Writing that thing you HAVE to get published

Throughout undergrad, my professors talked about having a healthy level of arrogance about our writing. It’s right there between being confident and being an asshole.

Mostly I’ve just been trying to reach the confident point—where I can objectively look at something I wrote and say, “Yes, this is a good piece people may read.” Just after that threshold, there’s rumored to be this other mindset that actually helps you get published. They say your attitude changes there. “This piece isn’t just good,” you’ll say. “It’s so good that it has to be read!”

Sure, I’ve had that thought. It was back when I started writing, and no one read a word of it, and I was sure my novel ideas were going to blow so many freaking minds. Then someone did read my first novel, and it did not blow his mind. Really, the whole thing just blew.

I learned to check my ego and to lean a bit more toward being objective with my work. Internally, I’m sure I skewed toward being an asshole toward people who didn’t “get” my short stories. But I still walked into every critique hoping I’d walk out with some ways to improve. That’s the mentality I’ve been stuck in through the last couple years of revising my manuscript.

While I was stuck, I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed at myself for working on nothing else. Even my blog has suffered. I decided to change that, so I opened a new Word doc and started a new blog post. It covered how I’ve grown over the last few months, the turns of my career, and some other hopeful things. It was the blog post I wanted to write for months, but I couldn’t get it right. It was too accusatory, too vindictive, too self-pitying. I hated writing it all those times as much as anyone would have hated reading it, so I never saved the work.

When I tried again last week, it wasn’t nearly the struggle it was before. The story was ready to come out and play. We played on the page, and I found all the magical things it had lacked before: an intention, the proper distance from the experience, and excitement from me, the writer.

But not just excitement. As I looked the piece over and cleaned it up, I realized it was too good for a blog post. Oh, no. This piece needed to go to The Huffington Post. While I’m at it, I might as well shop it around to some other places. This piece isn’t just good, it needs to be read. And it’s just not going to get the audience it deserves here on my blog.

Had I been writing this experience a few months ago, the story probably would end with an explanation of why I chickened out and decided to revise the piece until eventually giving up on it. Today, the piece is under review with The Huffington Post. And it’s about to be under review with some other publications, too.

Honestly, I expected this golden place of confidence/arrogance to feel like an exclusive club I had earned my way into. In reality, it feels more like unloading the dishwasher. This piece is going to these publications because it just belongs there. The plates go in this cupboard because that’s just where they go.

Having an Opinion in the Workplace (And Not Being a Jerk)

You’ve made it through the application and the interview, and now you’ve got the job — congratulations! People have recognized you’re qualified and will have an informed opinion on things relevant to your job. But how long do you have to have the job before you can express your honest opinion? And how do you express it without coming across as a stubborn know-it-all?

As a blunt and occasionally abrasive member of the workforce, allow me to share what’s worked for me.

“Putting a bird on your head doesn’t make you a trendsetter, Janet. It makes you look like an idiot.” Source

When can I start being honest?

Right away. Part of why you were hired is the perspective you can offer, not your ability to nod and agree. In your workplace, you’ll have some higher goal your team is working toward or core values all your actions must reflect. If you think there’s a better way to reach that goal or exemplify those values, let your team know. You might have the best idea, or your idea might give someone else on the team a stroke of genius.

Is it possible to be too honest?

Yes. It comes down to tact — how, where and to whom you express your opinion. It’s not appropriate to raise your hand in a meeting and say the project idea is stupid. You might say, “From my perspective as [whatever you have in common with the target audience], I’m not sure I would be interested in this.” Give your reasons and provide alternative ideas. When you’re one-on-one with your supervisor or someone from your department, that’s when you can say, “Yeah, I’m not that thrilled with this idea. I think we need to nudge them more in this direction.”

What if I’m new?

So what? New or old, you’re part of the team. There’s a hazy area between being the humble new hire and the confident figure of authority. But your behavior in the beginning gives your colleagues an expectation of what your behavior will be like when you’re not so new. Assert your idea. Support it. Be willing to support someone else’s idea. Start doing that immediately — it’s what you’ll have to do further down the line.

What if I come on too strong?

If it’s going to be a habit, apologize. Personally, I am in the habit of being aggressive and blunt. The best practice I’ve found to prevent it from being a problem: let your supervisor know you’re aware of your own personality, that you will try to use your best judgement, and you will immediately take it down a few notches if your supervisor thinks you crossed a line. You don’t have to apologize for your opinion, just the delivery of it.

What if no one asks for my opinion?

Offer it anyway. Sometimes people will go out of their way to ask what you think of something. Other times, it’s understood that you will voice your thoughts because you are present for the discussion. No one will know what you’re thinking until you tell them. Not comfortable with the new assignment? Think having a partner on the job will get it done more effectively and efficiently? Have zero clue what direction to take? Tell someone.

What if I have no opinion?

Then you have no opinion. The workplace phrasing of this is, “I don’t have strong feelings for this either way.” But, since the idea is to keep the larger entity you work for effective, this would be a good time to ask questions. I find the things I don’t have an opinion on are the things I don’t know enough about. They want to know if you think the content will appeal to your audience? Ask who the audience is. Is it going to reach our goal? Well, what is the key goal?

“Frankly, I don’t give a damn if it’s blue or green.” Source

The alternative to all this: misery and resentment, and not just for you. In the end, it’s all about being the kind of team member you choose to be.

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