Screwing Up Can Teach Valuable Lessons

You know the saying, “Be careful the words you use because someday you may have to eat them”?

I learned that lesson recently.

As a fledgling writer, I’ve discovered that I’m more protective of my written words than I am with other aspects of my life. I haven’t always stood up for myself, but I’ve easily stood up for my writing.

Once I’ve sent an essay out into the world, I’m determined to protect its integrity.

Maybe it’s because I think deeply about how to express myself in writing, whereas in real life and real time, I may have to react in the spur of the moment, which is not my best moment.

And maybe it’s because, in person, I can influence someone’s impression of me. But knowing that my written word is the only way a reader knows me, I choose those words carefully.

I’ve had dozens of essays accepted in publications with the understanding that the editors may make minor changes to my work. Until recently, I’ve never had a problem with that.

Then I submitted what was going to be my first paid piece. It was a great learning experience because the editor asked me tough, thought-provoking questions about my draft, which challenged me to make it better. We had several back-and-forths on the editing. On the last pass, I indicated that I was not comfortable with one specific change. It misrepresented a very sensitive topic that I labored over to word delicately.

I didn’t hear back from him. So I thought.

After several days, I figured the piece was still in process but, curious, I clicked on the publication website. There was my essay. Without my final edits. I knew that readers would make assumptions about me that were inaccurate. It was reputation-damaging. I was irate.

Additionally, most editors will send you a link to your piece as soon as it goes live. I didn’t get one. So I thought.

Immediately, I sent an email to the editor firmly stating my objections and my disappointment.

I opened with this: “I’m disappointed that you didn’t see my edits and comments on Google Docs and in the email below before this went out yesterday.”

Then I gave the examples and stated my case. And ended with this: “I may choose not to do any promotion to my followers or social media, to minimize the damage. It’s a shame.”

Again, I was very disappointed and discouraged.

I was so close to adding “and pissed” to that last sentence, but I didn’t. Nor did I add “thanks” or “if it’s not too much trouble” or “in my opinion” or any of those agreeable phrases that I tend to rely upon.

Then, because I was so upset, I started an essay for another publication to air my grievances. But I didn’t finish it. I decided to wait until I heard back from the editor, which I did quickly.

As it turns out, the whole thing was my screw-up. The editor did send the final edits several days earlier, and when he didn’t hear back from me, he assumed I was good with the piece. I discovered that his email had gone to my Gmail account, one that I use only for document editing…one that he and I had used.

I hadn’t checked that account, and so I didn’t reply. My bad.

With a short explanation of what happened, I apologized to the editor, who agreed with my final edits and quickly made the changes. It was resolved amicably.

I wonder: If I had not chosen my words carefully, would that still be the case?

Although I hated that I had to eat crow, I was incredibly relieved that I had seasoned my words carefully because they didn’t taste so bad. And through it all, I was proud of the way I stood up for myself.

These are the lessons I learned:

Stand up for yourself.
Season your words carefully.
Check all your email accounts daily.

About the Author | Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (a.k.a. avoiding housework), meditating (a.k.a. napping), and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (a.k.a. gardening).  She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

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