Your head is abuzz with stories. Words pour out of you and you can't
stop them. You prefer writing in your journal and daydreaming to watching
television. You're interested in sharing your writing with the world, but
how do you get started? Today's publishing world can seem overwhelming to
Read a Lot
Everyone who considers writing as a profession should read a lot.
"For a writer, the importance of reading is immense," says Crawford Kilian.
He is an author of many books and a writing instructor at a college. "A successful
writer by definition is a voracious reader, on countless topics. If you'd
like to be a writer but you don't enjoy reading, find something else to do."
Donald P. Webb is the managing editor of the weekly fiction webzine Bewildering
Stories. "Writers best prepare themselves by reading," he says.
"Reading what? Great literature. But that's not exactly fun, is it? No,
it isn't; not at first. It's hard work. When I finally opened John Milton
or Marcel Proust and read them for fun, I knew I've made it to the big leagues
as a reader. And that's where a writer wants to be."
Shula Klinger is a writer who has just published her first novel for young
adults, The Kingdom of Strange. She remembers: "Throughout my first years
of school, I borrowed hundreds of books from the library and cherished those
that were bought for me. I spent hours reading and wrote diligently in diaries
from a young age."
Write Every Day
Besides reading, writers have to write. Even if you have writer's block
and nothing to say, write at least a few lines a day. Write on your computer
or with pen and paper. Write about your day at school or about your dog. Observe
the smallest details and write about them.
"Discipline varies according to the person, but it all comes down to the
same thing: 'practice makes perfect,'" says Webb. "Or, if not perfect, whatever
that is, then at least better. And remember that for a writer, practice includes
reading as much as writing."
Get Professional Feedback
So you read a lot and you write every day. You take extra classes. You
study punctuation and plot. Finally you join a writers' group and get the
dreaded feedback from your peers. Some say, "You're wonderful!", and you walk
on clouds. Others say, "You're lousy."
Don't despair! Just find a good teacher.
Like many professionals, Webb distrusts peer feedback, especially for beginners.
"We can learn some things from those who are at the same level as we, but
we learn the most from our betters. A beginning writer needs feedback from
a teacher or from a writer experienced enough to fill that role," he says."
Prepare Your Manuscript
If you have a story or poem you think is ready to be published, it might
be time to send it out. But before you send your story anywhere, you must
prepare the manuscript correctly.
"Of course any writer has to research a journal's submissions guidelines
carefully and format the manuscript accordingly; that goes without saying,"
says Webb. "All publishers will reject ill-prepared manuscripts out of hand.
"If a writer can't be bothered to write accurately and punctuate grammatically,
editors can't be bothered to read the manuscript. It's simply a matter of
common courtesy; and if that courtesy is lacking, the submission will not
Find the Right Market
Besides preparing a flawless manuscript, finding the right market is essential.
The annual Writer's Market books are the best up-to-date sources of market
information. If you write mysteries, search for magazines that publish mysteries.
If you write love poems, find magazines that publish poetry.
Kilian has a dim view of the current publishing situation. "Magazine markets
have almost disappeared," he says.
"Book publishers are driven by the need to publish only blockbusters, not
the 'mid-list' books that take a few years to find an audience. Nothing is
easy about 21st-century publishing."
But Webb sees some good news in publishing: there are more ways to get
your words out there.
"It's much easier now than it used to be to get published," Webb says.
"The Internet and print-on-demand publishing have made that a fact. The real
problem is getting read. The easier it is to publish anything, the harder
it is to find readers."
Learn to Deal With Rejection
Unfortunately, even when you have an error-free manuscript and send it
to the right market, you often get rejected. Learning to deal with rejections
is as much a part of writer's life as reading and writing.
What do you do when you get a rejection? You don't give up! Send your story
to a different magazine. Fix it if you can but keep it in circulation until
it finds its niche.
"Get back to work!" says Klinger. "Go to the computer, change the name
and address on the submission letter, hit 'print', add some excerpts, pack
it up and go to the post office."
Love Your Work
Rejections are tough. A writer's life is often lonely: just you, your computer
and your story. To handle these hardships, you have to love writing and draw
huge delight from your story coming alive on the page. For many writers, that
means they keep writing, even when they're not making money from their art.
"You must feel compelled to write, as well as have the talent for it,"
In his opinion, it's too hard to make a living by writing fiction. "I wouldn't
want to try it," he admits.
Kilian seconds the notion. "Who would want to make writing a job? You'd
have to write what the market wants, not what you want, and you'd have to
write at a horrible pace. Better to have a job that pays the rent, and write
what matters to you. If it doesn't sell, so what? At least you won't be evicted."
According to Kilian, there is a difference between writing as a hobby and
writing as a profession. "The professionals are usually on salary, like journalists,"
he explains. "They write what they're asked to.
"I prefer to think of writing as a vocation, a calling that requires you
to engage in a lifelong conversation with yourself. If the conversation is
so good that other people will pay to listen, that's great. If not, you're
still learning more about yourself and your life than you otherwise would."
Once in a while, fiction writing does pay off. The lucky break occurs.
You get an e-mail from a publisher who says "Yes!" What happens next?
Klinger outlines her own recent experience. "First, you run around the
house doing airplane impressions. Then you call and send e-mails to all your
friends. Then you settle down and read the e-mail more carefully."
And after that you write some more. A writer's work is never done.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.
Online version of the most important little book for writers
Writer's Digest Magazine
Resources, forum, tips and articles on different aspects of writing
Writer's Groups and Associations
Provides links to many writers' groups and associations in USA
Answers many questions about publishing different genres