Words from the Wise
Meet Ray Paprocki, Editor
What exactly do you do?
I am the editor of Columbus Monthly, which means that I'm responsible for making sure that the magazine comes out every month. As editor, I oversee the stories that we come up with, assign stories to writers, edit stories, work with the art department and proofreaders. Essentially, I make sure that every word in the magazine is in its proper place.
Describe a typical day.
There's really no typical day. It depends on the flow of where we are in the month. As a monthly magazine, we have a cycle. We work about 4-6 weeks ahead of schedule. At any one time, I can be working as many as three different magazines: putting one out, making assignments on another one, and beginning to think about what's going to be in the third one.
The portion of the month when we're just trying of get the magazine out, I'll spend most of my time just editing stories. In another part of the month, a lot of it is the thinking process; two issues from now, what's our cover story going to be? What's the story line? I try to work out the balance of stories – hard news versus lighter stories, and who are the best writers to cover the stories.
What's the coolest part of your job?
The excitement that surrounds a good idea. There's nothing more thrilling than knowing that you've got a good idea.
How do people react when they learn what you do?
Everybody writes, so they have some connection to that, unlike being an aerospace engineer. People have some familiarity with writing, and a lot of people like to write, so there's some interest and common ground.
How did you become editor of Columbus Monthly?
Gradually, then suddenly. From college, I worked in newspapers as a writer, then I joined Columbus Monthly as a writer, and then I took on more responsibilities writing and editing. When I was in college, I worked with a couple of professors who encouraged me to send some of the work I was doing for them to the magazine, and they published one. And the magazine asked me to do another story, which I did.
I just stayed in touch. When you meet people along the way who take an interest in you, you should stay in touch, and be appreciative of that interest. The staff at Columbus Monthly is small, but they happened to have an opening, and because they knew me, I got in.
What disappoints you about your job?
Stories sound interesting but just don't grab you. As a reader, you're disappointed, which means as an editor, I've got to put on the boots and gloves and work hard to make it better.
How has your job changed over time?
Not much. Words are words, and how to structure a story and knowing how to do a narrative, and knowing what to leave in and leave out – those are all the same struggles a writer goes through since the beginning of writing.
How will your job be different ten years from now?
The tools may change - computers - but the process of writing will be the same.
What are some of the most important skills and abilities needed for this job?
You need to be curious. You need to know why things happen. You need empathy when you're writing about people. You should have some sense of what it's like to be the person you're talking to, whether they've done something incredible or incredibly awful. Not to say that you take their side, but you need to understand what they're doing. You need to read a lot, not only to gather information, but to see how other people write.
From good writers, you get a sense of the rhythm of the words. You need to be persistent, in the gathering of information; it's not easy, doing magazine stories; there's a lot of work involved. The things that make stories are the little details, and the collection of details. In an interview, you not only need to know what happened on that day, but it may be important to know what size shoe a person was wearing, as an example. You need to want to be better as a writer.
You should never be satisfied with your writing, because it's never quite good enough. It may be good, and it may be great, but there's always something that you could have done better.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left high school that would've helped you with your career?
When I was in high school, I was under the impression that the only thing that really counted was my work. The personality and politics seemed sort of like cheating; that's really not the way the world works. It's not dirty and it's not cheating. If people think you're able to do good work - whether it's through work or a combination of who you are - you should recognize that and allow that to happen.