my font okay? Should I indent my paragraphs? My margins are all right aren’t
they? Shall I centre justify my title? Ought I number the pages? Is my cover
letter too long? Too short? Too casual? What did you say about my font again?”
it’s a font I have seen before, doesn’t have the word ‘gothic’ in its title, and
couldn’t pass as the name of a particularly posh pampered pet – “Come along,
Tahoma! Walkies!” – then it is probably okay. Indenting? Yes or no – doesn’t
much matter. Are those margins about one-inch? They’re fine, then. Sure –
justify if you like. Sure – number if you like. A few hundred words, polite,
sane, and straight-to-the-point? Then it’s fine. As is your font ….
not that I don’t think the issues above aren’t important – I do regularly tell
my students to halve their two-inch margins, for example, which just look silly
– but I do think you can get bogged down too much with more trivial aspects of
the writing game, and lose sight of what really signifies.
sort of fretting is fine when it is merely last-minute pre-submission jitters,
and perhaps you’re just looking for an excuse to read it through again (you
don’t need one – you should read through several times anyway – but an extra
time can’t hurt, by any means), but when it’s a more stubborn problem, there
could be deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed.
can be an over-attachment to your idea or article. It feels like your ‘baby’.
The cure for this is to make more babies. (No sniggering at the back.) You need
lots of ideas on the go, so you feel less emotionally invested in any
particular one. If all you have to look forward to after you send your idea or
article off is an afternoon clicking the ‘receive mail’ icon every minute to
see whether the lucky receiving editor has responded, then it’s time to spread
your love around to other ideas and projects, so that waving goodbye to one
becomes as emotional an act as brushing your teeth.
second can be a suppressed suspicion that something may be wrong with the
piece. Maybe you don’t want to admit it openly to yourself because you’ve
worked so hard on it. But ask some questions of the piece. Challenge it. Is it
original? Are you offering something new and fresh? Is it well written, well
puncuated, with no dodgy spelling, to the best of your knowledge, and carefully
targeted to the reader of your target market? Does your opening paragraph
clearly set out your stall? Is the article packed with lots of information? Is it
satisfying and interesting? Lots of yeses here indicate you’re probably good to
go – but too many nos and you could have identified your problems right there. Be
honest. Forget about fonts and margins and address them. If you’re feeling
fretful about this, then go off and work on another of your babies before
coming back to feed this one with a calmer mind.
– particularly for newer writers – can be plain fear. You’re entering new or
newish territory. You have no idea what will happen next. It can be scary. The
editor may pick up the phone and shout “Never send me your rubbish idea again!”
at you – scary. The editor may pick up the phone and say “It’s great – can you
let me have 1,500 words by 3pm today?” at you – arguably doubly scary. Neither
of these will happen. You may get a polite no thanks. You may get a sniff of
interest with an invitation to send more information. You may get a commission
(with a reasonable deadline). Only the third of these possibilities could get
the butterflies going, but if you’ve come this far, you can go further. You
know you can put together a really good article, if only because an experienced
editor who is trained to see it in writers thinks you can. So you can. So do.
are forgiving, to a large degree. It’s very difficult to commit a cardinal sin,
unless you’ve really paid no attention. If your idea is otherwise good, a good
editor will excuse the odd typo, a slightly dodgy cliché, and even your habit
of hitting the spacebar twice rather than once between words (I’m far less
forgiving when it comes to this…). Remember: he wants to like you and your
him want to like you and your work by getting the ‘extras’ right, of course,
but don’t flap and fret about them too much that he never gets to see that work
you want him to like. Get the stuff that matters right, bite the bullet and
give it a shot, then switch to the next baby on the production line. It’s how
successful writers work.
Labels: Editors, Mistakes, Presentation