WRITE: Frequently Made Errors #4–Failure to Follow Through
“My teachings flows from my mistakes.” If you hear me teach at a writers’ conference, you’ll probably hear that statement. In my journeys through the publishing world, I’ve often learned the hard way. I hope that by sharing my mistakes, I can keep someone else from making the same ones.
The problem I describe today plagues many new writers. We want to get it right. We want to nail that query, land that column, catch that editor’s eye. So we review our work over—and over—and over—and over again. We tear it up in disgust and start fresh. We put it away for a few days and reopen it. We change a word or two or perhaps entire paragraphs. We fix it. And refix it. And sometimes—we close it up and forget about it.
As part of a writing class I took in seminary (one of the few our school offered at the time), we had to write a query letter. I chose to write one to a denominational magazine. My professor made some suggestions and I sent it off (electronic queries hadn’t happened yet).
I didn’t receive the expected rejection letter. Instead, the editor loved my idea. She suggested a way for me to improve my initial concept and asked me to submit the full article as soon as possible.
I read her note. I smiled. I pondered ways to follow her instructions. And I never did a thing. I didn’t follow the editor’s suggestions. I didn’t add more personal stories. I didn’t finish the piece, and obviously, I didn’t submit it.
As I look back, I wonder, “Why?” At the time, I told myself I was too busy. I was taking a heavy load of Master’s-level classes and working part-time as a dental hygienist. I had a husband, also a student. Your circumstances may not match, but feel free to substitute your own “why I don’t write” excuses.
You see, the main thing I did was something I didn’t do: I didn’t follow through on the editor’s request. I didn’t demonstrate professionalism. I failed to trust myself and my work enough to let it go, to complete it, then release it to the editor’s care. I’m not sure exactly what paralyzed me, but I know I kept that query letter for years. I don’t know if I saw it as a symbol of hope—or destruction.
Follow through. Finish your writing, then submit it. My writing and editing clients know I will always find “one more thing” to edit or adjust. But I’ve learned to stop, take a deep breath, pray, and let it go. If you never finish it, they’ll never read it. Make a commitment to follow through.
Have you had an experience like mine? Do you have a stash of uncompleted articles or half-written manuscripts? Or do you have a success story where you took an unfinished piece and followed through? Please share your experience. It will encourage the rest of us—and may prevent another writer’s mistake.