Posts Tagged ‘editor’

Can a Writer Grow Thicker Skin?

July 10, 2012

Not too long ago, I was working on an article for a magazine — a straightforward trend story, where I was to interview a handful of manufacturers of a certain product and then write up a summary of my conversations. Easy as pie.

That is, until the moment when one of my calls happened to reach a marketing guy who had had a bad experience with a magazine request in the past.

Before I could even finish introducing myself, the guy started berating me, accusing me of running a scam and trying to deceive him when I asked about his products. He insisted that my innocent request for information was some sort of ruse intended to dupe him out of money, and he wasn’t going to fall for it again. He hung up on me after wishing me a good afternoon in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

I had never called the guy or his company before, so he was clearly confusing me with someone else, and I probably should have just shrugged the whole call off and proceeded with my work. But the weird thing was, it really upset me. I actually had to walk away from my desk for a couple of hours.

And then when I did get back to work, I was scared. If I hadn’t had a pending deadline, I would have continued to avoid going back to the article. For some crazy reason, I was actually internalizing what this guy had said about me. I kept expecting other people to blast me and hang up, and it was only after a few more successful phone calls that I was able to put the event behind me. 

Coincidentally, it was right around this time that I also had a miserable exchange with an editor I know. I had just completed a rhyming picture-book manuscript that I had been playing around with for a year or so, and I had decided to send it to her and see what she thought.

I was completely unprepared for how much she hated it — and hate it, she did! The topic was not one she was interested in, she said to me in an email, and what’s worse, the meter didn’t hold up through the manuscript. Basically, to paraphrase her, it was a hot mess.

Again, I had to get up from my desk and walk away. And since there easy no deadline pending, I didn’t return to the manuscript, the way I did with the article.

As writers, I think, we embrace our sensitivity. We dig deep for true emotions and authentic reactions in our characters. But sometimes, I have to say, it would be nice to have skin that’s thicker.

I’m currently finishing up the article, and it’s turning out well. As for the picture book, I’ve yet to look at it and still don’t know if I ever will be able to.

What do you think? Can writers grow thick skins? Would it help us? Should we try?

Another battered day in the life of just another working writer.

 

 

 

 

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Can a Good Writer Make a Story Out of ANYTHING?

February 27, 2012

Not too long ago, I got a great assignment from the editor of a website devoted to religion. She had identified seven key ethical values — empathy, compassion, spirituality and a few others — and she wanted me to create a kind of grid showing how each of these values develop in children, with boxes for infancy, toddlerhood, preschool-age kids, middle-grades kids, and teens.

Now, it was pretty easy to find experts on and research about how children of all ages demonstrate values like empathy and compassion. Studies show, for example, that even very young babies will cry when they see another baby crying. But there was simply no evidence, no studies, no nothing –at least not back then — to show that babies can feel spiritual. I contacted child-development scientists and authors at major research universities and facilities, and got the same answer: Spirituality develops later.

So I finally called my editor, who resisted my explanations, evidently because the horror of a blank box in her grid outweighed any need for facts. “Come on now,” she said condescendingly. “You know as well as I do that a good writer can make a story about anything.”

I was speechless. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe what she was saying.

My second thought was that she was right.

More recently, I took my young daughter and her friend to a classical music concert at a local community center, and was approached by a reporter and cameraman from a local TV station. The reporter held the mike to my face and asked why I had decided to come out with young children on such a cold, dark night.

“I knew the music would be beautiful, and I wanted to enjoy it with them,” I said.

“Did you come to be part of the great community spirit here tonight?”

“No,” I said. “I just wanted to hear the music.”

“But would you agree that there’s a wonderful feeling of community, with so many people from town coming together?”

“I guess,” I said. “But we came for the music.”

Not surprisingly, when I saw this story on the local news the next night, I was not part of it. Instead, there were a bunch of people talking about — what else? — community.

As for my story, I went back to my old sources, found some new sources, stressed that I needed something, and finally was able to weave together a few vague sentences that linked babies and spirituality, albeit with the thinnest of threads. I never wrote again for that website.

Sure, I guess a good writer can make a story out of anything.

Just not sure I want to be that writer.

How about you? Have you ever had to create a story where there was none?

Another resigned day in the life of just another working writer.

 

Why I Went Freelance: A Cautionary Tale

February 7, 2012

So I work on a kitchen table; my stapler and print cartridges are never where I left them, thanks to my thieving children; I have no steady income and am always out trolling for my next gig; and nearly all my telephone interviews are accompanied by the sound of my dog barking or the UPS deliveryman pounding on my door.

Why do I continue to believe that a freelancer’s life is the best writing life?

Let me tell you my story.

My first journalism job was as a reporter on a trade magazine that covered the furniture industry–a job I thought was the greatest that a person could ever have. I traveled all over the country, attending trade shows and press conferences, sniffing out mergers,executive shakeouts and other juicy bits of intrigue. I was wined and dined by marketing and PR folks (on nearly limitless expense accounts) trying to prove that their brands deserved coverage. I was the toast of the publishing team, my editor’s best reporter…

And that’s when they stabbed me in the back: They promoted me.

Now it was my reporters who traveled all over the country, while I stayed back in the office, correcting grammar, checking facts, and making nice  to hysterical sources who claimed my writers had misquoted them. My good friend at work suddenly hated me, because she wanted the promotion I got, and the rest of my staff hated me too, because they thought I was too young and inexperienced to be their boss (and truth be told, they were probably right).

And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse…they promoted me again.

This time, I was editor-in-chief of a monthly trade magazine–which meant that much of my time was spent accompanying my publisher on sales calls, a sign to prospective clients that if they bought a lot of advertising from him, they’d own a good piece of me. On the personnel side, one of the higher-ups stepped in to hire an acquaintance of his as a reporter — but when we realized that she couldn’t string together a sentence, I was the one who had to show her the door. Another day, another enemy. And finally, on the eve of a trade show, I got word that the company was considering closing my magazine unless I beefed up our reporting so more ads would come in. I pushed all of my reporters — even M., who had just come down with a nasty case of bronchitis — to work nearly round the clock to shore up our reputation.

The magazine was closed down the next week anyway. Then I had to call M. at home, where she lay feverish and miserable, to tell her that I had been saved but she was out of a job.

So I say to my family–give me your worst. Hide my stapler and steal my print cartridges. Let the dog carry on, and let the UPS guy pound from today until doomsday.

A staff job? I’ve been there. And I’m never going back!

What do you think? Would you rather join a staff or be freelance?

Another grateful day in the life of just another working writer.

Why I Love Being a Writer: A Reminder

January 19, 2012

Those of you who have been following my blog probably realize by now that I’m a bit of a complainer. I complain about boring assignments or tedious tasks that accompany the writing of a new piece. I complain about editors who hang onto a draft for a month and then demand that the revise be turned in two minutes later. And as for crazy-low payment rates…well, don’t get me started.

But every once in a while, something happens that makes me remember that what I do is actually pretty cool

Last night, my daughter told me about a discussion in her history class. Her teacher was beginning a unit on the Civil War, and asked the students if they or a member of their families had any special interest in or connection with that time period.

My daughter raised her hand to say that I was working on a project about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and I had spent time researching documents and journals from the 1860s. She said that when we go on family vacations, we occasionally end up visiting outlying historical locations to scope out new details about Lincoln and the course of the war.

“What does your mother do?” the teacher asked.

“She’s a writer,” my daughter said. “She writes articles for magazines, newspapers, and some websites.”

At this point, the teacher’s eyes widened, and she threw up her hands in a kind of surrendering motion. “Well, we may as well stop the conversation right here,” she said. “Because I don’t think any of us are going to be able to top that.”

I laughed when I heard this story. “Come on,” I said. “I write about mattresses and kitchen gadgets, and occasionally get involved with some historical thing. It’s not all that impressive.”

“Well, she was impressed,” my daughter said.

That conversation stuck with me all night and into this morning, and actually, I’m still smiling as I write this. Maybe my daughter’s history teacher secretly dreams of writing, or maybe there’s another reason why her reaction was somewhat over the top. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that what we do –interviewing people, researching documents, making sense of seemingly random events, and then creating a piece of writing that never existed before — takes skill. And a bit of magic.  It may seem simple to people like us, who do it all the time; but simple, it’s not.

Let’s promise not to forget that, ok?

Another proud day in the life of just another working writer.

 

Article Assignments: Why Do I Keep Saying Yes?

January 13, 2012

So one of my best clients emailed me toward the end of last summer to offer me two major article assignments. The pay was relatively good, and I was skilled at the type of research and interviewing that would be required.

I hesitated, however, to accept the work, as I estimated that it  would fill my working time for the next four months. I wouldn’t be able to accept other assignments, prospect for new assignments or clients, or–most important–devote time to my favorite new project.

You see, I had  spent much of the summer working on my first young adult novel, and I was having a blast. I loved the freedom of fiction writing. I loved making stuff up, which was refreshing after so many years of stressing accuracy and sticking to the facts. I found my characters fascinating, especially my spunky 11-year-old protagonist, and I loved throwing obstacles at her and figuring out how she would get through.

Still, as a working writer, I couldn’t see turning down the work. I needed the paychecks. I wanted the money. I promised myself that I would work for the four months–but then I would slow down and give myself the luxury of time to work on my novel.

So now the four months are now almost over, I’ve got just two more days’ work at the most, and the reward of time to write fiction is so close, I can taste it.

And then, out of the blue, So another client called yesterday to offer me a basic product story. What do you think I did?

You’re right — I said yes.

Why.

Of course, a big part of it is the paycheck. I can’t deny that. But I think there’s more.

I think I said yes partly because I always overestimate the time it will take me to do stuff. I’m often convinced that I can make time to both do my paying work and have my writing fun. The truth is, I rarely do. The paying work always takes over.

I also think I said yes partly because even though I complain a lot about tedious assignments, the truth is I get a kick out of article writing — interviewing business executives, motivating them to reveal some tidbit of news or surprising comment, boiling down research into the assigned wordcount, hearing “good job!” from an editor.

But I think I also said yes because writing fiction is so…unpredictable. It takes a lot out of you. Maybe it’s because I’m new at it and I’m not very good, but it sometimes feels like an uphill battle to get started on a page. Once I get going, it becomes great fun, but before I sit down at the computer, I feel so doubtful. Will I write something great today? Am I getting anywhere? Would anyone else love this the way I do? Is this just a big time waster?

I don’t have those fears with my paid work.

Still, if I keep pushing off my fiction, I’ll never find out if it could amount to anything at all.

I see the days and weeks and months passing, and I wonder if I’m spending my time in the best way, or just the safest way.

How do you choose the way to spend your writing time?

Another conflicted day in the life of just another working writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curse of Free Stuff for a Freelance Writer

December 13, 2011

So I have to go to the dentist, and I’m dreading it. Not because I’m scared of pain. It’s just that the last time I went to see him, he handed me a jar of fancy nuts.

Let me explain.

You see, his wife has a start-up nonprofit business, producing flavored nuts — spicy, sweet, tangy, etc. — and she donates all profit to animal welfare. And like the good husband he is, he saw an opportunity to get her some media coverage, knowing that I’m a freelance writer who frequently reviews new products.

“Enjoy them,” he said cheerily. “And don’t forget to tell me how you like them.”

Which, to my ears, meant, “Don’t forget to tell me when your article about them is published.”

Look, I know that free stuff is just about the only perk that writers get. And why should I feel indebted to this guy for one little jar of nuts? I’m sure he didn’t think he was tying a noose around my neck. I mean, come on — we all know that major beauty editors routinely bring home hundreds of dollars worth of free cosmetics each month without blinking a perfectly made-up eye. We all know that online experts get tons of free stuff from manufacturers hoping for high praise in a blog. And truth be told, I’ve gotten some free stuff in my time — some not so great (a cleaning liquid that claimed to remove red wine, but let’s just say I’m glad I tested it on a white rag and not a white blouse) and some pretty wonderful (a queen-size luscious down comforter–‘nuf said).

But no matter if I end up writing positively about the product (the comforter), negatively about the product (actually, I don’t think I’ve ever done this), or not at all about the product (the stain remover and the nuts), I feel guilty, as though I’m getting away with something.

Which is why I felt bad about seeing my dentist.

Although when I finally went back and he charged me more than $400 for a filling, I stopped feeling that way…

Writers — how do you feel when you get free stuff?

Just another guilt-soaked day in the life of a working writer.


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