Saturday, September 19, 2009

Spotlight Interview: Dave Herndon/Part 1

Dave Herndon, Editor/Writer

Whether he’s writing or editing, Dave Herndon is all about passion and exotic adventure—which makes him the perfect fit for his current position as Editor in Chief of Caribbean Travel & Life.

In an incredibly rich, varied career, he’s been a Features Editor/Writer/Critic for the New York daily newspaper Newsday; Managing Editor for The Village Voice; Senior Editor for Travel & Leisure; Features Editor for Sports Afield; Contributing Editor for Martha Stewart Living, as well as, I must add, one of the most important people in my writing life.

When he was the Sports Editor of the Voice in the mid 1980’s, he gave me the enormous break of my own column, Mike Geffner’s Rundown, which I wrote for the next 12 years. But, just as importantly, he taught me how to be a better writer. I will forever be indebted to him for that.

The following is the first part of my exclusive newsletter interview with Dave:

Mike: Who were your early writing influences?

Herndon: Like many who went to college in the 70’s, my writing style probably suffered for a long time from the influence of Hunter Thompson’s and Tom Wolfe’s books and articles from that era.

For a long while I used to travel with a copy of Rilke's “Letters to a Young Poet,” which young writers might benefit from, as they are about life lessons that apply to work, among other realms.

Mike: What are the most common misconceptions writers have about editors?

Herndon: That they la-di-da around all day, then suddenly make you start jumping through hoops to make up for their slackness/indecision/capriciousness. This is only partly true.

Mike: What’s the best advice you can give inexperienced writers trying to break through, or writers with some experience looking get to the next level?

Herndon: Make yourself useful. Hit your deadlines. Produce clean copy. Write thorough sidebars. Help editors solve their problems. Be willing to do grunt work (i.e. service shorts).

Mike: What simple plan can you give someone trying to make writing a career?

Herndon: Develop a specialty. Become the go-to person for some niche of
coverage, preferably something uncrowded, that you're passionate about and there's enough of a market for, or an emerging market for (e.g, over the last couple decades: fitness, technology, fringe sports going mainstream, like mountain biking, etc.). Don't turn up your nose at service writing.

Mike: Which easier—writing or editing?

Herndon: It's easier to make a living as an editor—more jobs. Freelancing is hell, and getting more hellish all the time. Try to find a mix—an editing job where you can also write, or a part-time/flextime editing job that covers the nut, has benefits, and leaves time for freelancing.

I wouldn't now recommend newspapers as a stable writing platform. I don't know what I would recommend, frankly, because things are changing so fast.

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