Sunday, August 4, 2013


If you don’t know and it’s unclear, don’t guess because you’ll feel stupid asking. Better to look kind of dumb by asking then end up looking like a total moron for not asking. But is that really dumb to ask? I’m thinking not. It’s pretty smart actually—only it took me some time to figure this out.

I wondered about this after I entered a writing competition. In the directions it told you to enter your text in the little box, but that little box didn’t recognize paragraphs so in order to show where your paragraphs were, you entered this little code. They had parentheses around the code “xxx” and I wondered whether the parentheses were part of the code or if it was just to show the code. Also in the directions it said if you had any questions, just ask and they gave an email address.

I wanted to ask, “Are the parentheses part of the code?” But a crazy little monster in my head said, oh you’ll look stupid and they’ll laugh and eliminate you from the contest right off the bat. So I didn’t ask, didn’t put the parentheses with the code and after I hit enter, it showed my little code after each paragraph. I saw others that looked like this too, but I saw one that didn’t have any code and had paragraph breaks. I chewed myself up and spit myself out for being an idiot.

At a St. Louis Writers Guild workshop I attended, three publishers spoke and one thing was crystal clear from all three – follow a company’s guidelines. Your piece will be immediately tossed out if you don’t do what they ask. They want to work with someone who can follow instructions.

I can’t help but wonder whether I was eliminated in the contest for not following instructions.

I then had a dream that showed me what happens when I take it upon myself to do something rather than follow instructions—or by not asking if I’m not sure.

Dream: I was to read my story from the paper. I got nervous thinking it wasn’t good enough and started to add-lib. Part way through, the words disappeared. I became tongue tied and couldn’t figure out where I was at or what to read. Someone in the audience boo’d me and was annoyed. I held the paper up and said to him, “It really is a good story.” But the paper ended up being a knitted piece of material. You couldn’t read thing.

When I woke up I realized I will ASK, no matter how silly it may seem to me. I even bought three big letters to spell A S K that hang on the wall of my writing room.


  1. Lynn--It's always good to ask. And if someone considers a person "stupid" because they dare to ask a question, can imagine what I would suggest as a very un-PC response.

    (I was trying to make ASK an acronym, like "Asses 'Seemingly' Know" but that's the best I can do...for now.)

  2. I agree that sometimes the instructions are far from clear. Your reminder is one all of us should keep in mind! (BTW, your dream gave me a chuckle)

    Critter Alley

  3. Great post, Lynn. I have reread and thought...agree. However, sometimes contests and submission pages are so detailed or confusing, I think following to the T is hard. I did all the steps asked last week, and last night in the night I can't remember centering the title on another page like number 14 in a list stated! Like you, I wonder, "Am I tossed out already?" Raining cats and dogs here and we HAVE to get on highway in a few hours. Hope you are having a good Sunday....

  4. If I'm submitting via email, I copy all of the instructions into my empty email message, and then delete each step I've followed - that's the best way for me to keep track of which hoops I've jumped through.

    As far as the submission form is concerned (I have one particular book series in mind), I hate that it strips out my paragraphs - how do they know when I had a paragraph consisting of a single line?

    Will that omission change the meaning I was trying to convey?

    I've never had a public reading dream - now I'm not sure I want to go to sleep tonight. :)

  5. Dreams can be revealing. It never hurts to ask and your advice is well taken.

  6. Hey Lynn - You're not alone! We've all been there, needing to ask but feeling foolish doing so. And I'm not sure why! I've always taught my kids to ask questions--better to ask and get it right than skip the questions and get it wrong. Sad to say I haven't always taken my own advice, though.

  7. Your advice hit home with me. I'm sometimes reluctant to ask and am generally grateful when someone does ask a sensible question.

    Your dream put a smile on my face.

  8. At least you weren't naked in the dream! Great lesson in this, Lynn. I know I need to ask more questions.

  9. Good advice, it is best to ask rather than get your story tossed for not following instructions.

    This was also what my colleague said the first day I switched jobs. She said unless she's trapped under a car and uses her phone to call for help, she'll always answer any and all of my questions. Better to ask, than mess up something and have to pay for it myself later when clients don't like the end product.


Thanks for commenting. I don't always comment back, but I do appreciate it.