How I Turned One Failed Article into Two Big Writing Assignments - Make a Living Writing

How I Turned One Failed Article into Two Big Writing Assignments

Editor | 31 Comments

Two big writing assignments from one article mistakeI was down to the wire.

The clock was running out, and I had to get this piece — my first-ever paid blog post — to my editor in New York by 5 p.m. The menu bar on my laptop read 1:33 p.m. Pacific time, giving me less than half an hour to clean up my act and hit SEND like a champion.

I know what you’re thinking. I should’ve started earlier, right?

But the problem wasn’t that I had too little. I had too much.

How much?

About double the target word count.

My undoubtedly brilliant article comparing toilets around the world (we’re talkin’ pure glamour here, folks!) was way too long, and I could already hear that horrible sound in the distance: a New York City toilet flushing, with all my hard work ― and my paycheck! ― swirling down with it.

Instead of giving up, I got my piece into my editor‘s inbox within 27 minutes. And I got paid. Twice.

Here’s the strategy that saved the day.

Face up to reality

When you’re way over your word count, it’s not about tightening up a sentence here or cutting a word there. It’s about hacking unnecessary content out of your piece.

In my Pulitzer-quality toilet post, I was attempting to cram too much in at once. And in writing, as in toilets, this practice never goes down smoothly.

Slash, but don’t burn

With the clock ticking, I put down my writerly scalpel, picked up my editorial chainsaw, and made like Leatherface on my beloved wordsmithery. I brutally cut the extra bits–but I saved them for later.

Stitch it up

Remember, your editor has no idea that anything was “removed” from what you deliver. So long as you make sure it reads smoothly, they never will.

Stitch it up like Frankenstein’s monster, and no one need know which organs are missing.

Deliver with confidence

Here’s where the magic happens.

Instead of apologizing to my editor, I wrote that there was simply too much great toilet material out there (not kidding) to do the topic justice in one short blog post. I went on to suggest that we run the piece as a series, focusing on different parts of the world in subsequent editions.

And you know what?

She loved the idea.

She not only paid me for my article, she also paid me for a second article (comprised entirely of what I had cut from my original draft).

And now I have an ongoing gig writing about toilets.

Life goal = ACHIEVED!

The take-away

Over-writing can be exasperating, but don’t chalk it up as time wasted. If you pitch it right, the extra bits could mean an extra paycheck.

Have you ever successfully turned one job into ongoing writing assignments? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Peter Chordas is a freelance writer and web developer in Portland, Oregon. He writes for businesses, nonprofits, and online publications on technology, the environment, and the inevitable doom of humanity.


31 comments on “How I Turned One Failed Article into Two Big Writing Assignments

  1. Crissy on

    High Five!

    I used to work for a web design company based in Australia. Sometimes I have to write for 3 cleaning companies in a month. That’s more or less, 6 blog posts about cleaning. Le-sigh. We (my copywriters posse) came up with the series articles (example, how to clean your toilet part 1 and part 2), and voila! We never ran out of topics. 😉


  2. Peter Chordas on

    Thanks for the comment, Laurie.

    I agree, though I must say that whittling down a piece you’ve worked hard on can be painful in its own ways.

    Fortunately, recycling the scrapped portions for another assignment helps take the sting out. Plus there’s that whole “more money” thing, which definitely has its own panacean properties.

  3. Laurie Stone on

    I think its always better to overwrite than underwrite. Its always easier to have to pick the best from what you’ve written than sitting there (at the eleventh hour) sweating over coming up with ideas. Its also smart to get paid twice.

  4. Kayla on

    Yes! I’ve had this happen to me before too. There was simply too much material to cover in one post, so I pitched a series. It went over very well and I got double paid. 🙂

  5. Charlene Talcott on

    I write a monthly nature column for a local magazine with a word count limit of 500 words. I usually start with at least twice as much information as I need and have to whittle it down. Your article gave me the idea of turning that extra information into another article for another magazine.

  6. Theodore Nwangene on

    Great post Peter,
    Its also funny indeed :). Turning an ugly situation into something good can really be heart warming indeed and that was exactly what you did in your own case.

    Congrats on the more writing gigs the situation provided for you.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Holly Bowne on

    “In my Pulitzer-quality toilet post, I was attempting to cram too much in at once. And in writing, as in toilets, this practice never goes down smoothly.”

    You are HILARIOUS! And a great point as well. Thanks!

  8. Mike on

    Great post Peter; glad you achieved your life’s goal so early!

    Yes, we can be thankful that editors only see the first and final draft and not the weird, meandering path bridging the two… otherwise they’d probably send us to the funny farm.

  9. Deena on

    Peter, this is just wonderful, and so funny; a pleasure to read. One of the first posts I wrote for my blog was over 2,000 words long, covering six different, stand-alone topics. One of my mentors told me I needed to focus on just one thing, which I did, and now I have enough material for another four or five posts. I’ve also cut non-relevant intros and repurposed them in other pieces.

    I’m really glad you wrote this piece regarding paid gigs. It’s great to know that an over-long article can be reframed into two or even more articles. Thanks.


    • Peter Chordas on

      Thanks for the comment, Deena! Perfect example of what I went through.

      Writing tightly focused pieces often seems like it would be more difficult, but in reality it makes life so much easier. For one, people like reading focused things so you get better engagement. Secondly, by keeping things reigned in, every tangent you come up with along the way becomes more grist for the mill.

      And yes—draft intros are often just throat clearing. Scrap ’em and dive right into the good stuff!

    • Carol Tice on

      Honestly, that was a really big breakthrough for me, the moment when I realized I could STOP trying to jam ALL my ideas into one piece, and take one lump of research and use it in several. 😉 Really helps your hourly rate!

  10. Karen on

    First of all, you rock and this is an outstanding and inspiring story.

    Second, you made me laugh, so thanks for that. 🙂

  11. Kathy on

    Peter, what a brilliant way to handle the situation! Editing your own work is difficult. I actually do better editing under the wire. Too much time gives me opportunity to debate myself!

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