Learn from the Tale of a Tale

The invitation came out of the blue. Would I like to write a magazine article on a person with a very interesting mission?

I puzzled a bit—I’d never written for this magazine or on this topic before. However, I have written for a variety of magazines and also edited a business magazine. The editor’s choice became clearer when I realized that the “source”—also known as the “subject”—lived in a city near where I live. And I guessed that the editor had found me in our provincial writers’ guild registry.

I checked out the magazine, and found that it was a quarterly distributed free to professionals, administrators, post-secondary students, and politicians in a particular field. I checked out the editor’s website and Linkedin profile, then confirmed with him that I’d like to do the article.

I prayed.

I prayed that both the source and the editor would like the article.

The source and I were of different ethnicities, and the experiences that led to her quest were unlike anything I’d experienced. I was extremely careful, checking back with her numerous times until we were both satisfied before sending the article to the editor.

Then the hammer fell. Not only were the source and I two very different people, the editor and I were also very different. I’d been careful to keep within the word count, “cleverly” (or so I thought) using photo captions and text boxes to add information that would have pushed my word count too high. I’d also begun a few of the major points with a direct quote, a technique that had worked well for other publications.

Not this one. The editor said not to worry too much about the word count, make sure to put all the relevant information in the body of the article, and END some of my major points with a direct quote. He also wanted more information and more clarity, particularly on what led to the quest.

Learning from rewrites.

The latter was troubling. Although my source very much wanted to promote her cause, she did not want to promote herself, and resisted what must have seemed like prying on my part. Meanwhile, the editor wanted me to probe deeper for the human interest angle.

I rewrote the article, adding more information and placing direct quotes at the end of some points. I also tried to clarify the human interest angle while veering away from what the source considered intrusive.

The result was a study in blah–clunky and ultra boring.

I continued to pray that both the source and the editor would like the article.

Then I slept on it.

The next morning, I woke up with an idea. Why not lead with the startling statistic I’d gotten from a TEDx Talk—one that underscored the urgency of my source’s quest—and top it off with a direct quote from her? With that introduction, the rest of the rewrite flowed relatively smoothly. I sent the changes to the source for approval, then sent the article to the editor. He called it a “wonderful story”!

What can we learn from this tale of a tale?

Firstly, it’s important to pray about our writing. Even seemingly straightforward assignments can bring unwanted surprises.

Secondly, different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong on either side of an issue. Freelance writing and editing have earned me a decent income. My approach to article writing and editing had served me well, but they did not entirely work for the talented editor of this publication.

Thirdly, respect the interviewees. My source had experienced trauma that I had not. She and I not only see the world differently, we express ourselves differently. It was beneficial to check back with her on every direct and indirect quote I attributed to her.

Fourthly, sleep on it. Our brains are designed to do some of the heavy lifting while we sleep.

Fifthly, persevere. If we are called to write, our obedience will be blessed by the One Who calls us.

Margaret Welwood has written freelance articles for over 30 publications, and edited a business magazine and a Writer’s Digest award winning book. Then the arrival of charming grandchildren catapulted her into Children’s Storyland. She now happily resides among storytelling rabbits, invading Slicers and Dicers, and seafaring sheepdogs, writing and editing picture books for children. Margaret still, however, makes brief forays into the sensible world of adult non-fiction.

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5 thoughts on “Learn from the Tale of a Tale”

  1. Brilliant article! Thank you Margaret. You manage to teach, encourage and entertain all at the same time.
    How did you do that? Your experience, you sincerity and honesty, and your sensitivity, has given us information, interest and suspense.

  2. Margaret Welwood

    Thank you for your kind remarks, Sarah and Edward. Writing the article was certainly a learning experience–I expected to learn about the woman and her quest, but had no idea how much learning and practice I’d get rewriting!

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