You Need To Wear Many Hats… But You Shouldn’t Wear Them All

You can't wear ALL the hats. You'll just look silly.

Last month, I wrote a piece on spec for a new online startup. I wouldn’t typically do such a thing, but I was excited about the forthcoming website, and the project was backed by several companies I admired.

When the piece was killed, I was disappointed, but the editor I was in contact with assured me it had nothing to do with me. She told me that her and her superiors liked my writing style, and wanted to give me another assignment. Despite misgivings, I went ahead with it, working my ass off to get the piece done before deadline.

Then, the second piece was killed. We like your writing, the editor wrote to me, but the two posts you’ve written for us fail to demonstrate an understanding of what people are interested in or intrigued by.

Lemme tell you. That email really ruined my day.

Yes, I was angry at myself for doing work on spec. Twice. But I was more upset because I felt insulted by the implication that I didn’t know what people wanted to read… and I was the target audience!

I started to doubt my abilities as a writer. (Surprise, surprise.) I knew that anonymous commenters and online trolls were best ignored, but editors? Where could I go from here?

Then, a well-paying job floated in from a new client. Another regular client approached me with several more projects. I talked another editor into doubling their rates for me. I landed a new coaching client.

I realized:

I can’t please everyone. Nor should I want to. Because when you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one.

I’m not implying you should ignore contrary comments from your editors because you’re awesome and perfect and poop word glitter. No. Please do take that constructive criticism from the editors whose judgment you trust, and use it to become even awesomer.

What I am saying is that you can’t be the right fit for every editor. And that’s okay.

Take what you excel at and for the love of god run with it.

Have you ever received criticism from an editor that gave you pause? How did you bounce back?

Related: They Hate Me! They Really Hate Me!, The Vulnerability of Writers, Has the Editing Process Crushed Your Soul?, Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes


  1. This is good advice. You can be so much more productive if you write for people who get you.

  2. An editor I was working with read the first part of a novel I had written with three voices telling the story and said there should only be two. I have not gone back to it but think about what she said from time to time. The more I think on it, the more I realize two single voices will not work, that three are indeed needed. It’s easy to be cowed by someone in an editing position. One has to remember to remain the master of one’s own writing. I totally agree. You cannot be the right fit for every editor.

  3. Steph, I know how frustrating it is when your article doesn’t match the editor’s vision. It happens, even to kick-ass writers like you. Since it’s a new pub, my guess would be that they’re still nailing down their vision and editorial style, so this was their way of pinning that on you rather than ‘fessing about their evolving focus or inability to articulate it. Lame but it happens. Try to resell those articles instead of letting them gather dust on your hard drive!

    PS From your title, I thought was a post on outsourcing (also a good topic) but I could totally relate to this topic. Writing is so subjective sometimes!

    • “Since it’s a new pub, my guess would be that they’re still nailing down their vision and editorial style, so this was their way of pinning that on you rather than ‘fessing about their evolving focus or inability to articulate it.”

      This is so insightful, and probably true. Heck, I’ve been through that exact same struggle in the past when working for another online publication! It’s typically frustrating for everyone involved, so maybe I dodged a bullet?

  4. Jennifer Margulis says:

    Amen sister. But I do think you poop word glitter. I had a similar experience lately and it was hard not to feel awful. One moral-don’t write on spec…

  5. Wise words yet again – and it’s true, I couldn’t write what you write, and vice versa. It’s such a relief to acknowledge this and work doubly as hard for the stories you DO want to tell rather than blindly grasping at every potential piece out there.

  6. Some people just don’t know what they want and it sounds like this first project falls into that category. I doubt they are happy with anyone’s writing.

  7. How frustrating that had to be for you. But I think you came away from the experience with the right lesson. And so glad other people -who appreciate your writing – were there to tell you so. I say you can’t please everyone…but you’ve got to please yourself first. (didn’t someone write that in a song?).

  8. I echo what Alisa said, and add that some folks also are not really ready to launch the new, exciting project they speak of. Their timing is off, and so, the writer might feel like her writing is off when the editor doesn’t like it or says the writers doesn’t understand the audience. Not necessarily true at all.

  9. I agree with Alisa, it sounds more like this editor didn’t know what they wanted. I worked in finance for a long time and I hated it. I’ve found I’m not good at writing about it either. I might know what I’m talking about, but I hate it and it comes across in my writing. So, the lesson I’ve learned from feedback from those editors is to stick with the subjects I love!

  10. Absolutely great advice. Your writing style may not fit every editor’s vision of what they want. If I received such negative feedback, of course I would feel bad, too. But then I’d move on. You’re on target when saying you just can’t please everyone.

  11. “you poop word glitter?” (Jennifer Margulis) Now THERE’s a turn of phrase!!

    And I’ll bet there are editors out there who wouldn’t appreciate it, too.

    So glad you realize that you can’t be all things to all editors.

  12. I think every writer on the planet has experienced that crappy email / note from an editor. It definitely sucks. And makes a writer doubt everything, even though they’ve been published in other great places and other editors have loved their work. And then you think about people like J.K. Rowling, whose first book was rejected so many times it’d make the most stubborn person doubt their work. And yet, look what happened with her. I bet all the editors and agents and publishers who said no to her are kicking themselves now. I guess the point is to keep it all in perspective. If a writer’s been making money and being successful at it for years, don’t let some clueless editor rain on our parade. So there.

  13. Urgh. What a frustrating experience–but I’m glad in the end you came away from it knowing you are a talented writer. And you’re right–different eds work better with different writers and vice versa.

  14. What a difficult experience for you. I’m glad that other good writing events happened to quell that self-doubt mode. It sounds to me like the editors of the website were inexperienced. It’s one of the downsides of writing on spec for a new site or publication. Been there, done that, not doing it again.

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