December 12, 2018 | Posted by: Rick Torseth | Comments: 5
“ You buried the lede again.”
I was in Sister Benadicta’s sixth grade class and I had asked my father to read my essay on the Declaration of Independence. A mistake I would repeat for most of my school life. With a red pencil, he went to work. By the time he finished his edits, my masterpiece was a sea of red marks, comments and punctuation changes. I was headed back to my room to start again. I hated the process and at times I was not too keen on my father.
Bob Torseth was a newspaper editor for 20 years. The 20 years before that he was a sportswriter and then a columnist. Words were his life. Arranging those words in the correct order and with as few of them as possible was what constituted good writing. No surprise he was a Hemingway fan.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
A case can be made that Dicken’s opening sentence in A Tale of Two Cities is the most famous lede in literature. The lede gets the ball rolling for the reader. I had committed the cardinal sin of burying my lede somewhere in the second paragraph. But it was my father’s use of “again” which bothered me. I didn’t seem to be learning this critical lesson of good writing.
I thought of my father-the-editor this morning about 5:30am when I read this quote from Flaubert: “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” Ain’t it the truth
My father passed away 13 years ago. He taught me many lessons; not all of them by design or with intention. His writing lessons were always with intention. This was his medium and his craft, and he was doing his best to pass it on to his slow learning son. He never gave up on my writing or me.
I lost years of writing opportunity because I told myself I would never be as good a writer as my father. I don’t know if he believed I had writing talent; he never shared those thoughts. Yet every time I begin to write, I think of my him, his lessons, and his dreaded edits. I value all of it and it usually gets me started.
He used to tell me that writing was not that hard as long as you did one thing: “Put your butt in the chair and don’t get up until you finish. Do Not Get Up.” This advice from my father has never failed me. Unless I bury the lede.
I love this. Your father is alive and well in all of us, Rick, but your portrait of him living productively in you is magically helpful. We won’t get up until it’s done. And we won’t let our secret adolescent resentment get in the way of sitting down to do it.
Today in the US, and elsewhere perhaps, we might say to our children, our budding young writers, “You’re the greatest,” only to watch them grow up to be abysmal writers. Praise is all but meaningless in thge long run; candid feedback, while it stings for for a time—a long time perhaps—is the gift that keeps this world turning. And seemingly keeps our butts in our seats to boot.
Nicely done, good sir. No burrying the lede on this one.
Beautiful! I look forward to reading more of your writing, be it about leadership, politics, life or even Dutch football.
Beautifully written and powerfully thought-provoking. Thank you, Rick, for sharing this gift with us. It has prompted reflections in me. About complexity and adaptive leadership, and how child-rearing and parenthood is one of the most common complex “wicked” problems faced by people in every culture. About the important craft of giving constructive feedback, especially in a relationship which involves a power differential. And, more personally, about fatherhood and my own journey with my young twins. May I learn to be as wise as you!
You told me about your father years ago, and about your desire to write, and to do it well as you had a mentor and an model; so reading this piece is a great pleasure, as I see you eventually let it happened, you found a way to let it go out of your fingers on the keyboard. Also thank you for passing a lesson from your father. Well done master Rick