The Other Stress Response

As we start to settle into a cadence for producing a bimonthly magazine, I’m more and more able to pinpoint the different kinds of stress I experience, so I know what’s coming and can also remind myself that yes, I felt exactly the same way two months ago.

The Stress Taxonomy includes broad stresses like (1) “What if I am terrible at everything?” along with more focused, predictable favorites like (2) “Am I going to break the whole website when I push the publish button?” and (3) “Is anyone going to read this?” (By the way, publishing requires pushing a button called “Push Staging to Production” which sounds very technical, and the wording alone increases my stress by approximately 27%.) The unique structure of Pipe Wrench also creates unique stresses like (4) “What if no one wants to be a part of this?” and (5) “What if all the gutter notes are misaligned?” and “(6) What If I can’t get all the stories finalized for publication on the same date?” All the stresses are starting to slot together with a predictable order and intensity.

One of the biggest stressors of Issue One — and one that’s totally unique to Pipe Wrench — has now become one of my very favorite things about us: (7) “What if no one has anything to say after reading the feature story and we end up with nothing to publish?”

The way Pipe Wrench happens is that once we have a solid sense of a feature story’s direction but before it’s finished, we research and reach out to people we’d like to put in conversation with it. The vast majority of conversation piece contributors are people we’ve never met or worked with before; many have never created anything for publication in a general-interest magazine, or at all. When the feature story’s copy is final, we send it to all the conversation piece contributors, with no particular guidance — just “Read this story, and send us whatever you’re moved to create based on your experience reading it.” And then we wait, and hope, and maybe grind our teeth in our sleep a bit.

For our first issue, this part of the process was, to use a technical editorial term, scary as shit. Would we get anything back by the deadline? What would it be? Would it make sense as an issue? Would it be enjoyable for the contributors? Should we crawl under the covers and watch old episodes of Mad Men and hope everyone forgets we said we were making a magazine? Not great, Bob.

And then a beautiful thing happened, which was that we gave people an interesting starting place. Money in fair amounts and paid in a timely way. Support, encouragement, and trust. They created sad, angry, insightful, introspective, fascinating, beautiful things, with themes that flowed in and through and around one another. Then it happened again in Issue Two.

Fairly-paid people with creative autonomy produce exceptional work! Who could have imagined.

We’re right in the middle of this period with Issue Three, which publishes on Tuesday, August 17th. The feature is done. The lineup of contributors have it, and are reading and thinking and making. And I am anxious as hell, but it’s not because I worry about not having anything to publish — it’s because I can’t wait to see what Pipe Wrench becomes next.  

The week in Pipe Wrench.

  • We have a CRM now! Well, we’ve always had a CRM, but this is an adult CRM. Our first CRM is more of a bratty teenager. If you also anthropomorphize things you interact with on the internet, definitely email Catherine to gossip about them behind their backs. 
  • We recommend Descript! Audio’s been booming for years, but it’s been a challenge to transcribe and especially hard to highlight great audio moments. If you’re not a stranger to film editing, you can get the hang of it pretty quickly with Descript. That said, hats off to experienced audio editors! If someone sounds smart on a podcast, there is a 99% chance that at least one audio editor deserves partial credit. 
  • If you’ve been following Nikole Hannah-Jones’s battle for tenure (and her move to Howard University), we learned a lot while researching this history thread. If you’re on Twitter, we’d love help sharing it with more readers!
  • First person to send us a photo of a pigeon sticker in the wild gets to be in the next newsletter, ready set go. (If you still need one, they’ll be available until Issue Three publishes next month, and then they’ll be gone, off to the pigeon loft, ne’er to be seen again except in your photos.)

P.S. from the Editor In Chief

If you’re wondering what the answers to all the stress questions are:

  1. There are things I am terrible at, but editing is not one of them.
  2. I am very competent at pressing the “Push Staging to Production” button.
  3. Yes, at least a dozen people, but probably a lot more.
  4. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
  5. Literally nothing, the world will keep turning.
  6. Then we’ll publish them on a different date.
  7. It’s gonna be even better than we imagined, every time.