So you think you want to write…

A few people have recently asked me about writing/publishing. By no means do I consider myself an expert, but I have learned a few things along the way that I’m happy to pass on.
I have a great idea for an article/book. Where do I start?
This may sound ridiculously simple but start by writing. Don’t worry that your first draft will be appalling; it will be. The purpose of the first draft is to get the idea out of your head and onto paper and ultimately the paper into the scrap paper drawer so your kids can make paper airplanes with all of those words you sweated over. (Anne Lamott has a whole chapter in her book Bird by Bird that talks about crappy first drafts. Although she’s a bit more crass.) You can’t fix and polish what doesn’t exist so write your idea into existence and don’t worry if it’s dreadful.
How do I become a better writer and/or learn about publishing?
  • Read, read, read what you hope to publish. If you want to publish scholarly articles, read scholarly articles. And read books on writing and publishing. Three of my favs are Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, Novel Idea by various authors, and Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott.
  • Go to writer’s conferences and/or get a critique partner. Like any other industry, the publishing industry has a jargon and protocol all of its own. Yes, conferences are an investment. But in my experience, they’ve been worth it.
  • Be teachable. Be an eager little sponge. If you do go to a conference soak up as much wisdom as you can from those who are doing what you aspire to do. Don’t worry so much about “selling yourself and your book”. Listen and learn.
  • Most importantly: Get your rump in the chair and write. No one picks up a violin and expects to play Vivaldi spotlessly without a whole lot of practice. Same with writing. Since we all grew up learning to write in school we tend to think we already “know how to write”. But writing for an audience is different than pouring out your heart in a journal (a valuable pursuit nonetheless) and pursuing publication takes skill- a learned skill. And practice. Lots and lots of practice. Did I already mention that? Jon Hersey says it best: “To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again and once more, and over and over.”
  • Don’t be afraid to start small. I bristled when someone at a writer’s conference said to focus on articles and short stories before attempting a whole book but in the end she was right. Not only will your writing improve, but you’ll build your credentials and platform, bolster your confidence with “smaller successes”, and learn how to handle rejection. Which brings me to the next question:
What if I get rejected?
Um… it’s not if, it’s when. You will be rejected. Many, many times. It will hurt. A lot at first and then you’ll get used to it and then you’ll begin to value it (sort of) because if you’re smart and serious about writing, it will push you to do better. 
How do I go about pursuing publication?
First browse bookstores, libraries and the Internet. If you’re interested in writing for children, read lots of children’s books. Not only does this rouse your creative juices but agents and editors will expect a market analysis of already published works similar to yours when you get ready to send out a proposal.
If you are at the point where you want to submit work to a editor, give them exactly what they want. Usually you can find writer’s guidelines on a publisher’s website. (Type in “Writer’s Guidelines” in the search box. Brilliant, eh?) If they want an article under 600 words, don’t give them 601 words. If they only want a query letter, only send them a query letter. If they want you to sing Lady of Spain while standing on your head after submitting then… well… good luck with that.
Writers’ Market Guides are invaluable resources. You can purchase them online or in the reference section of the library. They’ll tell you what specific publishers are looking for and how to submit.
I want to write but I don’t know what.
Write in your hot spot. Write about what makes your blood boil or your heart beat faster or you eyes well up with tears. Write because you love to write. If you don’t love to write, don’t write. It won’t be worth it for you. I would have made way more money working at McDonalds this past year than I did with my writing so only write if you must write. And if you find that you simply have to write, write in your passion zone.
Have a comment or question I didn’t address? Post it on this blog and I’d love to chat about it!

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