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ost of us have a mental image of a newsroom as a frenetic hive of buzzing activity. Brilliant writers are frantically tapping out their last-minute scoops. Savvy editors are stitching together stories with witty, compelling headlines. The printing presses are buzzing ominously in the background, waiting to spit out the ready pages. Coffee fumes radiate through every cubicle, and the atmosphere crackles with the electric urgency of the last minute.

That’s not the way it usually looks around here. Yes, we’ve seen many of those true flashes of brilliance strike at the last minute — when we’re about to close a supplement and there’s three of us gathered around a screen playing around with different keywords and the perfect title or coverline just seems to appear out of nowhere. Something about the looming deadline and the urgency of the moment forces the endless river of options into one narrow pipeline.

And sometimes the only minute is the last minute. Our news team always has to work on an “as-late-as-possible” timetable, perpetually ready to spring into action — and adjust and re-adjust yesterday’s plans — when there’s breaking news or a major scoop. The same is true for those unfortunate times when a gadol or important community figure is niftar. At those junctures, there’s little time for a second draft, for redoing the graphics, for rethinking the titles and subtitles.

But not everything — not even the majority — of what we publish is last-minute material. And something I’ve learned over these years is that for the most part, very good material takes a lot of work and time to create.

Even at the conceptual stage, long before a writer begins to put words onto a screen, some ideas just need time to “cook.” Our fiction writers will often take months to build the characters for their Calligraphy stories or serials, slowly getting to know the personalities and idiosyncrasies of these people whose lives they will be documenting. Some of our special Yom Tov projects can stay on the back burner, slowly simmering, for more than a year — an editor will pitch the idea at a meeting, the other editors will say “hmm, maybe,” and then a year later, it will emerge in a slightly different form and everyone will say, “let’s do it!”

Contrary to the romanticized version of the genius artist-writer who is gifted with a 3,500-word stream of inspiration just a few hours before deadline, most of our writers will tell you that quality work needs more than one draft. One of our writers will regularly email me a piece ready for review only after she’s reached draft number four. Occasionally she’ll send me draft number seven, and I have at least one draft number eleven on file. (Her pieces are among the most popular in the entire Mishpacha package.)

Even after sending in their final draft, most writers are open to their editors’ feedback and are receptive to requests to incorporate an extra interview, dream up a new lead, find a better, more resonant closing, or add some missing historical context. (Offhand, I can think of two pieces in our Succos issue for which writers graciously conducted new interviews after submitting their drafts, and then substantially reworked and improved their pieces.) Those revised editions invariably include more changes than the ones requested by the editors. Because when you look at your own work with fresh eyes, you notice those words you overused, the clichéd expressions, the missing transition or flabby verb.

Editors know that sometimes that perfect title or coverline will pop into your head as you work on the piece. But many times it’s only the next day, when you’re seeing the material again on a screen inside the graphics room, that you come up with the winning title. (For me personally, it often happens during my walk home — our production manager knows that if she’s getting a phone call from me ten minutes after I leave work, she should be ready to note down the new title or coverline that I thought up on the way.)

Is that fabled last-minute stroke of brilliance a myth? I don’t think so. There’s something about pressure that gets creative people itching to create, something about constricted timing that condenses the thought process very effectively. But even as we make sure we can handle the rapid boil, we respect the power of the slow simmer — and the luxury of that fresh-eyed second round. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 730)