As a spiritual person, I try not to dwell on negative lessons from The Universe.
Once in a while though, they teach you something you wouldn't have learnt otherwise. I now have an experience I can pass on to other writers as a cautionary tale.
The lesson? Never, ever let anyone stifle your writing voice.
The choice of words YOU put on paper, the style YOU want to convey and the message YOU need to share. Because if you do, you sacrifice your purpose for theirs.
Here's how WriteToDone helped me come to this valuable realisation.
It all started with me contacting the website, politely asking them to remove a comment I had posted. I wasn’t applying to guest post - that hadn’t even entered my mind. It was the founder Mary Jaksch, who then asked me for the url of my website.
I was honoured, so I gave her the url, and here is the email she sent back in her exact words:
I was thrilled! How exciting to do a guest post for such a great website. This, however, is when things started to go pear-shaped.
I drafted up a quote-based post (which I’ll probably end up posting here at a later date!) that I really believed in and was super proud of.
When I sent the post to Mary, her editor Vinita took over proceedings, and let’s just say it felt like I had just sold my soul.
Suddenly didn’t seem like an “invite” to guest post at all. Suddenly I was lower than them, just an employee, a person to be dominated and bossed around for their gain.
I could have handled critique on grammar or how to open the post better. But it was clear the post was being judged on a criteria that came straight from a checklist that just didn't work with the post I'd written. Here are a few examples of what Vinita wanted me to do:
- "Connect with the reader": Okay, in what way? What do I specifically need to improve on to do that? This is one of those stock phrases from someone who really doesn’t have a clue.
- Add a conclusion: No, sorry. This post is a powerful, drop-the-mic piece that is supposed to leave the audience in awe, not fizzle out like a college presentation.
- Elaborate on each quote: Nope. Because what could I really add to the words of people like George T. Elliot and Martin Luther King? As if the quotes aren’t enough on their own? That only insults the original creator and patronises the reader.
Vinita the editor wasn’t impressed by someone actually standing behind their work, and wanted me to just do it exactly how she wanted.
Well, you know what?
If you want something written exactly to your specifications, you don’t “invite” a writer, you HIRE a writer. - (Tweet this!)
You give them money in exchange for exactly what you want. But it’s much easier and cheaper to exploit writers that don’t know any better, isn’t it?
I’m appalled that this treatment came from a fellow writing website, in the midst of an important world outcry about writers being exploited and used for work without pay, championed by excellent writers such as Chuck Wendig and Kristen Lamb. It’s just plain wrong.
Oh, but the worst was yet to come.
It turns out I was actually being discriminated against because I wasn't as well-known as other guest bloggers.
Vinita had asked me to refer to the popular posts for how to write a conclusion (which I knew would have completely dampened my piece). But when I did just that, I found a wealth of articles written by people who HADN’T written conclusions.
In the end, I did swallow my pride and changed the post slightly…defying my own golden rule:
Never do anything out of desperation or fear. - (Tweet this!)
I didn’t want to be seen as a "trouble-maker", so I did add a short conclusion and changed a few other bits, but it stopped sounding like me completely. And it left me with the WORST taste in my mouth.
A voice in my head kept saying, “You did not become a writer to become a sellout. You did not become an entrepreneur to have people tell you what to do.”
The next day, Vinita came back with even more hazy suggestions for improvement, and made it clear that this was my "last chance" to get it right, or else. So as well as exploitation and discrimination, extortion was now on the list. I was ready to let the opportunity go.
Without my personal style, Mary wouldn’t have taken notice of me in the first place, so to give that up seemed insane. If us writers are good enough to be noticed for it once, we’re good enough to noticed for it again in future, by people who fully appreciate it. People who won't invite you to guest post, then ask you to change your entire style.
Here’s my last email about the whole situation:
They didn’t take my guest post, and I couldn’t be HAPPIER.
Honestly, so much stress over something I hadn't wanted to do in the first place, but was actually invited to do.
Here’s the lesson in all of this, for you.
The Universe has a plan for your life, and your intuition is the only thing keeping you on track with it. It can be exceptionally hard to listen when someone comes along and waves a huge, supposedly golden ticket in your face. But at what cost?
How is your intuition supposed to guide you if you’re always prepared to give in to the quicker, easier option?
How are you supposed to discover the path that is truly meant for you if you willingly surrender it?
And if you don’t protect your style, your voice, your future, who will?
Update: Okay, wow...so much support for this post! Thanks to everyone who responded!
Stephanie Lennox is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, holistic writing coach and wellness advocate. She’s also the founder of The Authorship Program®, a 12-week immersive experience that helps writers conquer fear in their creative lives. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Please share this post: