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Good article, now change all of it

April 19, 2009

Last week I had the privilege of being asked to write an article for a running magazine. It was a short article, about 500 words or so, and the deadline was fairly tight. I was given the assignment on Thursday 9 April, and asked to deliver the article by Tuesday 13 April.

Since this was a holiday weekend in the UK, and this was the first hard copy publication I’ve written an article for, I decided to be very professional – I carefully researched and edited the article, and sent it early on Monday, well in advance of the deadline.

And then things went awry. The magazine editor had wanted me to write the article from one point of view, and I had written it from the opposite point of view. This wasn’t the fault of either party, but arose from some genuine mix-ups in communication. She then asked whether I would mind rewriting a new article from the perspective she needed, since she already had an article from the point of view I had used.

My first reaction, I’m sad to say, was to get precious about my writing. I had worked hard on this article! My words are precious! Thankfully, I’m old enough to know to ignore my first reactions these days. Temper tantrum out of the way, I replied “sure, just give me a few hours”.

I had written the article from a point of view I personally agreed with. But if I’m any kind of writer, I can write from multiple perspectives with clarity and conviction. I treated the assignment as instructions from an editor about things that could be improved. For some points of the argument, I merely adapted them to the other perspective. And whilst writing, I came up with some good new points that fit perfectly with the new perspective. I hit save, and sent the article off.

The editor is very happy with it (in fact, she thought the original version was very good too), and it will appear in the next edition of the magazine due out in May.

A day or two later, an interview with this editor was published. The interview had been conducted before the article was commissioned. One question and answer seemed to me to be particularly relevant:

Can you name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again? … There’s a lot to be said for simply being a nice person to work with … If someone’s difficult and gets grumpy if I ask for something to be changed, for example, I simply won’t commission them again.

As for the three most important attributes, I’m going to say:

1. Good writing
2. Flexibility
3. Able to turn good quality articles over quickly

I think I met all those requirements…

Paul has spent more time today staring at his computer shouting “aaargh, computers” than he has writing. This either means he needs a new computer, or he needs to go back to paper and pens…
2 Comments
  1. April 19, 2009 4:10 am

    Thanks for sharing this Paul. I’ve read similar things from other editors and as a past editor – yes to all three!

    You do yourself no favours by being tempramental or difficult. I am sure that you have secured yourself a guaranteed writing spot beyond these two articles!

    Interesting point also – that perhaps it’s not a bad idea to email the editor and clarify exactly what is wanted – but in a way, think this was probably a gift from the Universe to show this editor you’re flexible, reliable, able to turn things over .. and oh yes, you write well also! Because writing well isn’t always all you need🙂

  2. April 20, 2009 2:01 am

    Congrats firstly on getting an article out in the mainstream in an area I know you are passionate about.

    Your advice and thoughts are valuable in all walks of life – be it in your career, in a team sport or in any sort of committee. People will respond to and be more likely to pass more opportunities to those who are easy to work with, are flexible, calm and produce work of quality ( be it flipping burgers, painting a fence – or even writing a killer article)

    thanks for sharing

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