People ask me writing questions sometimes. This weekend I was reminded of an essential skill that aspiring or frustrated writers often overlook and that you absolutely must possess if you want to get paid for your writing: The willingness to completely re-write your work.
When you write for yourself, you can write whatever you like.
When other people are paying you to write, you have to write what they like.
The way this works is that either you or your prospective employer makes a proposal. How about you write this type of piece, of this approximate length, on this topic, oriented towards this audience? The person paying you will use proxy measures, such as your reputation and your portfolio, to predict how likely it is you’ll deliver a satisfactory work.
But you, the writer, will not have magical superpowers enabling you to write the perfect thing every time.
Sometimes you are off your game. Sometimes you misunderstand the guidelines. Sometimes you’re working with a lot of flexibility, and you take the piece in a direction your editor realizes is not going to work. Sometimes you’re 90% perfect, but you still need to tweak in order get it perfect-perfect.
The person paying you knows the product they need, and they know it better than you do. It doesn’t matter that this exact same type of work was an absolute bestseller on your last job. It doesn’t matter that people love it when you write this way, on this subject, in this style. What matters is that you write the piece you’re being paid to write.
If I were to totally fabricate a statistic, I’d estimate I have a 20% rewrite rate, though it depends on the project. On short stuff, that’s about 80% “Perfect!” and 20% “Go back and write me something completely different, thank you.” On longer pieces, I usually get more like 90% into the ballpark, and then have to add, delete, or adjust to get it just how the editor wants it. I can hit 99.9% if I’m working with a publication that I have a really good feel for, but that’s not the norm.
As a writer one of the things you are being paid to do is come up with a brand new creation — something the world has never seen before. That’s a risky affair, and your editor is gambling that you can do it.
So when you’re asked to rewrite, go back and rewrite. Immediately. If you’re not willing to rewrite until your editor’s happy, or you’re not willing to make getting the rewrite done ASAP a top priority, don’t accept the job.
I put in the search term “white out” in Wikimedia Commons, and of course what came back were blizzard shots. I thought this one captured the essence of today’s topic.
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shawn P. Eklund [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, where you can learn more about the operation in question.