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    Accept Guidance, But Don't use Editors as Crutches

    When you get an assignment from an editor, make sure you get the proper guidance up front and then investigate the rest on your own. Otherwise, you might find yourself without another assignment. Editors hire writers and send them in the right direction. They don't have time to do all your homework for you.

    As an editor, I try feverishly to provide each writer with specific guidance on each story. Yes, it is time-consuming for me, but the investment is worth the results. However, there is a careful balance between using initial guidance as a starting point and constantly using the editor as a crutch. Let me explain.

    Once you have the initial guidance on a story, try not to continuously ask questions about which direction a story should go. The guidance you get at assignment time should be enough to get you rolling. Once you begin the research, you -- as the writer -- need to find the angle.

    With some freelancers who might be new to my publication, I don't mind answering questions throughout the project. In fact, I encourage constant contact, so I can be comfortable with the direction a story is heading. But, please don't send e-mail messages twice a week asking if you should pursue this angle or that angle. When you use an editor as a crutch, you weaken your reputation as someone who can go out and independently get the story. As a writer, you should have confidence in your ability to sift through the facts and determine what is important.

    If you ask too many questions as the project progresses toward deadline, the editor may wonder why he or she trusted you to write the story in the first place. Don't hinder your chances for a second assignment. Do the right research, have confidence in your ability to judge the material and pull it all together in a coherent story.

    I speak from experience. With some writers, I have to hold their hands and walk them through each step of the research. Editors don't have time to do that. If we did have that kind of time to invest in each story, we could have written it ourselves. That's why we hire freelancers. A writer who lacks confidence in their research typically turns in a story that needs work. Weak research leads to weak stories that have holes to be filled. Editors don't like to spend time filling holes, either.

    Do you think editors dish out multiple assignments to high-maintenance writers? We don't. We simply assign more stories to the writers we know who hit the phones and the Internet, do the homework and turn in the confident, authoritative piece. If a writer is confident, the writing is confident and requires less maintenance.

    In the end, the hesitant writer, who is afraid to make a mistake and constantly relies on the feedback of the editor, will likely turn in a shaky story that turns an editor off -- permanently. The confident writer, however, conducts solid, thorough research, finds the right angle, writers a strong story and relies on his or her judgment. The confidence is reflected in black dots on white paper. Now, if you were in the editor's seat, which writer would you call again?

    The key to succeeding in the freelance world always go back to making the editor's life easier. If you make an editor's job more difficult, please don't expect the phone to ring. There are simply too many confident writers available for assignments. You need to decide whether you will be one of them. Put down those crutches and walk confidently on your own. That's how to get a second assignment.

    Copyright © 2002 Joseph M. Kelly

    Joseph M. Kelly, who is editor of Electrical Contractor magazine in Bethesda, Md., and a Baltimore, Md.-based freelance writer, has been published in daily and weekly newspapers, national trade magazines, newsletters and online. His work has appeared in The Maryland Coast Dispatch, Hardware Age, Home Improvement Market, LBM Retailer, Garden Supply Retailer, Decorative Products Retailer, Outdoor Power Equipment, Association Publishing, Writing For Money, The Baltimore Press, The Enterprise, Electrical Contractor, AWritersLife.net, Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel, and several other publications.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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