editing / grammar / write here write now / writing

Il ne mâche pas ses mots

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The French phrase Il ne mâche pas ses mots translates to “He doesn’t mince his words.” Those words should sound like music to the ears of any writer in search of excellence — and an editor who doesn’t care one bit about his feelings if they should get in the way of his development as a writer, thinker, dreamer, doer.

The woman in the picture above is Jullie Yap Daza, sharp and uncompromising journalist, ruthless editor, and bestselling author, who was one of my many guests of honor at the launch of my book Write Here Write Now: Standing at Attention Before My Imaginary Style Dictator, where she also wrote the foreword.

I’ve been working with her since the mid-’90s at the original Lifestyle Asia, pioneer of the glossy, upscale magazine in the Philippines. As she said of me in her opening remarks at my book launch, “he was a professional virgin when I met him,” although I had four years of advertising experience tucked under my belt. I was worth PhP18,000 a month in advertising, but I took a huge salary beating, down to PhP6,000 a month, less than what I was earning four years before, in order to join her staff as a writer-in-training.

That was the best decision I ever made.

The best years of my life for learning were the first seven years under Jullie, four years as practically “the other editor” at Lifestyle Asia and three years as lifestyle editor at the newspaper daily Manila Standard, where she was editor in chief, the “editor from hell” for many of my co-workers, particularly the lazy, the mediocre, and the incompetent (and also for me but only when I was not feeling up to par).

Back then, I was nothing but a writer/editor to her. She didn’t know — and maybe didn’t care (or so I think) — whether I was married or single, whether I lived in the north or the south, whether I had a car or not. Although her friendship, which I have now, is precious, a priceless reward for all my “suffering” under her wing, I am happy she didn’t think I had a life outside work and therefore pushed me to make things possible. I am happy she didn’t know I spent all night crafting an article, so she didn’t have to worry about assigning me another article to craft the next night. I am happy she didn’t have to worry that I had to travel three hours to go after a story she wanted, when just next to me was another writer, who only lived five minutes away from the assignment.

Oh I was obsessed with Jullie and everything she represented. How I enriched myself in her words, in her ideas, in her company, even in her silences! I was hungry for knowledge and she was a fountain of it, although it wasn’t her style to teach, to spell things out — she was queen — so you must force yourself to be sharp, to be on your toes, to learn by her example.

I worked under her at Standard for four more years, but then, in the last fours years, we got to know each other better. She was still my demanding boss, but outside of work, she had become my friend.

Let me end this post with a quote from Write Here Write Now: Standing at Attention Before My Imaginary Style Dictator, from the chapter “Editor from Hell”:

“In this age of the empowered individual,

in this dawn of self-entitlement,

in this world of disposable relationships,

what good is an editor

who has to mince his words to tell you,

without having you quit in an instant,

that your writing has as much substance

as water vapor?”

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