Dojo Wisdom for Writers Book Club – Lesson #18

Welcome to the Dojo Wisdom for Writers Book Club! Every Wednesday, we meet to discuss one of the lessons in Dojo Wisdom for Writers. We’ll go in order, so it’s easy enough to follow along. Read the lesson, then read the blog post, then comment in the comments! Do feel free to comment on each other’s comments. I’ll answer questions as quickly as I can.

Lesson #18 – Understand what is expected of you

In this lesson, I discuss the unspoken rules of training and how that relates to working as a writer. Often expectations are implied or assumed but not stated, and it’s easy to make mistakes if you don’t understand how things work.

When I worked as an acquisitions editor, I received any number of submissions from people who were good writers but who didn’t understand readers’ expectations. I acquired romance, and romance readers expect a happily ever after. You can write a great story that is emotionally resonant, but if there’s no happily ever after, it’s not a romance. It might be something else, but it’s not romance. You can bitch about this all you want, but happily-ever-after is what a romance is.

In other words, a lot of people bring rejection and frustration on themselves when they don’t understand expectations.

I hope it’s clear that I don’t mean you need to follow some formula. I am saying you need to understand what’s expected and then do it.

The thing is, people aren’t necessarily going to be honest with you if you trip over expectations. Suppose you have a deadline, and you miss it by three days, but no big deal, right? The story didn’t go online for another two weeks anyway. And when you send the editor another story idea, and she says, “No, but thanks!” you may assume that the problem is in the story idea when in fact the problem is in the fact that you missed the deadline and the editor isn’t going to hire you again because of that. But she isn’t going to say that, because she doesn’t want to hear you follow up with fifty-seven excuses for why you missed the deadline.

I’m not saying you only ever get one chance in this business or you can’t ever screw up or like that. Anyone who’s been at this for more than a couple of months has tripped up in sometimes stunning ways. But I am saying that not understanding and meeting expectations has consequences, including said rejection and frustration.

So: know what you’re getting into, ask questions when you need to, and don’t kid yourself when you fail to meet an expectation. Learn and grow, learn and grow.

What’s a time when you tripped over an unstated expectation? What did you learn?


Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available on Amazon in print and ebook! (Nook and other ebook versions here)
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

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