Saturday, 8 November 2008

#58 – Don’t be afraid to submit mediocre copy

Or knowing how good your average is.

High standards
One common mistake that writers make is thinking that every piece of work they turn out has to be of an exceptionally high standard. In an ideal world, of course, this would be the case. But in an ideal world, we’d all be superhuman writing cyborgs with unparalleled knowledge and a witty quip for every occasion.

Quantity as well as quality
The truth of the matter is that if you’re going to become a successful freelancer, you are going to have to deal in quantity as well as quality. There’s no point spending two weeks at a time crafting a masterpiece if you only get paid enough to live on for one week as a result.

Mediocre work
Unfortunately, there will be some occasions where you know that what you’ve written isn’t particularly good. By your own standards, it’s pretty mediocre stuff. And sometimes you’ll know what you’ve tapped out into your laptop is just plain crap. Admittedly, though, this is often when the editor has asked for something that can only be crap, and no amount of turd-polishing on your part can redeem it.

Pragmatic approach
Some writing gurus will advise that if you’re not happy with your work, you should revise it until you know that it is up to your usual standard. I’m more of a pragmatist (which is probably why I can’t affix the ‘guru’ qualification to my business card). I figure that sometimes average or mediocre will do the job.

Send the piece away
Sometimes it is better to send away the slightly uninspired piece and get on with the next one, rather than wasting time and money trying to improve it. But a lot depends on how good your own particular ‘average’ is.

One of the best
This will sound horribly arrogant, but I know damn well that I’m one of the best writers at many of the publications I work for. If I wasn’t, the editors wouldn’t keep giving me work. I also know that some of the other writers that somehow get published in these publications are bloody awful; they consistently churn out hackneyed, turgid dross.

Getting run
Therefore, I know that if I end up sending off a piece that I don’t think is anywhere near my best, it’ll still get run. I might not be overly proud of it, but it’ll still be a damn sight better than some of the content in that issue. In other words, I know my average is still better than a good proportion of the competition’s best work. And as long as I don’t fall back to mediocre too often, it’ll do. Proof-read it, change anything that’s really bad, send it, move on.

How good is your average?
The key thing is to have a critical awareness of where you are in that pecking order. How good is your average? Is it good enough to allow you do dip from peak form every now and again?

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