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WRITE: Frequently Made Errors #4–Failure to Follow Through

Posted by on September 14, 2010 in WRITE | 9 comments

“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.

9 Comments

  1. I pitched a book at a major Christian Writer’s Conference to a well known agent. She liked it. I never sent a proposal, even though she seemed excited about it. 🙁 Will she remember me when I have something for her to look at?

  2. She may not. But it won’t hurt to remind her. And whether she remembers it or not, she might like the proposal (I’m not clear if you’re intending to pitch the previous project or a new one). If she doesn’t like it, you’ve lost nothing–which is also what you have if you fail to follow through.

    Sue, something is always more than nothing (profound, I know). And I’m confident you’ll follow through this time. You’re a marathoner!

  3. Marti,
    Did you write this specifically for me? Just what I needed! Of course I have several almost finished, or finished articles that need to be sent. Thanks.
    Blessings Clella

  4. Clella, Remember me? Teaching from my mistakes? Glad to be of service. Blessings back!

  5. Oh my, Marti…you know since I left the FCWC last spring I kind of gave up on contacting editors, etc., and have just concentrated on writing my blog. I don’t think I am quite ready to approach any editors yet…maybe because of fear of rejection, or maybe because I have been too busy to even think about it…but your thoughts today have helped me “rethink” that whole idea…maybe I need to
    “get cracking”…Thanks for the inspiration…as always, Your Friend,
    Pam…http://pamelasopenwindow.blogspot.com

  6. Great advice and wisdom here Marti. I get writing done – but for others and not the ones I dream about finishing. September is a time of new beginnings for me – like a student – so I am making new efforts now to work on following through with my goals and dreams. It is nice to know though I am not alone in this struggle. Thanks for your honest sharing.

  7. Pam, you are in the midst of an entire new journey now with your son’s illness. That’s not an excuse, but do recognize that life and family take priority. I’ll be praying you choose wisely as I continue to lift up your son. Jean, thanks for your comments. “Urgent” deadlines sometimes cause me to neglect the important. Praying!

  8. Boy, do I stand convicted on this count. Probably over a year ago now, you expressed high praise for a piece I had brought to Word Weavers, and encouraged me to submit it to magazines as a possible devotional article. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t done it yet. I have all the usual excuses about life getting in the way, but they’re just excuses. This just may be the motivation I need to crack open my copy of Christian Writer’s Market and start submitting.

  9. Monique: You go, girl! And I hope you know I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it. I’ve missed you at WW and hope to see you soon.

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