Marketplace · On Writing

A Suggestion for Anticipating the Puck

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” — Wayne Gretzky

A writer friend gushed the news: a notable publication requested use of a recent blog post. They wanted to see her future work as well.

Hugs, tears, congratulations shared, the writer wanted to know how she was supposed to figure out what they wanted. Ask them, said one of us at the table. Another drawled, research their guidelines and standards. Of course, the writer enthused, I will ask them what they want and then I will do that. Nods all around, long sips of wine.

Um, I said and cleared my throat. The others leaned back. Here we go, someone thought really loud.

Of course, review their guidelines and standards. Talk with them, thanking them for their interest — and ask what they are looking for and while you do that, focus on their vision for their future, what they want to be to the readers they want to serve. Where are they going? Who are their readers? What do their readers want and how does the publication provide it? What do they compete with for their readers’s time and money? How do they do business?

Press gently but firmly until you understand them well enough to figure out whether you like them, respect them, and gain something from this relationship that you cannot have any other way. This is an exchange: your ideas, skills, experience, and content for their channel to readers. View it as such — and value yourself, cherish your talent and your time and your resources highly enough to make a smart decision.

Review their issues, present and past. Possibly you will have learned about upcoming features and areas of focus. Is the vision that they shared with you reflected in the publication? What is the gap between what they say and what they do? Put plainly, do they walk their talk — and do you like where they’re going?

Do you respect the work that you read? Are their pieces solid, well-written, and meaningful? Are there writers there that you admire and would follow with happy anticipation as I did Anna Quindlen’s column in the New York Times every Thursday?

And, after thinking it through and feeling the right way to go, make your decision and inform the publication. After all, as the sage Gretzky once observed, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Another hockey sage named Bobby Orr has special advice for writers: “I didn’t want to do a book just to do a book. I wanted to do a book, that if you should read it, you might take one thing from it. Until that was clear in my mind, I wasn’t going to do one.”

The writer nodded and we ordered dessert.


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