By Tony Vanderwarker
For a writer, the two biggest fears are the sight of a blank page and the red pencil of an editor hovering over your manuscript. The blank page stares up at you as if it’s saying, “Go ahead, just try writing something, I dare you.” And the longer you stare at it, the more it has to say, “Go ahead, try something, try anything–but you know it’ll be terrible. See, you can’t even start, can you? Maybe you’ve run out of ideas, the cupboards bare. That’s why you’re just sitting there staring at me. So do what you always do, get up from your machine and go into the kitchen and get a cookie or something.”
This conversation can go on for three minutes, sometimes four until you purge the urge to cut and run and summon up the courage to strike one key and then another. When you have completed a paragraph, a great sense of relief washes over you. “See, I can write,” you say. So you’ve conquered the blank page.
The red pencil’s another story. When an editor picks it up, it’s like he’s starting on a hunting expedition and he or she is not going to stop until they find their quarry. The small game is typos and the writer winces at every one the red pencil finds. Then grammar is the target, next is awkward phrasing and pretty soon the manuscript gets shot full of red marks.
It’s debilitating to a writer, like shooting airballs is to a basketball player. I suspect very editor secretly relishes slashing a manuscript to bits.
But not Winkie. She never took a red pencil to even one of my articles for Keswick Life. Never gave me an ounce of criticism or blackballed an article. Instead she’d send a brief email saying, “Thank you, it’s great!” Or, “Love it, thank you so much!”
So writing for her was always a pleasure. I never had the dread of a blank page or the sight of a red mark. I could write whatever I wanted knowing she’d appreciate it and she’d print it. I treasured the experience of writing for her. For a writer, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Occasionally, she’d request a writeup of a Keswick event, often with a tight deadline. And when I dallied and she faced getting it off to the printer, I’d get a nice nudge from Winkie, never threatening, never nasty. “Don’t forget the article about the horse show,” she’d remind me, “I’ll need it pretty soon.”
She was endlessly gracious to me and to the community she loved so much. And that showed in the character of her newspaper. It was interesting, appreciative, good-natured and full of life, just like the community it served. And to quote a famous Barkleyism, “There are no secrets in Keswick,” life in Keswick was riddled with gossip but nothing snide or untoward toward anyone ever appeared in Winkie’s pages. That was Winkie.
And those of us who are left to carry on without her will do our best to maintain the generosity of spirit that Winkie championed and brought to life in the pages of her paper.
Thank you, Winkie, thank you.