Lifelong Learners: Cristian Lupșa
The Lifelong learners interviews are conversations with people regarding their work experiences, what keeps them going, how they deal with failure and self doubt and the things they learn along the journey.
Founding editor of DoR (Just a Magazine)
Host of The Power of Storytelling (@pofstorytelling)
In an interview for Cațavencii you say you’re in love with DOR because it allows you to learn about who you are. Who are you and what have you learned about yourself in all these years working at the magazine?
The fairest answer is that I’m still a work in progress. I’m a journalist, I’m a Romanian, I’m a Transylvanian with mixed heritage, I’m an introvert, I’m a reader, I’m a workaholic, I’m a perfectionist, I’m a fearful person, I’m a manager-in-training, I’m a good motivator, I’m a decent reader of the cultural zeitgeist, and so on.
DoR, the stories it tells, the people who write, illustrate, photograph for it, and the daily task of running it, have all underscored some of those identities, and revealed others.
I believe that stories – in fiction and nonfiction – help us become who we are. We are narrative creatures who find meaning in sequences of events so, as far as I’m concerned, what or who I am is the product of the stories I’ve read, or helped bring to life.
Every person is a story is a collection of powerful personal essays selected from the past editions of DOR. What, in your opinion, makes a good story?
To me, a good story is one that reveals a fundamental truth about being human, and does so in a surprising and delightful way. A good story allows a reader to perceive her own hidden strengths, her own imperfections, her own place in the world, as well as the benefits and responsibilities of being part of a society. It helps displace fear, it creates understanding, and allows for empathy. These are on a more abstract level.
On a more concrete level, a good story is, as one writer adequately summarised: „a well-organised absence of information”. It’s character, plot, and action, all organised to deliver information, and emotion.
Editing is a relationship, and a complicated one. There is a lot of push and pull.
What does your job entail?
In reality, more than it’s possible for one person to do well. It’s why I’m still a mediocre manager – there are many organisational duties that I’m either still learning to perform, or learning to teach others to perform, and this takes time.
As an editor, which is what my title says I am, I should do a few things: point the way forward for the magazine and our journalism, help writers discover stories and the potential greater meaning within them, challenge writers to go beyond the expected, find writers, coach writers, and so on. An editor is the one in charge of the editorial vision and of bringing to fruition.
What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
I wouldn’t say I have distilled a philosophy yet, but there are some lessons I have learned. Editing is a relationship, and a complicated one. There is a lot of push and pull. There are conflicts, disagreements, tensions, but also moments of magic, revelation, and a great deal of satisfaction once a story is published. Sometimes editing a story is editing the person, because our work mirrors who we are and how we approach our craft. You need to treat every writer differently, because you need to push different buttons; this can be emotionally difficult.
Editing should be done on different levels: editing the big idea, or editing the process, is different from editing the actual text, and should come before. I usually edit in stages: first I try to distill the meaning, see if we did all the reporting to back up this meaning, then see if the structure leads us there, and only then start to play with the actual text.
What differentiates a good editor from a great one?
A great editor brings the best out of his or her writers, and helps them see the greater story and reach for it. A good editor merely improves a piece of work.
Good writing is, more often than not, created through a collaboration between writer and editor. Tell me about the relationship you have with the writers you work with.
They vary. Some need me to be there at every crossroad, and confirm their decisions. Others need me to stay away until they have something they want to show. Some challenge my thinking, some challenge the most minor of edits. Overall, though, I think I have good relationships with the writers with whom I have developed a level of intimacy and personal trust.
That’s essential to a great working relationship. Unfortunately, it’s often quite a rocky road in new editing relationships – at least in the recent past. Since I don’t have too much time to give (as I had in the past), I can’t explain myself quite as thoroughly, which often makes me seem demanding and irritating to writers who don’t know me.
Would you say schooling is required for this profession or is something you can do on your own as well?
Maybe not professional schooling, but certainly self-schooling is essential. A good editor knows how stories work, how structures function, they have tools to offer writers, they can bring stories back from the brink, they have to learn to communicate with writers, and so on.
I think self-doubt is inherent in a creative endeavour. The key is not to let your fears or doubts paralyse you.
What could an aspiring editor do to grow professionally when they lack the experience?
Tons of reading is a great start to being an editor – but then you have to build hard and soft skills on top of it. Thankfully, there are many guides out there. I would start with reading anything I can get my hands on in terms of editing: from books about editing fiction and nonfiction, to memoirs of editors, to books about management and motivation.
Before creating DOR, you’ve worked for a variety of magazines like Esquire, FHM, The New Republic Online, Columbia Missourian. What are some important insights or lessons you’ve learned from these experiences?
Every job or experience has its own lessons; I don’t think I could easily separate them. Most importantly, they helped me choose a path in life. Journalism is not perfect, it’s often not the saviour of society it purports to be, but done right, done with care, done with humility, it can serve a purpose. And maybe it won’t change the world (I have come to accept that), but it can change a few people here and there.
Do you ever feel self doubt regarding the work you do? If so, how do you overcome it?
Always. I think self-doubt is inherent in a creative endeavour. The key is not to let your fears or doubts paralyse you. One thing I love about journalism is that it has deadlines – you have to strive to get something out by a certain moment, and it has to be as good as you can do it within that time frame. So you come to accept its impossible perfection, while still striving to do the best you can.
I believe that perfect is the enemy of good, that you can’t be better than you are at the moment you do a certain story, but that you have to set high standards and then accept limitations along the way, instead of just trying to do the bare minimum.
Young professionals often face rejection. What helped you deal with this in the past?
Rejection is a natural part of life. Coming to terms with the fact that it’s the work/proposal/idea that is most often being rejected, and not me, the person, was important. I’ll just bring a different idea next time, or package it better. If this is what I want to do, if this is the path I chose, I’ll work my ass of to stay on it, and get somewhere.
Is there something you’re currently learning or want to learn in the near future?
The past couple of years have kicked my ass as far as learning about my limits. I can’t do as much as I thought, or, when I think I can, some things are invariably not as good as they can be. So I’m slowly learning to pick my battles, choose wisely, protect some of my time, delegate to others, and so on.
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