Tuesday, March 25

Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume IV: How To Thicken the Skin

In case you missed the rest of this series:

Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume I
Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume II
Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume III

This time around, I'm addressing one huge topic: my very thin skin.(I will limit this discussion to writing-related matters.)

For the past 14 years, I have been the one to assign work and assess it with a red pen.

Believe me, it is very difficult to switch roles.

Very early on in my freelance writing career (as in, three or four years ago) I got used to having pitches rejected. I understood that, in the beginning, I was completely unknown, and also that magazines only have a certain amount of space.

I made sure to research the publications, pitch relevant, not-yet-done ideas to the right editors (if I could find their contact information), but was often met with silence. By which I mean an empty Inbox. Sometimes there would be a "thanks but no thanks" form response, or very occasionally a personalized rejection. If a reason was given, even better, as that could help tailor future pitches.

I also did a lot of reading (books and online) about freelance writing, and realized that this was the norm, especially for new writers, and nothing to take personally.

Things actually got harder, though, when pitches started getting accepted. To this day, I still get a rush when an editor replies and likes my idea. I get to work right away, and I always give my best, most professional, well-researched and well-written work.

But get this: editors don't think my writing is perfect. No, seriously.

The hardest part of writing for me now occurs every time I get an email from an editor with notes and revisions to be made. The first kicker is the blow to the ego that comes with learning there was something someone didn't like about my work (Inner voice: "How could she think that part was unclear? What does she mean, 'not reader-friendly'?") and the second is that now there's a big addition to my To-Do list. (Please note that the voice remains "inner". There's nothing to be gained by acting defensive.)

Now, let me be clear: virtually every editor I have ever worked with has been professional, kind and supportive. I have never dealt with anything even close to unfair criticism or nastiness (though some are much more critical than others). And sometimes, I will think that an editor totally hates my writing, and then the second draft will come back with "Thanks for your great work on this article!" and the offer of another assignment, which speaks volumes.

The important lesson I have learned from all of this: the job of editors is to...wait for it...edit.

Have you picked yourself up off the floor after that shocker? Some editors tweak here and there and some want to make their voice present in all articles they approve, but all want to do their job to the best of their abilities, and to ensure quality content for their magazines. And I'm pretty sure, though most writers don't talk about it, that I'm not the only one in history who has ever had to make revisions to a first draft. (If anyone wants to share to make me feel better, I'd really appreciate it!)

Have I cried when reading feedback? I sure have. Lost sleep? On a regular basis. I even used one experience as a teachable moment for my students, who are actually way better about accepting constructive criticism than I am.

But the bottom line is that I am so privileged to be part of the world of national magazine writing - a dream of mine for a long time. I also consider myself lucky that, just as in my role as a teacher, I can continue to be a lifelong learner. Navigating the magazine biz and figuring out how to improve and hone my own writing - these are skills I wouldn't be developing without the expertise, support and trust of all of these wonderful editors.

I'm not sure if there's anything I can do to make my skin any thicker, but the right perspective can act a bit like a numbing cream to help soften the blow.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that you are a doing a fabulous job! The fact that you kept going after rejection is somehting that I must congratulate you for doing. Rejection, in the first place would have stopped me dead in my tracks, so I think you have thicker skin than you give yourself credit for :)

Shari Talbot said...

This series has so many great tips and your confidence is contagious. Thanks for sharing.