Managing an editorial staff is often like being a teacher. You work with your “students” and guide their writing to get better, but don’t always get the assignment turned in on time or written correctly. Most writers know better than to tell you that their dog ate their homework, but almost any editor or blog manager has heard the following seven excuses before.
What They Say: I have a bulleted list, I just wanted to run it past you.
What They Mean: I quickly threw together a few ideas because I was about to miss a deadline.
Oftentimes the writers who need the least amount of guidance will come to you for the most help. These are the “students” that genuinely want to review bullet points and resources before they begin writing. However, editors can quickly spot the differences between these writers and those that are trying not to miss a deadline. They usually present half-baked thoughts and are rarely backed with resources or explanations of the direction. An editor’s best bet is to review the bullets immediately and send feedback so the writer can still meet his or her deadline.
What They Say: I’ll work on it over the weekend/when I get home/after work.
What They Mean: I’m not going to work on it until next week/tomorrow/whenever you hound me again.
This fib always makes the writer look incredibly dedicated, because he or she is going the extra mile and working outside the minimum 40 hours. Whether they say they’ll work at home because “they can’t write in this environment” or because “they just don’t have time today,” more than likely they’re pulling the wool over your eyes.
Unfortunately, this tends to put editors in a never-ending cycle. The writer doesn’t write over the weekend but promises to write at work, then has meetings and decides to write at home again. The solution? Set up a meeting with them for an hour. This blocks out a specific time just for writing.
What They Say: I have the original saved on my home computer/the file was encrypted/the CMS was down.
What They Mean: I didn’t actually do the assignment, but want you to think that I did.
This is the modern version of “My dog ate my homework,” as it’s almost impossible to argue with a computer problem. Whether it’s on a Word Doc on a different computer, the laptop broke, or the whole hard drive was deleted, most editors have no choice but to extend the deadline – whether the writer is telling the truth or not.
Fortunately, we live in a world of Google Docs. Those can be accessed from almost any computer and takes away the “encrypted file,” excuse.
What They Say: Can you give me a few examples?
What They Mean: Can you give me 3-4 subheads so I only have to think of one more?
“I know you gave me two examples that translate directly into subheads and three resource links so I can learn more on my own, but can you give me more examples that I can use so I don’t have to think?”
The result is an article that has very little research and just mimics what is said in the instructions. On the plus side, providing multiple examples means you will get the exact article you want.
What They Say: I don’t really understand what you mean by that.
What They Mean: I want you to give me some examples so I don’t have to do research.
Like the section above, this one is also an attempt to draw out some subheads. I’ve heard this question – phrased in multiple ways – hundreds of times before. The result is an article that uses the exact examples presented, with the exact resources as the only hyperlinks added.
Writers, we know when an article is well-researched and planned versus something that was made up as you went.
What They Say: Thanks for leaving me such detailed, constructive feedback!
What They Mean: I didn’t read what you wrote; I just want to keep my job.
If you want to impress your editor, internalize the feedback you give them and improve on your future content. If someone says you use commas too often, cut back next time.
We can tell when a writer thanks us for our feedback and then ignores it. More of than not, we see the exact same mistakes again and again in their writing. Editors, your best bet in this case it to dump the writer and move on if he or she shows no signs of trying to improve no matter the feedback you give them.
What They Say: I took the article in a different direction, this is my interpretation.
What They Mean: Writing about this topic instead of the one you assigned is less work for me.
Please, no. Editors hate it when you take an assignment in a completely different direction, or just choose one subhead and write an entire article around it. More often than not, they have scheduled the article to go with a specific theme or to help a team in the company. If the sales department asks for “X Benefits of Y Product” and you write “Why I Use Y Product to X” only talking about one, the editor will ultimately reject it.
Editors have a reputation for being grouchy, but can you blame us? Even when we think we’ve heard every excuse in the book, more pop up and surprise us. Editors, how many of these have you put up with? How did you handle it?