EIGHT Tips for New Writers
One of my blog readers contacted me a few weeks ago with the question, “Can you teach me to do what you do?” I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, so I pressed, “Which thing?”
In a nutshell, this individual would like to write and be paid to do it.
If I had the magic potion for that one, I’d be a millionaire. The vast majority of writers—count me in that sweep—earn only modest incomes from their writing. H.N. Swanson, literary agent to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Pearl Buck, and Raymond Chandler put it this way:
The real question being asked was, “How do I get from point A to point B and on up to C? How did you do it? How does anybody do it? Can I do it too?”
I remember asking that question of other writers, Googling, searching for the answer somewhere. Someone in this wide world must know how to make it happen. What’s the path? What are the steps? Show me the blueprint, and I’ll follow it. Does anyone know the way?
The answer is yes. And no.
Successful writers can tell you only one thing: how they became successful. They cannot tell you how you should become successful. There are many things a writer can do to help herself, of course, but success is a subjective thing. Success to one writer may not look like success to another. Also, if you ask ten different writers about their paths to success, you’re likely to hear ten different answers.
There are a few things, though, that with few exceptions, most successful writers do.
Success in writing is a mixture of blood, sweat, tears, sore muscles, red eyes, the occasional brain freeze, and a lot of dirty laundry piled high and waiting to be washed. Don’t hurt yourself on that last one. It isn’t a metaphor. I literally mean piles of dirty laundry. You can’t write and do chores at the same time, buttercup. Also, as near as I can tell, finding any sort of real financial success as a writer also involves the witchy and fickle aligning of planets, moons, and stars. It is hard work coupled with luck and timing.
I’ve got the hard work part down pat. I’m still waiting for the luck and timing to arrive, and if it ever shows up on my doorstep, I hope it’s carrying a big, fat check, just like Publisher’s Clearing House in those TV ads.
So, yeah—I’m unable to move the heavens to create an avalanche of luck and timing for myself or anyone else. Believe me, if I could, I would have done it already. But as to the hard work, well, that I can help with. Hard work I know something about, so this is what I told my reader:
- Write, write, write, and then write some more. Did I mention you should write? Write. Write. Write. WRITE!
- Read, read, read, and then read some more. Be voracious. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read books about the craft of writing. Read cereal boxes and the ads on the sides of buses as you sit in traffic. Read it all. Never stop reading.
- Learn, learn, learn, and then learn some more. Attend writers’ conferences and workshops, take classes. And check your hubris at the door. Think you know everything being taught in that workshop, that you’ve already heard it all? Think again. It is worth an hour or two of your time to learn even one thing you didn’t know before, and you may make some great contacts and friends along the way. One golden nugget of information might change your life.
- Join a local writers’ group or a national organization such as Romance Writers of America (RWA), Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), International Thriller Writers (ITW), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), or Sisters in Crime. These are only a few of the organizations available to help authors learn and grow. A more comprehensive list can be found at WritersandEditors.com. Decide which will best suit your needs and jump in.
- Reach out to other writers locally and via social media. Talk, share experiences, and learn from each other. You’ll develop a solid network, a supportive tribe. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Think writing is a lonely endeavor? It is, but only when you’re sitting at your keyboard. Outside of that, you will be buoyed by other people who know and understand what you’re going through.
- Blog. Blogging builds friendships, yes, but it does something else. It forces you to be accountable. If you say you’ll post every Wednesday, then do it. Treat it like an important deadline, because it is. Blogging helps you write faster, leaner, cleaner. And it gives you a home base on the Internet, something that comes in handy down the road. If your goal is to write for money—magazines, e-zines, journals, etc.—consider your blog a living resume. I’ve picked up writing gigs because an editor visited my blog and did some reading. It happens.
- DO NOT compare yourself, your writing, your place in the journey, or anything else to that of another author. Misery lies there, and if you’re serious about this writing stuff, then ditch the envy. You don’t have time for it. Make room instead for honest enthusiasm, support, and genuine happiness for other people. Remember, always, that you don’t know what that other person did or didn’t do, gave up or endured, to be in that place.
Hard work, luck, and timing. If there’s a silver bullet, that’s it.
So what does writing success really look like? I don’t know. I’m not there yet. Maybe I will never achieve my own definition of writing success. See, the problem is, the definition changes. As we grow, success changes its face, slips on a different mask. The things we once thought of as important become secondary to other challenges.
The title of this blog post is EIGHT Tips for New Writers. If you were paying attention, then you’re wondering what happened to number eight. Well, I saved the most important one for last. Here it is:
- Do it for love. That’s right. If you want to be successful, write for the sheer love and joy of writing. If you had a crystal ball and saw that luck and timing would never find you, write anyway. If that crystal ball promised zero money for all your hard work, write anyway. Write not only for yourself, but for the readers who will love your stories. And at the end of the day, the only way success is sure to elude you is if you quit.
What does writing success look like to you? Is it the thrill of seeing your name in print? Is it receiving money for your hard work? The joy of a good review? All of this, or perhaps something different? Are you a reader, not a writer? I’d still like to know what you feel is the definition of writing success. Give us a different spin.
Thanks for hanging out with me. See you next Wednesday for more of the Naked Truth.
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