How Smart Does a Writer Have to Be?

Do you ever wonder if you have the brilliance to be a writer?

Or look at the elitist literature types and think you’re not refined enough?

Is there only one chance to make a good impression?

Let me give you some hope and some help. Some help by saving you a few steps. Some hope by sharing with you some of the silly mistakes I’ve made…and why they don’t matter that much.

First, I attempted to explain my writing

I now know, during a critique, the best thing I can do is listen. I can accept all or none of the critique, but the first step is getting the feedback. In the past, I would attempt to explain all the parts people didn’t understand. I tried to get them into my mindset. I didn’t realize that I would not be there to explain my writing to each reader if it got printed. I learned the written word has to be even clearer than speaking. Readers can’t hear the inflection you hear when you write. Subtleties often have to be more direct.

Your writing has to stand on its own two feet – without additional support.
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I annoyed people

I don’t think I ever ended up on the dreaded blacklist, if there is one. But, I had my moments. After I sent an inquiry or a completed piece, I was impatient. I didn’t Writing - hooks - tensionknow that the standard response time for magazines is 90 days (120 for larger ones). When I wrote asking if they’d made a decision yet, I’d write something like this:

Dear Highbrow Editor,
It’s been two months since I sent this to you and I’m trying to find out if you’ve made a decision.
Thank you,
Peter D. Mallett

I’d also mention when it was the second or third inquiry. This ensured that they’d ignore me. Then I checked with a seasoned writer friend. He told me to try something like this:

Dear (insewriting Fixed Letterrt kindly editor’s name),
I am writing regarding my submission titled, 21 Ways to Spend a Million Dollars, sent 1/1/14. I am not writing to see if you’ve reached a decision. I realize that it takes time to find the right articles for the right issues. I am simply writing to see if you received it. If not, I would be glad to resend it. Thank you for your time.
Sincerely,
Peter D. Mallett

He said this shows respect and gives them the opportunity to respond 3 ways. Yes, we received it; haven’t made a decision. Yes, we received it; we are not going to use it. No, we didn’t receive it; please resend it. When I did this, I received two responses in one day. I received another the second day. I was so excited. I felt like I’d been given the magic bullet. Respect goes a long way. Another silly thing I did…

I didn’t read the guidelines

Yes, I have sent things to magazines that I thought would fit and later read the guidelines more carefully and realized it wasn’t a fit at all. That’s why I recommend surveying the magazine before submitting. An even worse offense is thinking the magazine will change their guidelines for you.

The Fruitcake analogy – Fruitcake is something I don’t like. Yup, I know homemade fruitcake is different from the kind in stores. But, the spices, dried fruits, and nuts are not my thing. But some people are adamant, “I know you don’t like fruitcake, but you haven’t tried my fruitcake.”
People will do the same with editors. “I know you don’t normally print this type of stuff but…” If a magazine doesn’t print humor articles, it doesn’t matter how funny your piece is. The editor isn’t going to take it, so don’t waste your time sending it.

I tried to write like someone elseWriting - Mark Twain - quote

Sometimes I did this without realizing it before I learned to write in my voice. I also studied a magazine so much that I thought I should write just like the folks who had already written for them. Always remember, part of the reason you will be paid to write the assignment is because you will write it in your unique voice.

I wrote first, marketed later

In the beginning, I composed my ideas into complete manuscripts first. Then I got out my Writer’s Market Guides and tried to find a home for my words. Even after deciding I wanted to make money writing full-time, I did this.  I asked a writer friend if he did that. His response was, “I used to, but not anymore.”
It makes more sense to find a market, come up with an idea and then write your article geared to the magazine and its audience. Otherwise, even if you find a match, you’ll probably have to rewrite parts of it. You just won’t hit the mark without having seen the target; even if your name is William Tell.

I didn’t double-check the factsMagifyer 1

It’s easy to misspell an unfamiliar name or place. Always check at least two sources for dates, times, places, and names. And remember, people play with the spelling of names. Don’t assume because a name is common that you know how they spell it.

Here’s the hope: If you have done things wrong in the past, and then turn and approach an editor six months later in a professional manner, there is little chance they’re going to connect the two experiences. Unless you really made a mess, you don’t have to use a pen name. Just determine to do everything right this time. Most editors are too busy to start and maintain a black list. Chances are they deleted the email or tossed the letter and thought no more of it.

Confession time: What silly mistakes have you made?

What advice can you give to pave the way for others?

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Posted in Editing, editors, Words, Writing
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17 comments on “How Smart Does a Writer Have to Be?
  1. John Hansen says:

    Great blog. Terrific advice for a buddng wrter.

  2. CeeLee says:

    Hi :)
    I want to let you know that I think your blog rocks.
    I’ve nominated it for The Liebster Blog Award.

    You can find out all the details on my blog.
    Go to: http://swimintheadultpool.com/2014/03/21/leapin-liebsters-weve-been-nominated/
    If you don’t do the award thing, that’s okay too.
    Sincerely,
    CeeLee

    • Hi CeeLee, I’ve enjoyed the parts of your blog that I’ve been able to check out. I liked some of the answers you gave for the award on your page. :) I don’t usually do awards, but I still appreciate the fist bump. I’ll check out more of your pages as I have time.

  3. Erica says:

    All good advice. Another piece? Double-check registered trademarks and the correct capitalization of company/product names. Too many people get those wrong, so go directly to the company’s press section (or similar) and look it up. A few minutes can help save you from wearing a lot of egg on your face.

    • Hi Erica, great additional suggestion. Some logo and company names use odd spellings, and odd capitalizations. Great tip to check the company’s press seciton. I love eggs, but not on my face.

  4. KL Wagoner says:

    Great suggestions and reminders — the letter to “kindly editor” is a gem I’ll make sure to use. My mistakes include not reading the guidelines close enough and sending out manuscripts before they’re ready.

  5. Julie Luek says:

    I’ve been published in several regional and national magazines. If I have an idea, I’ll look for a fit in Writer’s Market. Then I query– without having written a word. If they bite, then and only then do I write the piece. The book, Renegade Writer, is a great place to start for those who want to publish in magazines.

  6. dmswriter says:

    Your timing couldn’t be better! I need to follow up on a story I submitted, and will definitely use your “Kindly Editor” letter to guide me. I saw my early self in several of these, and it makes me appreciate how important experience is on our journey. :)

  7. dana mentink says:

    Good stuff, Peter. I particularly liked the fruitcake analogy! :)

  8. I am embarrassed to admit this, but in one of the first pieces I had published I spelled the name wrong of the man about whom I was writing. Boy, did my face turn red when I realized what I had done. I now have become diligent about double-checking name and place spellings before submitting a piece.

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What is Writing?

"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
Peter D. Mallett
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