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The woman behind the wisely chosen words

For the past 13 years, nearly every word I've written for these pages has passed under the careful scrutiny of a woman named Connie Wirta. She has been my editor for her entire stint at this newspaper, which represents nearly half her career in j...

For the past 13 years, nearly every word I've written for these pages has passed under the careful scrutiny of a woman named Connie Wirta. She has been my editor for her entire stint at this newspaper, which represents nearly half her career in journalism.

Connie's last day here will be next Friday. She is not a victim of the newspaper's downsizing. She pursued another opportunity here in town, and she is moving on.

I will miss her a great deal. We all need editors, no matter what line of work we're in. We all need someone who prevents us from committing mistakes that would make us look foolish in the larger world. We all need someone who will say to us occasionally: "Are you sure that's how you want to say this?"

We all need Connies.

That said, the relationship between an editor and a writer is a delicate thing. For it to work best, the writer must respect the editor and value her viewpoint. The editor must know how to coax and cajole better copy from the writer in a way that does not steal the writer's voice.

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The act of writing a story is sort of like giving birth, not that I have firsthand experience in the latter. You are creating something that wasn't there before, giving it life, putting it out there to be judged. I've told many journalism classes that when someone reads your story and suggests that it should be changed, it's like someone looking at your baby and saying, "He's pretty cute but, boy, his ears are big."

When my baby's ears were too big, Connie has always been direct yet gentle. When she suggests I might want to rework a sentence or a paragraph, I trust her judgment. Her instincts are good. It is easy to accept editing from someone like that.

I remember at least a couple of occasions in the past 13 years when I have chosen not to accept her suggestions in writing one of these columns. In both instances, I later regretted not taking her advice.

Beyond her editing skills, Connie was my boss. She pushed me gently in new directions. She made me a better planner. She gave me plenty of room to breathe.

Like me, she is a parent. Our kids are about the same ages. If I wanted to skip out to watch my kids run a cross-country meet, she understood. She knew I would get my work done.

"It all comes out in the cosmic tally," she likes to say.

And -- this may be the best part -- when I was taking on too much at any given time, she would suggest that I let go of something. Imagine, a boss wanting you to do less.

I hope there's a Connie in your life. Maybe you work for one. Maybe one works for you. Connies appear in all kinds of roles.

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Don't take your Connie for granted.

Sometimes they don't last forever.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com .

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