FORGET THE EDITOR!
You meticulously study the publication’s guidelines. You follow them precisely. You draft and redraft your submission. But . . . the rejections come relentlessly. You moan, scream, swear, and fling around the house, ready to throw in the sponge and throw out your keyboard.
If you identify with this scenario, I suggest your approach to your writing may need an adjustment.
To find out, take this little test:
2. Feel like you’ve lost your flow and spontaneity?
3. Thinking only of impressing the editor of the Big Publication you want to get into?
4. Concentrating on displaying your great wit and astounding insights?
If your response is “Yes” to any or all of these questions, you may be writing to and for the wrong person. Yes, the editor accepts, approves, pays, and publishes, but the editor, after all, is a surrogate audience. The editor’s job is to be plugged into the publication’s audience, and the more she/he is, the more lasting is the publication’s success.
So I have one piece of advice: Forget the editor!
Who Are You Writing For?
I learned this lesson with difficulty and several ego punctures. Finally, the Big Mag I’d been craving to get into for years accepted a piece. Then, awesome marvel, the editor called and gave me another assignment for the following issue. We had a great conversation, way beyond writing to comparing favorite munchies and other important touchstones. I assured him I could easily meet the tight deadline, privately positive I could whip out a brilliant piece.
But once I started, after the first zingy paragraph, everything stopped. Flow pinched, writing flat, ideas few. What was happening? I felt the edge of panic. Why was this piece so different from the first successful one?
I got up from my desk. Walking outside to the nearby park, I breathed deeply and bathed my eyes in the forest greenery. After a while, words emerged: “Be the reader.”
How to Write for Your Reader
As I thought about this command, and obeyed, imagining myself as the reader, other words came in the form of questions:
· What will help me?
· What can I learn?
· What will I gain?
· What about this piece will entertain, uplift, or inspire me?
You too probably have such questions subconsciously in mind when you pick up anything you want to read. Try them more consciously on something new by another author. The answers will become evident—whatever the genre. They’ll remind or teach you why a reader wants to read.
In my walk, I started responding to the questions above for that piece I was so ferociously blocked on. The answers came pouring through. I stopped, dug into my pocket for my pad and pen, jotted feverishly, and then rushed back to my desk. I completed the article on time and sent it in. The editor returned it with only minor edits before publication.
When we approach our piece as if we are the reader, we stop trying to dazzle the editor. We put our reader first. Who are you writing for? The reader.
Paradox: The Reader Is You
With the great success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she was, as her interviewer observes, “instantly connected to millions of women who felt that a part of your story was their story too.” She replies, “It’s very joyful for me to see that the liberation I gave myself made them feel more free” (Karen Bouris, “The Stubborn Gladness of Elizabeth Gilbert,” Spirituality & Health, March-April 2013). Gilbert was writing for herself—giving herself needed and craved “liberation”—and other women identified and drew courage from her admissions and actions.
I too felt joyful—and surprised and grateful—at readers’ identifications commenting on my book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. One reader wrote, ““As if speaking directly to me, the author began to guide me gently out of that stuckness.” Another said, “The very issues I've been grappling with are right there in this book. It was like a blueprint that all but had my name on it.”
Now, who was I writing about? You guessed it—me. Whose problems was I puzzling out? Mine. Whose solutions was I aiming for? My own. And yet, my words resounded with readers who then found the help and meanings they needed.
Your Rewards from Becoming the Reader
Learning how readers are helped by our words is one of the many rewards of becoming the reader in our writing. I’ve also discovered others that teach and guide us in perspectives and craft:
· You concentrate instead on the reader’s needs.
· In turn, the work’s focus becomes clearer.
· Your writing flows with greater direction and purpose.
· You become more honest in your writing.
· You admit, maybe paradoxically, that you are writing for yourself.
· You connect with more readers.
With these lessons on mind, now whenever I feel I’m trying too hard to be smart, witty, more clever than my writing colleagues, or writing to outdo a previous piece, I go out to walk, breathe, and talk to myself: “Remember who you’re writing for.” Then I remind myself, silently and sometimes aloud, “I’m writing for the reader. I’m writing for myself.” And then I shout, “Forget the editor!”
Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle tries to forget the editor every time she writes. So far, this strategy has worked pretty well. She has published over 300 fiction and nonfiction pieces in print and online venues. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has guided doctoral candidates to completion of their dissertations. Based on this work, her current project is a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook, Grad U: Complete Your Dissertation—Finally—and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live With You. In her published book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), Noelle draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at http://www.trustyourlifenow.com/
With Trust Your Life, Noelle is participating in the Unity Books “Summer of Self-Discovery,” a reading series on Goodreads with two other authors of positive messages with book discussions and free author webcasts. Seeunitybooks.org/summer and the http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/100799-unity-books
Her interview discussing Trust Your Life with Sarah L. Webb appears in two parts on SL Writes.com:
See also Noelle's new guest blog for Author Magazine monthly on odd Wednesdays: “Authors’ Blog” at