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Just yesterday, one of the local editors I often work with asked if I could write an article that was “right up my alley.”

It sounded great—there’d been a fantastic contest during the COVID-19 pandemic, where local folks nominated frontline workers in the healthcare realm, and vendors throughout the Capitol District voted for one lucky person who’d win an impressive bridal package.  

theresa
Theresa St. John

Let’s face it, 2020 has been one hell of a year.

I thought this was a great way to say “Thank You” to essential workers. Besides that, I knew the story would pull on the heartstrings of many.

My editor was right—my wheelhouse of storytelling covers emotionally charged pieces like this all the time. 

The kicker? I’d have to have it back to her in four days so she could work on the layout, as it would go to print in the next glossy bridal issue. 

Even though it was tempting to say yes—it was a paid job after all—I politely declined.

Here’s why.

Timing is everything.

To do this feel-good story justice, I would have to contact everyone involved—from the vendors (there were seven of them) to the future husband-and-wife-to-be.

I’d need to interview each, ask questions, and then craft a compelling story from what they told me. 

I’m used to conducting interviews over the phone and in emails rather than in person, but that takes time. And what if I couldn’t get hold of them right away? 

Besides that, the vendors and bride would also need to supply high-res photos to accompany the piece, and that takes precious time as well.

I was afraid I couldn’t devote the time needed to make this heartstring story shine; no writer I know wants to short-change a happy ending.

Don’t be a diva.

I love “people” stories and have written many heart-warming to heart-wrenching articles about the joy and pain in life. 

But, I know I’m not the only writer able to do a story like this justice. 

I didn’t say no and leave it like that with my editor. I suggested another writer I know who’s also worked on essays like this. After talking it over, the editor agreed to give her a call and see if she was available for the job. 

Listen, there’s enough work to go around. So if you ever need to decline an assignment, try to think of a qualified replacement. It will make your editor’s life much easier, and you’ll be helping another writer out. In other words, you’ll be everyone’s hero. 

Slapping something together.

The worst thing I could have done in this case would be to say “yes,” and then hang up the phone in a panic.

I already had several deadlines to beat, which meant this story would have been sub-par. No one would have been happy with it—least of all me.

Demanding more time.

Another mistake would have been to ask for more time.

I already knew when the bridal issue was going to print, as I’d just turned in a story about two brides who’d had to scrap their wedding plans and re-imagine their perfect day for 2021 instead of 2020. 

Thinking that editors have wiggle-room for deadlines isn’t wrong, per-say, but believing they owe you more time is. 

Pitch another angle.

No writer wants to lose a paying gig. And savvy writers are good at thinking on our feet.

Another way I saved the day was by suggesting another article. 

Rather than this 800-word story she’d assign to someone else, I landed a 1,500-word piece focused on the healthcare bride and groom.

It would be an in-depth interview on how she’s handling the pandemic from the frontlines, and how he’s feeling about her everyday exposure to the deadly virus.

Obviously, they won’t divulge confidential information. But the couple can speak to dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, hope for a vaccine, and ways to decompress when they are together. 

Everyone wins.

Saying “no” isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it is the best thing to tell someone. The magic is in offering an alternate solution and then keeping the conversation going with an editor.

The magic is in offering another outcome.

In this case, it was the perfect ending to a sappy love story. I love when that happens.      

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