Forums Writing Chapter 6 Following Instructions and Exhibiting a Can-Do Attitude

Following Instructions and Exhibiting a Can-Do Attitude

If you are a new writer looking to be published, I can not stress to you enough the importance of a can do attitude and your willingness to follow instructions.

You may not think of it this way, but every time you blow off instructions, you are burning a bridge.

If an editor asks you to do something, you serve your future career by jumping on it and doing the best you can. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and do what you can to remedy it.


Not too long ago, I received a submission. The idea was a bit lame and the writing was a bit tame, but the writer was new and seemed nice and though I didn’t want to spend hours scouring Flickr for relevant images, I was willing to give the writer a chance.

I often ask writers to provide images. Though I will probably replace some of them, it helps and saves me some time. I try to be very careful about what I publish and often spend a lot of time editing articles even if they come to me in a nearly perfect state. Any time saver is a big help to me.

I asked the writer to search for some images for the article and provided guidelines.

Here are the writer’s mistakes:

She told me she would do what I’d asked her to do the following week. She forced me to wait.

She did not follow my instructions. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and provided her VERY explicit instructions. She again did not follow the instructions. This was a total waste of my time. Not only did I have to feed her instructions and reiterate them, but they were ignored – I had to invest time checking her work and once again inform her that she had not followed instructions.

When I informed her of what she’d done, instead of making an effort to find out for herself what I was talking about and fixing it, she apologized profusely and behaved as if she’d been victimized. If she were truly sorry, she’s have taken steps to remedy the problem along with her “heartfelt” apology.


Follow instructions: Read and check over instructions and your work

Don’t waste the editor’s time: If you do, try to acknowledge and make up for it.

Exhibit a can-do attitude: Don’t procrastinate. Most things you’re asked to do will only take you a few minutes. You will impress an editor if you show the quickness and you will be making their job easier.

Even if you are earning a moderate salary you need to look at each contact you make as a possible help to your burgeoning career and behave accordingly. You can possibly use this person as a reference and so exhibiting professionalism in everything you do is a very good idea.

View Profile 2009-08-29 20:07:21 PDT

Good points Kate. Also, get the editor’s name right! I can take one, maybe two times being addressed as Carlos. But, after replying and making sure I sign off as Carlo, if further replies come back to me addressed Carlos, that bridge starts burning.

Further to Kate’s “can-do” comments, it pays off to be active in the community, especially here at Matador. Making connections with other members, commenting on blog posts and articles. This stuff gets noticed. Trust me.

Carlo (not Carlos)

View Profile 2009-08-31 04:46:13 PDT

I found all the above very helpful. I would also add that I think it pays to be honest if you can’t follow through as promised. For example i submitted a piece to a major magazine about a year ago. The editor wanted to use it & asked me to supply a photograph. All this was done by e mail. Problem!! In between submitting article & ed asking for pic I had to return ugently from Spain to England as my mum had been taken seriously ill. I didn’t get the e mail for the pic til about a week after it was sent as i had all the time been at hospital. So what I did i actually phoned her, apologised & explained situation. I apologised if she thought I was wasting time. All my relevant pics were back in Spain but i did have something similar at Mums house. The ed understood & said send alternative by post which i did that same day. Article was published.

I guess what i am saying here is that i agree with above Compromises can be reached if you are honest, willing & open to alternatives – work together.

Just my twopenny worth!!!

View Profile 2009-08-31 13:32:41 PDT

Kate–completely agree on the instructions front. And I think it’s not just following them, but really showing that you’ve attempted to understand and respect them. For example, I asked a writer to edit some of an article and to flesh out the article with more information. The writer did so, but did it so halfheartedly and so quickly that the second draft of the article was more difficult to deal with than the first. If you want to get an article published, then you really need to throw yourself behind it! It’s not like a college homework assignment you can revise at 3 a.m. and get a C+ on.

View Profile 2009-08-31 17:43:59 PDT

Yes, yes and yes. I guess the most important thing is to look at the editor as a team mate.

I put teamwork in here as a tag, but I didn’t address it, but it’s what we’re all saying here.

Rosie – What you said is right. Be up front about any limitations and do what you can. Who could ask for more?

Give respect in the way you want to be respected, listen, follow instructions, and do your best each time (and get the editor’s name right).

The final product is the key here – you’re working to make it the best that it can be, so if you feel the editor changed something you’d rather have left alone, you must consider that you’re really both on the same side. Consider that the betterment of the work is the common goal. Even if it doesn’t exactly suit your voice, some changes are made to fit better into a publication.

Unlike other jobs, in writing, when you suck, there is a permanent record of your suckage, and if your editor is good, that record will stay with him or her. If not, it’ll be out there for all the world to see – including future editors!

Teamwork – Don’t suck – Follow Instructions – Does that cover it?

Oh – yeah. If you feel like complaining about a publication you’re writing for, keep it between friends and off the internet. Things like public digital bitching have a way of being heard after the fact…

View Profile 2009-08-31 18:51:06 PDT

Kate, that last point is great. Our lives are in view of the public these days, if you choose to network online.

View Profile 2009-09-01 01:24:40 PDT