.
The former L.A. Times editor turned adjunct journalism professor wore penny loafers and drank ungodly amounts of caffeine after 2 pm.
He was on his second marriage, an all too common fate for a writer, and seemed inherently dissatisfied with the work his students produced.
With cushioned steps between the aisles of the editorial lab, he said a lot of things as we scrolled through endless pages of copy, but this one thing I remember the most:
“Only some of you are cut out for this kind of work. Maybe one or two people in this room will make a living doing this professionally."
I was certain I was not among the chosen ones.
Mr. Fetherling had this one problem. He wanted us to see story through his eyes, but that required stripping a piece of copy to its bones and letting it talk. It required guts to eliminate what was not supporting the story. He asked for vision, and that vision is the single most powerful tool handed me as a writer.
The work of a writer is sleight of hand. A discerning eye. A hunch for the right turn of phrase. It's part training, part gift, and one I owe in part to Mr. Fetherling. An exceptional editor always keeps the writer's voice intact but leaves something better than they found it.
I took what he taught me into the real world and it multiplied my power as a writer. So I emailed the dean of Journalism after graduation to get in contact with Mr. Fetherling; to thank him for his giftedness at teaching students.
The response back said:
"I'm sorry to inform you, Lauren, that we lost Dale last month to heart complications."
The brevity of life reminds us that sometimes there isn't time enough, even to say "thank you." As a writer, the best way to honor our gift is to help others tell their stories. A story, after all, is maybe the only thing that outlives us.