Modern Love’s Editor Says A Good Submission Has ‘Humility, Openness, Curiosity’

Daniel Jones (Courtesy of Jones)
Daniel Jones (Courtesy of Jones)

For more than 11 years, New York Times editor Daniel Jones has curated Modern Love, a weekly column of reader-submitted essays on love, loss and everything in between. Now with the help of some producers here at WBUR, Modern Love is now also a podcast.

In anticipation of this season’s episodes, we talked to Jones about what it’s like to edit the immensely popular Times column:

You’ve been sharing Modern Love submission tips on Facebook for the past few years (here’s an example). If you had to narrow it down to the top three “must read” tips, what would they be?

1. An editor represents only one column or publication, not an industry. If your work gets rejected, try somewhere else.

2. Don’t send in your essay when you finish it and feel good about it. Send it in after you’ve stewed over it, reworked it a few times, and feel so-so or even kind of bad about it.

3. Don’t use lazy descriptors like “amazing” or “handsome” or “incredible” in your first paragraph or anywhere else. It’s an immediate sign that the writer isn’t going to say anything you haven’t heard a thousand times before.

When reading submissions, what makes you cringe?

Cockiness, blame, self-pity.

And what gets you excited?

Humility, openness, curiosity.

What’s your favorite Modern Love column of all time?

I can’t pick favorites from so many, but if I limit myself to the last few months, I’d say the essay I found most artful and emotional was “One Bouquet of Fleeting Beauty, Please,” by Alisha Gorder.

If you were to write a Modern Love essay today, what would it be about?

I wouldn’t write one — they’re much too hard. Instead I’m writing an article for the New York Times Travel section about a rafting trip my son and I took down the Grand Canyon. I guess you could say it’s about the love of whitewater and of being off the grid for seven days.

How do you know you’ve found an essay that needs to be published?

If I read it all the way through even when I don’t want or intend to, and the writer sticks the landing (nails the ending). And if I haven’t run anything like it for many months.

How has the column evolved? Has your vision of the column changed at all?

The content of the column has changed somewhat from material I sought out to material that comes to me. Meaning: In the early years I wanted to cover all kinds of topics and situations, and now I feel like I just let the material dictate what’s important.

Long distance romance – yay or nay?

Seems to work for some people!

When someone tells you she just got engaged or found the person of her dreams, what do you say?

Congratulations!

How, if at all, have dating apps changed the column?

I think dating apps have changed us. They encourage us to decide what kind of people we are most likely to love, when in fact many of us have no idea until we’re with someone. They encourage us to fantasize and idealize.

My best suggestion for a dating app? Go on a trip abroad, or on a backcountry excursion, with 10 people you don’t know. I bet you’ll fall in love with one of them.

WBUR is partnering with The New York Times for Modern Love: The Podcast. Notable voices such as January Jones, Judd Apatow and Dakota Fanning will read some of the most memorable Modern Love essays, followed by intimate conversations with WBUR host Meghna Chakrabarti, Daniel Jones and the essay writers themselves. Here are the first two episodes:

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