This is the second in a series about Rejection. Enjoy!
A few months ago I was invited to write a test article for a major business blog. The company is a business to business company that provides business related content for companies. I had never done B2B writing before, as most of my writing is business to consumer, but I excited for the challenge, especially because the company’s rates were solid.
The editor emailed the assignment with detailed notes.
Now, the notes were so detailed that when I first read them, I didn’t even understand what they meant. I was so overwhelmed that I thought, I shouldn’t even do this. It’s way out of my league.
But I read it again and again, and it made sense. I realized that she wrote very detailed instructions without ever stating the main objective, which confused me because I’m a big picture person who needs to understand the overarching goal before I can grasp the specifics.
So once I actually understood the instructions, I decided to go for it. It would be a challenge, but I would do it.
I researched the topic, read the suggested articles, and pulled out the best points; I outlined my article and wrote it at a snail's pace. This process took several hours over the course of a few days. The work was tedious, but I was determined. After I finished it, I revised it again and again.
I proofread it. Twice.
Finally I submitted it, proud of myself for doing something that felt arduous at first.
Then the editor’s notes came…
When I say that I have never seen so much red on a document in my entire life…
Edits filled the page. She corrected my sentence structure, grammar, sentence placement. She even corrected the fact that I wrote Fortune 400 companies instead of Fortune 500. How Could I Have Missed That? I proofread it TWO times?!
I was mortified. I tried to find the right words to say in the email back to her, but what was there to say?
“Sorry my writing is so horrific? Sorry I made you work so hard? Sorry I wasted your time? Sorry you still have to pay me for this?”
It was the most embarrassing moment of my writing career. I was too embarrassed to even look at all of the edits in detail. It stung too much.
This failure was IN ADDITION TO a news editor asking me to rewrite a story and a third editor killing the second draft of a story I wrote. It was one of a string of consecutive failures.
This was new to me—failure. I had experienced so much success in my freelancing career up until then. Yes, I had dealt with editors who rejected my story ideas through a “I’ll pass on this” or by never returning my emails, but I had never failed on a paid assignment. My editors had always been pleased with my work, so much so that I wrote several pieces for their publications.
This is when the “I’m a horrible writer” party started in my head.
Did I even know how to write? Was this type of writing too difficult for me to master? Should I have not even tried? Was my first instinct correct?
I’m not sure how long the party lasted, but eventually somebody shut it down. Maybe it was the po-po. Maybe it was the wiser part of me. But once it was over, I analyzed where I had gone wrong with each story.
- The B2B Story:
- I needed to write tighter sentences that were “business crisp.” (That’s not a term. I just made it up.) Business writing differed from the lax, conversational tone I used for some of my assignments.
- I needed to develop my B2B writing style. This would take time and study, similar to the time and study it took for me to develop a style and technique for cultural commentary pieces and profile stories.
- The News Story:
- I hadn’t written news stories since my college days. I needed to dust the rust off of my research and fact checking skills.
- The 3rd Story:
- I should have spoken with Editor #3 more about the piece before I rewrote it to make sure we were both on the same page about the tone and style of the piece. Lesson learned. Lessons learned.
The willingness to take the necessary steps from failure to mastery emerged on a Saturday morning at the Culver City Stairs. (If you live in L.A. and you’ve never gone, you need to go. Once you do, you’ll simultaneously hate and thank me.)
My friend Juanita and I had made it to the top of the stairs, with the racing heartbeats and sweaty necks to prove it. “You want a ride down to your car?” she asked. “No, I wanna walk,” I replied, content to enjoy a sunny Southern California morning.
As I walked down the hill, still in that post-workout glow, I felt like I should turn into the adjacent park. I didn’t want to take a detour, however, because I wanted to hurry home to get started on the day’s work. But I felt compelled to walk into the park, so I did so, reluctantly.
“Batter up!” the announcer called over the microphone. Four- and five-year-old boys populated the baseball field in their Yankees and Tigers uniforms. It was only a little league game, but their jerseys, couple with their parents’ intense yells made it feel more like a World Series game.
I sat on a bench to watch.
A little boy, around four, approached the plate. He swung, missed. He swung again, missed. This happened until the officials set a stand in front of him with the ball on top of it. He swung, hit the ball, and ran to first base.
The lesson hit me, as surely as he hit that stationary ball: when you’re learning something new, you can’t expect to hit a home run. You can’t even expect to hit the ball. You’ll strike out, sometimes. The officials may have to set up the practice stand so you can work on your form. There is nothing wrong with this. This is how you learn. You learn to hit the ball: first when it’s stationary, then when it’s moving, then when it’s coming towards you at 100mph. Coordination, strength, speed, and skill develop until one day, many days or years later, you hit a home run.
I didn’t realize I was crying until I felt a tear on my cheek. I was like those little leaguers. For B2B writing—or any new style of writing—I would need to set up a stand and practice my form:
Lay. Lie. Lain.
Research. Check. Double-Check.
Study. Practice. Repeat.
I would have to learn like a four year old.
How do you deal with failure? Comment below. If you want to read the rest of this series, subscribe!