The best mentors have so much to teach us that sometimes it takes years for us to realize just how much we’ve learned. I’m reminded of that every time I sit down to write this column, but it’s hitting home especially hard right now.
Most of what I know about editorial writing I learned from Peter Ogle, longtime editor of Diagnostic Imaging magazine, where I got my start as a medical journalist. Peter was an efficient editor and didn’t find himself needing to stay late at the office as a general rule, but writing his monthly editorial column often was the exception to that rule.
At first, naively, I assumed this was because he was a slow writer, but that wasn’t the case. I figured this out a few years later, when Peter deemed me ready for the type of project management responsibility that entailed writing columns of my own. That’s when I realized the limiting factor in editorial writing isn’t the writing. It’s making sure you have something worthwhile to say.
Sometimes knowing what to say comes easily. At other times it feels like the most difficult thing in the world. Especially when you’re on a deadline.
I’m still not sure what made Peter take a chance on hiring me when so many other editors had decided to pass. I’m not sure what compelled him to promote me, at just 28 years old, to be the editor of BioMechanics magazine when so many other candidates had to have been more qualified. I do know that those two decisions changed my life. And I know that, as an editor and as a manager, I’ve done my best to learn from Peter’s example.
It’s been years since Peter and I worked together, and he doesn’t have a column like this one any more, but he’s taken his writing skills to the next level in his blog, The Ogler. The blog was launched in April 2008, shortly after Peter underwent surgery for metastatic melanoma, and as you might imagine, many of the posts showcase the clinically critical perspective of a journalist who finds himself on the receiving end of the same imaging technology he once covered. But the writing isn’t all clinical. Some posts are deeply personal, detailing the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with good news and bad news and the not knowing in between. Some posts are spiritual. Some are humorous. Some have nothing at all to do with cancer.
I don’t know if Peter gave himself a deadline for each blog post. But I’m fairly certain he didn’t write a word until he knew he had something worthwhile to say.
Late last month, Peter’s most recent MRI scans revealed inoperable metastases in his brain and spine. His doctors say he may have two to four months left to live.
In response, he wrote: No matter how strong your character or religious convictions, it’s a brutal decision to finally wave the white flag. To say, “Enough. I’m done.”
What I have to say today isn’t nearly so eloquent or profound. But I’m still grateful for the opportunity to say it.