Thursday, April 03, 2008

When You Screw the Pooch

Today, I'm giving confession (even though I'm Jewish). This week, I royally screwed up an article. I didn't realize, of course, that I'd screwed it up so badly - in fact, I thought it was perfectly fine, if not better than fine, or else I wouldn't have handed it in - but when my editor pointed out where and why it wasn't fine, I realized just how in the wrong I had been.

And when I realized my error, I also wondered if it were possible to die from mortification, because I nearly felt like I might.

I've written, I dunno, hundreds of articles in the past few years. I can't remember a time, barring the second article I'd ever written for a national magazine, when I hadn't produced what I was capable of...or at least made the editor happy enough so that he or she thought it was what I was capable of. And this time, well, in retrospect, I didn't. In retrospect, I see why I didn't: I did an interview in which I was totally charmed by my interviewee, and we were having such a good chat - in the way that you do with a confidante - that I failed in my mission to conduct a really probing Q/A.

So what was I to do? I did the only thing I knew how to: I tried to rectify the situation as fast as humanly possible all the while owning up to what I did. I sent off a contrite note to my editor saying, in essence, "Look, I take responsibility for this mistake, it was my fault, and I'm busting my ass to fix it." And in the subsequent nights, I lost sleep (literally) until I found a way to resolve it.

But resolve it I did. That's all I could do. One of my biggest pet peeves in work (and in life - just ask my husband) is when you don't take ownership for your mistakes. No one is interested in excuses, even if you somehow think they cast you in a better light. Most often, they don't. So just get on with it, apply the band-aid and find a way to heal the wound.

I'm hopeful that I did. And you can be damn sure that this is a lesson well-learned. Just because you're a pro doesn't mean that you're infallible. I won't forget that again.

So tell me, anyone want to share their own screw-up story, just to make me feel a little better? :) Or if not, share what you do when you realize that you've made a professional screw-up.


Cindy said...

Ive been working harder than ever on my current novel. This is nearly two years in the making and Ive been busting my buttocks trying to perfect it. Ive had an editor go over it and was in the midst, almost done, with all changes and grammar daughter got on the computer and just x-ed out. It had been saved but only in a temp file I think.

We spent hours trying to find the file last night, its just not there. OF COURSE my husband had to ask...WHY didnt you back up you dumbass? (he didnt say that but its how I felt) Why didnt you recheck what file it was saved under?

Its all my fault (although I blame my daughter partially but she didnt know any better I suppose). Its going to take hours of work to rebuild my book. And you know how difficult, laborious editing is.

Arghhhhh. I totally had a fattening cinnamon roll with icing to ease the pain.


Anonymous said...

This is sort of lame, but I was an editorial assistant at a textbook publishing company a couple of years ago and I was taking over a review project for a book that we only had an MS for. I accidentally sent the reviews (many of which were really negative) to the author NOT BLINDED, and since he had the reviewers' contact info he actually emailed and called (I think) a negative reviewer and really chewed her out. I was new and didn't really know, but it was still way my fault, it's sort of common sense, and my boss was really great about it, not blaming me (he ended up dropping the author, anyway, for this and many other reasons), but it was my first job out of college and I'd just started and I was terrified and embarrassed. I felt so bad for the reviewer, who was nice enough to look over the MS and give us honest feedback and then got blasted by the author for it.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Ha! Anna, I love that. It made me LOL because I could would totally feel the same way.

Trish Ryan said...

Oh...where to start? When I was a lawyer, I was assigned a project to research the specifications for recycled mattresses in all 50 states. It's one of the most disgusting thing I've ever done (lets just say there was way too much information about rodents, bodily fluids, and what happens in hospitals) but I dove into the research, convinced that this was part of being a good lawyer. Somehow, though, I missed some VERY IMPORTANT CHANGES TO THE LEGISLATION in two states, which rendered my whole report suspect. I was mortified, horrified, furious...the full array of awful emotions.

You're right, though. You take responsibility for your own shortcomings, you fix the problem, and you move on. In your particular case, since this is SUCH an exception to the norm, you might want to spend some time perusing all the amazing interviews you've done brilliantly, just to keep your head in the right place :)

Tiffani Hill-Patterson said...

My headline was supposed to read:

Public Service Academy gets approval

I left out an important "l." :-)

Allison Winn Scotch said...

BWAH!!! Tiffani, you win.

Kristyn Kusek Lewis said...

i was writing my first story for the NY Times, a 500w Science Times piece about treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals that had computer monitors on them so that you could surf the internet while you exercised. i was freaking out about writing for the NYT and spent a ton of time making sure it was just right. my editor told me the piece barely needed editing--she loved it--but then it came out. turns out that despite all of my careful attention, i'd mistakenly inserted the wrong first name for the guy whose company made the machines. i'd called him james when he was john or something.... he was so excited about being in the NYT...and so disappointed when he saw the actual story. needless to say, i haven't gotten a name wrong since.

Unknown said...

You know what? I haven't screwed up YET, but it is my biggest fear. I write for a lot of specialized trade publications in the beauty and fashion industries and I'm terrified I'm going to get some fact wrong about hair dyes or apparel textiles and everyone will think I'm an idiot. It's easy to miss new legislations and important trade groups or misspell scientific formulas, etc. given the HUGE amount of info there is out there on any given topic! Whew! I feel for you - though because I have been fired before - not because of a mistake but back then, at the age of 24, I guess I just couldn't pull off being beauty editor at a major consumer magazine. Anyway, I remember my burning face and that sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach that I suck! ACK! It'll pass though, right?! And, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!

Anonymous said...

I used some song lyrics in a nonfiction book that I thought were in the public domain. Somehow I got the date wrong for when the song was published and it is NOT public domain. Confessed to my editor as soon as I realized it, which was way too late--right before the book was coming out--and she told me not to worry about it and hope for the best. That was 10 years ago and we never got sued, so I guess it worked out? But it scared me to death!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you wrote this - I too made a HUGE mistake last week and I still can not believe I did it. Thankfully I followed the same plan of taking responsibility and rectifying. The only saving grace was that I was filing before deadline so even the "fixed" version was still in early. That's how I'm making myself feel better, anyway. ;)

Patricia Robb said...

I had a similar experience as Anonymous above. I quoted a Research Centre and thought I had approval, but at the last minute found that I not only did not have approval, the information was off -instead of 20 million, it should have been 10. I madly e-mailed the centre, got approval, gave the correct information to my editor. But alas, my editor still quoted the 20 million... I still can't look at that article without seeing that error. It ruined my first published article.