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March 01, 2011

Day 14 of 30: How can I make things right?

On Tuesday I crossed something off my moral and mental to-do list that had been gnawing at me for months.

A while back, I did some writing for a client and he explained that I didn't get it right. I sent him a revision and never heard back.

Background: beyond being a client, "Rupert" has been a friend and counselor/mentor for years. Even without the personal connection, I felt very uncomfortable to leave things hanging, but especially because of the broader context I felt especially embarrassed.

I wrote it on my white board, expecting that to motivate me: Call Rupert.

I wrote it into my cell phone agenda, hoping I'd decide to dial his number in the car, on a walk, anywhere: Call Rupert.

I stared at that command in both locations for weeks, but I stopped short every time, wondering what I'd tell him when he picked up the phone.

Should I start with an apology, or find out why he didn't like the revision, or ask if he'd been busy? Was he mad or just focusing on work? Should I start with small talk about our families, and then ask him how business is going?

Finally without a moment of premeditation or a plan, I just picked up the phone and called.

"I just wanted to tell you how embarrassed I am about how this turned out. I really wanted you to be happy and I'm sorry it wasn't want you wanted. Then I got busy with other projects and now it's February. How can I make things right?"

He was gracious as always.

He explained why the revision wasn't good either, but gave me some information I didn't have before: info about how what I wrote missed an important point and focused too much on other elements. He said I should definitely revise and send it back.

I concluded the conversation relieved and grateful. And with a post-it note with the new guidelines he gave me. Back to the drawing board!

Lost: that feeling of guilt and shame
Gained: one more chance


Day 13 of 30: Let others tell you no, don’t do it for them

Last weekend, an editor at one of the papers I write for wrote to me with the words every freelancer dreams of hearing: “I truly am eager for additional stories.”

On Monday (yes, last Monday -- I've been asking but not writing, apologies!!!), I sent her five ideas. The first two were the ones I thought she’d be most likely to go for: fast turnaround, right in line with the publication’s and section's goals. The third was a spinoff of Option 2, turning it into a series. I figured that if she needs stories, one remedy would be to take one idea and break it up into smaller units. Option 4 was a complete reach. I just threw it in there because I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally wanted to do it. It involved travel. To FRANCE!! I added a fifth idea I thought would be fun to learn about, just for the hell of it. The pitch started
Last resort: Here's an idea that would be harder to research, unless I found a lead on a source.
I was pretty sure she wouldn’t take it, since it would take a lot of reporting time and she needed stories now. But who knows? Maybe she hated the rest? Maybe she wanted to assign it to someone else? Whatever. I just threw it in there.

Moments later, I got her answer.

She went for Option 2. No surprise.
Option 5. Really!?

That’s right – she went for Option 4 – the pie in the sky idea I just threw out there as an afterthought. The one I most wanted, but almost didn't include because the 'rational' voice in my head told me not to. In fact, she commissioned a series of stories based in France and Corsica, so I can more than cover the cost of travel.

Lost: nothing.
Gained: my dream articles via a European trip!
Takeaway thoughts:

All it took was an extra minute to include those sentences in the email. I was so ready not to.

Don’t overwhelm her with too many pitches.
Save some of these ideas for later
She needs stories now, and France has nothing to do with that goal.
Her budget has shrunk. There’s no way she’ll afford to assign enough stories to cover the trip’s costs.

But I left the pitch there and remembered this key tenet of asking: Don’t reject yourself. Let others do it for you. This is especially true for situations where you have little to lose and a lot to gain. What if she'd said no? No problemo.

A second key tenet, one that the authors of Women Don't Ask advance in their book, is that it's important to actively seek out opportunities. Don't wait for things to fall in your lap. If I hadn't asked, the chances were very slim that she'd write to me and explicitly say, "Listen, if you happened to want to travel to France, I could assign a few stories."

Happy asking!!

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