The Life of a Writer
I’ve always said - “I did not choose to be a writer, writing chose me." I have been writing all of my life. I cannot remember a time when I did not carry around pen and paper, jotting down catchy lines, interesting stories or wonderfully rhymed poetry. My mother, a published poet, recognized my skill at a young age and invested in books, magazine subscriptions, an electric typewriter, envelopes and as many stamps as my little heart desired. She told me to start with the small press markets, rather than hit the big magazines right off the bat. It worked and at 14 I was published in several small journals. By the time I was 17 my poetry was in Scholastic Scope, Seventeen Magazine and other various teen magazines. I soon started in the non-fiction department, writing a column for teenagers in the local newspaper and several articles for small teen presses. At 18 I was in my second year working as Editor/Writer of our school newspaper and I had lectured at local Junior High Schools to kids who wanted to know how to get published.
I was - an established writer.
Now, 14 years after my first publication, I am a full-fledged writer. I publish several of my own national niche’ newsletters and I am working on 2 book projects and a booklet series. I work via assignments from editors of various national and world-wide magazines such as The World and I and Energy Times - which means that I am well-known enough so that editors will call me directly to ask me to take an assignment. It is not unusual for me to have 20+ articles assigned at one time. I also have columns on several web sites and work as a consultant to up-and-coming writers.
I know that writing is a tough business with stiff competition and deadlines, deadlines, and more deadlines. But, for some, the problem starts with just getting your foot in the door - or knowing which door to knock on. I have a few words of wisdom to get you started as you venture out to pound the pavement - here’s some advice from a 14 year veteran:
1. Purchase a Writer’s Market (book) - otherwise called the ‘Writers Bible’. It is chalked full of information - from thousands of addresses and needs of magazines, journals and book publishers to how-to info on writing a query and contests for new writer’s. It comes out every year and is in the $30 range. It’s an excellent investment.
2. Learn the lingo - a SASE is a self-addressed stamped envelope. A ms is a manuscript. A query is a proposal letter stating what you can write, by when and why they should publish you. A byline is when your name is included in the article, noting you as the author.
3. Get to know the markets by sending SASE’s to the publications that you are interested in asking for a copy of their writers guidelines. You may also want to purchase a sample copy for a few dollars to get a feel for the theme of the publication. Build up a collection of these magazines, newsletters and guidelines to use as reference guides.
4. If possible, join the writing community. There may be writers groups in your area that you can join. These groups are great places to bounce ideas off of , find a writing partner, or share your latest success or rejection experience. If you are hooked up to the Internet, then look around for writers chat groups. They are everywhere!
5. Learn to write a query and a cover letter. There are books on the market today that focus on these two subjects. I advise you to practice writing the letters because they are two of the most important selling tools that you can have.
6. Go for the small markets and boost yourself up. Start with the small publications (those with low circulation) because they are often more anxious to publish new writers. Be prepared, though, because most will not pay in monetary payment. They generally pay in copies of the newsletter, magazine or journal in which your piece will appear.
7. Start a portfolio of your work. Buy a scrap album and start laying in each and every article, poem, letter to the editor, blurb or story that you have published. Photocopy them and you now have what is called - Published Clips. You will see that many larger publications ask for a query letter and published clips. What they want to see is your writing style.
8. Write, write, write. Write constantly and mail something out every single week. Have something in the mail at all times. I try to send something out every day - even if it is just a query letter or a request for writers guidelines. The point is to write every day - to push ahead and to never give up. (It is also important to keep an accurate journal of what you mail out, when, to whom, and what they pay. Leave a space to note their response.) Keep an idea journal to jot down your theme ideas, half-written poetry and character ideas.
9. Don’t take rejection personally. You will be rejected over and over. It’s normal in this business. What one editor does not like, another editor will love.
10. Don’t forget the Internet. There are a myriad of zines on the Internet that will pay you for your work.
11. Try freelancing in the mundane field while you’re building up the field that you really want to do. For example, if you want to write children’s stories for a living, but are finding a hard time getting published, then try something more technical to help pay the bills. You can advertise to work as a ghost-writer, a direct-mail copywriter, a proofreader, a resume maker or a speech writer. Apply for jobs with your local newspaper and magazines to see if they have a part-time position open. While you will be working on your dream career, you can use the tech work as a way to improve your skills and make some extra cash.
12. Write up a “business plan” for the next year. List your goals for your writing career - realistic goals such as:
1) I will send out a pack of poetry each month or an article a month,
These are very realistic goals for the first year (the first 3 years will be your most difficult - they are the “breaking in” years).
13. Rewrite your articles or add to your stories so that you can keep reselling the pieces. If you write an article on divorce - rewrite that same article to focus solely on mothers without custody. Send that article out and write another article on fathers with custody. The point is to use the theme over and over until the well of inspiration has run dry.
14. If you work solely from your home as a freelance writer - treat your work as a real business. Have set business times for answering mail and writing letters. Draw up a monthly budget report (stamps, supplies, Internet charge, phone calls etc) and place it into a binder along with monthly progress reports and photocopies of your clippings and your work that was sent out (a binder is a great place to keep a copy of your work, rejection letters, queries and your idea journal). Also have rules for phone, TV and radio - plus dress the part, manage your time accordingly and limit outside disturbances like friends stopping over or soap operas.
15. Take care of your mind and the vessel that it is carried in. Many writers will tell you that eating a diet full of live foods (fruits and veggies), daily exercising or stretching and drinking a lot of water actually helps with their thought process. Yes, a healthy body creates more because the mind is also healthy. If you want the mind to work properly, then work out the body too.
A successful writing career does not happen overnight. It takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication. It is an art form - yet - it is not an occupation for everybody. But for those of you who can handle the job - it is a heck of a gig. Especially when you see your work in print - and you get a check to go along with it.
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