Writing Lessons: Mistakes I’ve Made

Today I’m sharing some mistakes I’ve made when it comes to submitting pieces for publication. Remember, this is my year of being ENOUGH, so I am not sharing these to beat myself up, but to continue to adopt a fail-fast strategy. I may have failed and made mistakes, but I can learn from them. Also, if any of you are new writers who are beginning to submit pieces to journals and online places, I hope you can learn from my mistakes!


1. Not Getting to Know a Journal/Magazine/Publication Before Submitting

So, let’s be realistic. There’s are thousands of literary journals out there and as a writer I don’t have time to explore every single one in detail. However, if I am going to submit an essay or poem to a journal, I need to peruse the journal’s website at least a little. I try to check out the “About” section to see if the style of journal lines up with my writing, and most importantly I check out past issues to see what kind of poems/essays the journal has published.

The truth is, though, that I have a handful of poems that were published in either small, unknown journals or just plain weird journals that now I kind of regret. I should have done more research at the time. I recently responded to a submission call I saw on Twitter. I very briefly surveyed the website before submitting. The journal accepted two of my poems, but publication date was supposed to be December 22 and I haven’t heard anything. There have also been a couple of other red flags, so I have emailed to withdraw my poems. My fault. I should have explored the website more thoroughly and thought a little bit more before submitting.

2. Submitting the Right Piece to the Wrong Journal

This is related to number 1. And it’s a mistake that yes, I have made. If you spend time researching a journal, you need to consider if your writing fits that journal’s style and audience. In my case this was more of an online Christian site that looks at pop culture from a spiritual lens, not a true literary magazine. I had written a piece about a documentary called God Loves Uganda. They were interested in the essay and I worked with an editor on it for a couple of weeks. But in the end, they decided not to run the piece. There were some changes that they wanted me to make that I was uncomfortable with. They weren’t critiquing my writing ability; they were thinking about their audience. But the truth is, I should have been thinking about their audience, too. My essay was not bad, but I pitched it to the wrong place. Lesson learned.

3. Not Being Wary When Submitting to a Fledgling Journal

So a friend of mine posted a link to a brand new online literary journal that looked beautiful. The first issue was a great mix of personal essays, poetry, photography, pencil drawings, and even an interview with an organic gardener. The writing and presentation were both great. I looked up the theme for the second issue and wrote an essay just for that theme. When I submitted, I received an email saying that my essay would be “a lovely addition to the _________ Issue.” I thought that meant it was accepted. They did ask for some small revisions, which I made.

But after a few weeks of not hearing anything, I got an email saying that the direction of the issue had taken a turn and they would not be using my essay. (In other words, better submissions had come in. It’s a hard fact for a writer to face, but face it I must.) I replied with an honest but courteous email telling them that I felt like it was not professional to accept and then un-accept a piece. They responded kindly and apologetically, and they did admit that as a start-up journal they need to be more clear as to whether or not a piece is accepted.

So, while I was disappointed, the truth is that this is a risk you take when submitting to a fledgling journal. New journals are still working out kinks, and there will be fits and starts. Mistakes will be made. I am not suggesting NOT to submit to new journals, but just be aware that glitches may happen. For the record, I still think it’s a lovely journal, and I actually posted a version of that essay here on the blog, but I won’t tell you which one. 🙂

4. Insulting the Editor

Yes, I humbly admit that I have insulted an editor before. It was more of an online culture/lifestyle magazine than a lit mag, but from the very first email, I could tell that the editor didn’t really know what he was doing. He took five paragraphs to say, “Your piece has potential; please look at my revision suggestions.” That said, he was the editor and I was not. I made the changes that I thought helped my piece and ignored the suggestions that didn’t. He wasn’t happy when he saw that I hadn’t made all the revisions he wanted. Heated emails were exchanged. I withdrew the essay. And yes, I did send him an apology email. It was really hard to swallow my ego on that one. I am still not sure how to balance your writer’s gut with an editor’s suggestions. But I do think that it’s pretty bad form to be mean to an editor. Again, lesson learned.


What lessons have you learned as a writer? What mistakes have you made and how have you dealt with them? 



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