Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

A guest post by William Pearse (pinklightsabre)


I’m happy to offer a guest post today by pinklightsabre — otherwise known as William Pearse. If you’re not reading Pinklightsabre’s Blog regularly, you’re missing out on some of the best writing on (or off) WordPress. And if you were to run into Bill’s writing unattributed somewhere, you’d know it’s his immediately. He has a novel style. His mind works in unfettered ways. His prose is musical and rhythmic and soaring and sharp, and he takes you, in a single post, to so many places and times that you find yourself unstuck from your own, ready to follow him anywhere he leads you. Last year it was mainly Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, and many points in between, but it doesn’t matter where he is when he’s writing. He can be anywhere he likes, and he’ll take you along.

This piece is an account of Bill’s first job as a professional editor for Starbucks.

William Pearse lives in the Pacific Northwest and publishes memoir, creative non-fiction and poetry on his blog https://pinklightsabre.com. He just returned to the States from a nine-month sabbatical in Europe with his wife and two kids and is writing his first novel, The Truth About Alexander Sloane.

Leave the skin on

by pinklightsabre

Interviewing for my first job as a professional editor they asked about my qualifications and I told them how much I loved to write, how much I loved the language, which should have been obvious by the way I was sitting there, and my soon-to-be colleague asked, Do you consider yourself more of a writer than an editor? It stumped me because I hadn’t thought of that before, I was young, but since I wanted the job badly I lied, and said editor.

I got to work on the content. The content was never-ending. We were opening two or three cafés a day across all of North America including Canada, and there was a lot of information to give to people, to the employees, to make sure everything was right. We were a team of three responsible for the weekly bulletins, the emails, the voicemails, the resource manuals, the marketing guides — everything that had to go out which was too much — and we were constantly cutting out the fluff, changing font sizes, hustling up d-lists, rewriting, right-justifying. We wrote to the Voice, the Voice we imagined fit the brand in some abstract way we conformed to like 1984 but without the torture and the mind control.

The Voice was all business. The Voice was like this is what you’ve got to do by when and why, and we’re sorry (but we’re not), you have to. The Voice was like you really need to do this, you do. The Voice was like do this, please. The Voice was always saying stuff needed to be done and trying to put it simply and sound nice saying it and not overly fluffy, but to try to sound human, a little. Now that I write it, it does sound like mind control but that’s not how we saw it: it was a job, and important even if most people didn’t read what we wrote. We knew they should, and that was saying something.

I did that for about five years,  killing a lot of great ideas like ants with my hands and training ants of my own on the page, making it look like they were all going in the same direction and busy, making sense out of nonsense by taking things away, pretending there was more when there wasn’t, less when there was more.

We were that group you had to submit things to if you wanted to talk to the stores, and everybody wanted to talk to the stores but least of all, us. It wore us down over time, the inane requests, the bad language, the do-this, do-that bullshit we had to find a way to pretty up so as to not look like bullshit, to look at ourselves in the mirror after we’d done that, to start off caring and kind of lose it over time. The fact I read poetry at open mic nights a few years prior and called myself an artist and now this, sold out by the ease of weekends off. I got into management. I got promoted. I started writing process because I was an expert, we were running out of things to do. I got entangled in political imbroglios because people began to fear and envy me. It prompted me to move on to bigger and harder things, to make more, to make myself irreplaceable, immortal, a musk I started to wear in interviews for positions contriving mad reasons that I was the obvious choice, emitting pheromones like an animal in the forest in heat, narratives I practiced on long walks when I should have been at my desk but I was already somewhere else, somewhere they wanted me to be, going up.

I had to rewrite my résumé, it had been about 20 years. I hired a résumé editor and he hacked me with margins full of comments, the same story he has to tell people like me day-in, day-out: keep it to one page — that’s great you have all this experience but remember the value of white space — focus on key results and accomplishments — the fact you were there X number of years isn’t alone an accomplishment — tell us what you did but keep it brief.

I reread my summary which sounded good at first but then didn’t, it wasn’t my voice, it was some other Voice but wasn’t me. It was good from an SEO POV but didn’t feel like the way I would talk, in search results.

I hit the trail to imagine a blog post I’d write on the value of editing for a friend who asked and decided to start with the story of my first editing job, to try to establish some credibility, even though it had all started with a lie. I remembered something Ray Bradbury wrote, on the importance of keeping your writing fresh, to watch out for over-editing, leave it in the husk: what you write should feel like a living thing, not like it was sanitized or taken apart by medical students and reassembled.

And I remembered a voicemail script I wrote for an executive who was in Seattle from New York when 9/11 happened, and I had to help him write a speech he could send to his people, to share in their sorrow and reassure them as his leader. It was the first time I got to write something like that and no one edited it, we didn’t have to get it approved, it was his message. He took it aside and held his forehead in one hand and used a pen with his other to add some thoughts of his own, to make it his, to make it not sound pre-rehearsed, from the heart.

I had been there almost 20 years in a different department doing different things, and went back to my old team to see if they had any openings. My friend was now overseeing the group and was happy because they were changing up the Voice, making it sound more human, more real — something I wished I’d thought of myself in the ‘90s. I had a chance to meet her VP and she cut to the chase and said, So, tell me what you bring to the table: what do I need to know about you, Bill Pearse? And I just sat there beaming, saying how much I loved writing (I blog), but this time there were no offers.

17 comments on “A guest post by William Pearse (pinklightsabre)

  1. pinklightsabre
    May 25, 2016

    Reblogged this on Pinklightsabre's Blog and commented:
    Check out this post my friend Kevin Brennan featured today on his blog, WHAT THE HELL. It’s an account of my first job as a professional editor for Starbucks, in the late 90s — a post Kevin copyedited for me and posted as a guest blog. Kevin has set up a service for indie authors (he is one himself) at http://www.indiescribable.com; I plan to work with him when my manuscript is complete this year.

  2. Yahooey
    May 25, 2016

    Reminded me of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials’ Selling Out and the line “It’s not selling out, it’s buying in.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 25, 2016

      Perfect! Not sure what to do with the line, “I love the smell of your armpits” though …

      • Yahooey
        May 25, 2016

        That line always makes me smile. I imagine all those bible belters that complained about Elvis’ pelvis being outraged by the line.

  3. rossmurray1
    May 25, 2016

    Bill’s like a beat poet in prose. Sometimes I hear the distant drumming of bongos.

    • pinklightsabre
      May 25, 2016

      I think that’s just construction, cuttin’ down trees.

      • walt walker
        May 25, 2016

        I don’t hear the bongos so much, those corporate folk – even the Starbucks kind, I think – don’t want the bongos so much, but I do hear the beat poet part, and maybe not so much the beat part as the poet part. I think simply ‘poet’ says more. This was a great piece, enjoyed it, thanks Bill and Kevin, good stuff.

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 25, 2016

        Thanks for comin’ over, Walt. Bill speaks highly of you, and I’m looking forward to reading what’s in your box.

      • walt walker
        May 26, 2016

        My pleasure. Bill is good people. Catch ya later.

      • pinklightsabre
        May 26, 2016

        Thank you Walt and Kevin for hosting.

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 26, 2016

        A genuine pleasure, Bill. Thanks again for the piece.

  4. Exile on Pain Street
    May 26, 2016

    Don’t knock the ease of weekends off until they’ve been snatched away from you. Nobody wants to work for ‘the man’ but the man can be kind of nice in return. He maketh me lie down in green pastures and payeth the mortgage on time.

  5. 1WriteWay
    May 31, 2016

    Love this: “killing a lot of great ideas like ants with my hands and training ants of my own on the page, making it look like they were all going in the same direction.” I definitely get the sound of the poet in this prose but, for me, the best prose has some poetry in it. Thanks, Kevin and Bill. Good stuff 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 31, 2016

      You’re so right about the prose/poetry collaboration, Marie. It’s a yin/yang kind of thing for sure. Some great poetry even sounds a lot like prose!

      • 1WriteWay
        May 31, 2016

        Yes, I read a couple of poems from the latest issue of Rattle and thought they read more like flash fiction than traditional poetry, but I still enjoyed them of course. Good writing is good writing is good writing.

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2016 by in Publishing.
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