Back in graduate school, a peer asked me what I planned to do with my English degree. I told him, ‘write’. His response was, ‘well, that’s what we’re all here for’, as though carving a career for oneself as a writer was impossible. If you want to write, you can do it. But there are certain things you have to start doing as soon as possible to ensure that you don’t create in a vacuum, producing inaccessible works. You must know what’s out there; you must be educated on the workings of publishing; and you must network. As in all walks of life, even in the world of publishing, it is still, often, about who you know, not what you know.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along this arduous path to established-authordom (no, making up my own phraseology isn’t one of them, but it’s fun.)
Anyone that says they want to be a writer but doesn’t read has a rough road ahead of them. Goodreads, audio books, doctors’ offices, taking the dog outside, lunch breaks–these have all been great tools/situations that helped me to read more. Seizing every possible opportunity to read a good old fashioned book in this era that constantly has your attention pulled in twelve different directions will give you an advantage that anyone who doesn’t read won’t have. Use Goodreads to organize comparables for your own novels, research, and set reading schedules/challenges for yourself to ensure you read widely and deeply.
Take a literary journal out for a cup of coffee.
As the great (Stephen) King once said,
“submitting stories without first reading the market is like playing darts in a dark room–you might hit the target every now and then, but you don’t deserve to” (from On Writing, page 243).
Sure, you don’t know if your work will be accepted, but why not increase your chances by making sure it is something the journal is even looking for? Also, reading around lit journals, whether you’re interested in publishing short stories and poetry or not, is great insight to the quality editors seek to present their readership with.
Research, network, get involved.
I have a 2-3 times a month Write Night with my critique partner. Are all your writing buddies in other states or cities? Log on with them and do timed writing sessions together, so you can encourage one another and have someone at a keystroke’s reach when you can’t figure out that certain word. Enter contests, read experts’ blogs and support fellow budding writers’ blogs, get active on twitter. I’ve talked about this here.
Build your craft: Write short stories, poems, enter contests.
You’ll learn more from a good old rejection than you ever could from just writing for yourself and friends, taking a class, or reading a book on writing. The kind of rejection that hurts. The kind that makes you immediately react with, “what are they crazy? This is some of my best work!” Then, after some time has passed, you’ll come to respond with, “Okay. In retrospect, that piece could have used some more work, or it could have been closer to the other things they were looking for.” You live, you learn.
When it comes down to the end of the day, you just have to keep writing. Past the doubt. Past the despair and procrastination and fear. And don’t fret; if you’re not feeling these things, then you’re not doing it right. Even procrastination stems from the knowledge that writing is hard. If it doesn’t seem difficult at all, if you can plop down at any given moment and confidently spew out 30 pages with no problems, something’s missing or you will have a lot of work to do later.
Set yourself a word count or a time limit to work on writing or outlining everyday. This has been a life-saver for me. I used to go for weeklong stretches without writing anything, just work, come home, heehaw around, go to sleep, and repeat. Setting a daily writing goal has made me from hobby writer to WRITER-writer, if you catch my drift. Now, go and get some writing done! And remember: