How Your Attitude Affects Your Chances of Success in Writing

Bad attitude = thanks, but no thanks.


The advantage of balancing my time between both sides of the business – writing, and editing – is that I see all the mistakes writers make when they express interest in, or begin, working for an editor. I have long since corrected these things in my own practice as a writer, having seen them played out from the other side.

I know what not to do. I am aware of the things many people miss – but most importantly, I am aware of the inappropriate ways in which lowest-level writers often act toward higher-up editors.

And I’m here to warn you about them. Because whether you know it or not, the way you carry yourself as a writer – your attitude – has more of an impact on your future career than you might think.

I’m talking mostly here about the way some people tend to think they know more about writing than their editor does. Did that make you laugh? Good. You get where I’m coming from. If you didn’t, you might need to pay close attention here.

There is a pretty big difference between necessary self-promotion and conceit. When you are mentioning your accomplishments and skills for the purposes of being hired by someone you want to write for, by all means, go all out. An editor, for example, needs to see not only that you are experienced, but also that you are confident. A writer who lacks confidence often does not have the right experience, and is not likely to get it if they continue down such a hesitant path.

However, once you are hired by, for example, an editor, your accomplishments and skills up until that point no longer matter. All the editor you now work for cares about is that you can do the work they ask you to do without questioning why you are doing the work you signed up to do. It’s the ‘know-it-all’ attitude editors do not want to, and often will not, tolerate. We don’t care if you blog for the Huffington Post. If you can’t meet your deadlines, we care even less.

Let me give you an example totally not based on real-life experience. Despite all the writing experience you may have in a target niche, no matter how many years you have been blogging or how popular your articles are or how many followers you have, you are working for me, the editor. You applied for this position and I accepted you, or you pitched to this publication and I chose to give you a shot. You cannot comment on how I structure my editorial process unsolicited. You cannot ignore the topic I asked you to write about and write about something else because, you know, you’ve been doing this a long time and you know what my audience wants to read. You cannot act like you are somehow above me, because the reality is, I, editor; you, writer. I outrank you. Not because I think I am better than you, but because I have more experience working for X publication than you do. It’s as simple as that. There is constructive feedback, when asked for, and then there is You Are a Jerk Land.

And your attitude? It makes it much more likely that if we have to drop a writer, or you make consistent mistakes, even small ones, you aren’t going to be writing for me for very long. Not because you are a bad writer, but because you have a bad attitude. It is not personal. It is a decision best for a company. You are exhausting to work with. It is stressful – stress we cannot afford if we want to continue running a successful publication.

I am the kind of editor who will give any writer a chance, if they can prove they deserve it – meaning they have the skills and passion that align with my needs. But part of writing professionally is showcasing your ability to communicate – not just in the actual writing itself, but with the people you are working with. If there is one thing I have learned working as an editor, it is that some people are pretty OK at writing – but they are going to have a really hard time going anywhere with it, because their people skills are atrocious. And this is coming from someone who is absolutely terrified of people. You make it work. You find something you love and let your passion drive your charisma and optimism. That’s business for you.

Regardless of the kind of writing you do, or plan on doing in the future, working with other people is going to be a part of it. You cannot go into it expecting everyone to bow down to you just because of this or that. You are allowed to be proud of what you are doing, what you have done, and what you will do. But that does not give you privilege. You are still a writer, writing on behalf of someone else. Know your place. If you cannot for whatever reason be kind, at least be respectful. Writing is a business. Everyone starts out at the bottom and has to answer to everyone else. Be a good person, be willing to learn and prove yourself through hard work and dedication, and someday you might be able to do things the way you think they should be done.

Would you purchase/read a book about an editor’s perspective on the do’s and don’t’s of professional writing? Asking for a friend.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Someone Sent Me Back Honest Edits and It Hurt, at First

The edits I received were so thorough and honest that they kind of hurt my feelings.


Over six months ago, I spent an afternoon writing a piece for an online publication. At the time, I was really proud of it. After submitting, I did not hear anything back and, obviously, assumed it wasn’t ever going to go anywhere. A few months after that, I submitted the same piece, with a few small edits, to another publication. Thankfully, it didn’t get chosen for publishing there, because this week – six months after submitting the article – an editor contacted me with an apology and her edits.

Let me preface what I’m going to say next with this: I am an editor. Several of my clients rely on me to edit their writers’ articles for content, clarity and your typical grammar and spelling shortcomings. Before I signed on for these jobs, I was a magazine editor for three years and the managing editor of that same magazine (RIP) for almost four years. I know how hard it is to edit. I know what good edits sound like, and I appreciate all editors who work very hard to help writers turn complete messes into masterpieces.

The edits I received were so thorough and honest that they kind of hurt my feelings.

They were not mean edits; rather, they were, as they should be, suggestions for how to rewrite the article to better serve the publication. Which is great, and I wouldn’t expect anything more from editors who edit thoroughly enough that it takes months to get through selected submissions. But here’s the thing. Sometimes even professional writers get too confident. Even me. Which is why those edits, as good as they were, felt like an undeserved kick in the stomach. At first, I guess.

I really did think, as I scrolled through, “Does this editor not understand that I write for a living? Did I really fall short in this many spots?”

Looking closer, obviously I realized she was right (editors, for the record, usually are). The article needed a lot of work. It was wordy and sloppy and confusing. I felt bad for submitting something that, reading it months later, seemed such low-quality.

Then I remembered that, six months ago, I hadn’t even started freelancing yet. I was not writing articles consistently. I was still in the very early stages of refining my craft at that point (it takes time, sometimes years). I’ve grown as a writer since then. It’s OK that something I wrote six months ago wasn’t that great. I can, and will, rewrite it. It isn’t the end of the world.

I tell you all this because, no matter how many years you spend writing, feedback is sometimes still hard to swallow. Editors exist for a reason: we cannot always see the deep flaws in our own work, especially when there is no one around to point them out. You do get used to it, it does get a little easier, but every once in awhile, you will write something you are very proud of. And it only makes sense that your immediate reaction, when someone comes at that piece with everything that needs fixing, is to get a little defensive.

It happens to all of us. But the difference between an aspiring writer and a successful one is that successful writers are willing to look past those sometimes harsh edits and focus on the task at hand. They don’t take them personally. They might feel a little taken aback at first, but they get over it. They say, “Okay, let’s make this better.” You can be confident and also admit your work has imperfections. You have to be able to accept the reminders that writers never stop improving. Editors know their publications and your target audience better than you do. You need to be able to work with and trust them. It’s hard. It isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But you can guarantee that the version of your piece that gets published will be much, much better than your original draft.

Writing itself may be a solo activity, but the publishing process is not. The more you face these kinds of tough obstacles, the more successful you will be. I can’t promise that the piece I’m rewriting will ever make it onto the internet. But if it does, it will be because I let go and listened to the editor. I could have walked away and said, “Nope, you’re wrong.” But what would that have accomplished? Absolutely nothing.

Trust the editor. Don’t beat yourself up. You have much to learn; we all do.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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