by Meg Dowell
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.
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.