Friday, September 18: Guest Blogger Susan Johnston

One of my favorite colleagues is Susan Johnston, of The Urban Muse, and she generously agreed to share some insights:

5 Excuses That Undermine Writing Success
by Susan Johnston

It’s scary sending out your work and possibly facing rejection, but that’s the only way to get started. Editors sometimes offer assignments to established writers without a query letter, but when you’re just starting out, you usually have to initiate contact with an editor.

Here are some of the excuses that writers tell themselves, plus the reasons why these excuses shouldn’t hold you back.

1. “But I don’t have a journalism degree.” Neither do I. A lot of successful freelancers started out in other fields and switched to writing later on. That’s not necessarily a liability, because these writers bring knowledge of their previous careers, which gives them lots of fodder for article ideas. Also, many people have an innate ability to write without going to j-school. There are tons of books and classes that can help you bone up on reporting or help you develop a writer’s voice without a traditional degree.

2. “But they already rejected me.” Someone told me this when I encouraged her to submit an essay to a certain publication. Actually, they didn’t reject her, they rejected her essay. But that doesn’t mean she (and all of you) can’t keep trying with different material. Unless you’ve committed some terrible faux pas like Facebook-stalking the editor and forcing her to get a restraining order, then she probably won’t even remember your earlier attempts.

3. “But I don’t know anything about X.” Many freelancers are generalists, but that doesn’t stop them from writing about varied topics like crocheting, macrobiotic diets, or, say, nuclear fission. As long as they know where to find research and experts in those areas, in most cases they’re good to go.

4. “But I don’t have time. I’ll write when I have more time.” Newsflash: that time may never come! Either you’re planning a vacation or getting ready to move or chasing after a toddler. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find time to write. Maybe you can carve out a few minutes early in the morning or in between meetings. If time is an issue for you (as it is for most of us), then I highly recommend the book Time to Write: Professional writers reveal how to fit writing into your busy life.

5. “But I don’t know what to write about!” I admit this can be a challenge. You don’t want to query with an idea that just appeared in the publication, but you also don’t have to wait until you find the most brilliant, original idea of all time (chances are, it’s been done before, too). I’m often surprised to recieve a rejection for an idea that felt really fresh and original (to me, at least) or get an acceptance for one that I wasn’t 100% sure about. Querying is a numbers game. You want to get as many ideas circulating as possible and not get too invested in any single idea. Ultimately, it’s up to the editor, so keep sending those ideas and let them decide if it’s a fit for their publication.

What about you? Are there other issues that prevent you from sending a query or sitting down to write? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer and blogger who has covered business and lifestyle topics for The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Yahoo! HotJobs, and many other publications. Want to know more? check out The Urban Muse or follow her on Twitter.

Published in: on September 18, 2009 at 1:02 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. LOVE this, Susan! I especially like what you said about rejection. They aren’t rejecting YOU, they’re simply not accepting one of your ideas. It’s so easy to take it personally because of the cerebral nature of our work, but you can’t. It’s business. You have a product. Not everyone wants or needs that product. Supply and demand. :))

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insights with us, Susan!

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