Verily brothers and sisters it is that time of year once again. The time when our thoughts turn to warm weather, the beach (where I’m touching up this missive), and wondering if we’ll fit in last year’s bathing suit.
That, and what ideas to pitch to magazine editors for their early fall issues.
So, with all that in mind, I want to take a look at some of the ideas we’ve talked about over the past few years and add a few new things. Sort of like making soup.
And like good soup, hopefully it will be filling and give you something to fortify you for the days ahead
Or at least unlike bad soup, maybe it won’t give you any sort of gastric distress.
So, that being said, on with the show.
First, Don’t Be “Precious”
I subscribe to a number of writing-related email loops and online groups. And for reasons which will become obvious, I have a separate email address that all of the related communication goes to. The main reason is that I want to keep my business, email loops, and daily “stuff” email separate. I don’t want to have to sort through Praise Team rehearsal email, notes from my family, estimates from the contractor, jokes from my brother-in-law, and “catching up” emails from two particularly good friends when I am looking for a note from my agent or an editor.
The second (and in some ways more pressing) reason is what I call The Precious People. And I don’t mean precious in the sense of, “Oh look at that puppy. Isn’t he precious?” I mean it in the eye rolling, obnoxious relative who came to stay for a week, do we really have to listen to this, don’t make me puke sense.
These are the people addicted to the acronym WIP. That means Work in Progress. These are the people who work “my WIP” into every email, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Goodreads post. The ones who will say, “I am currently working on my WIP” at the drop of a hat. These are also the people who get on the email loops and other online venues and ask inane questions (about my WIP) that they could just as easily answer through a quick Google/Ask/Bing search, or by opening a dictionary or Thesaurus.
The problem is, they want us to know they are working on a book. They want to seem like professionals. They want to be accepted by their peers. They want the reader to say, “Wow…he/she is a real writer.”
Now to be fair, we’ve all been there to a certain extent. Every beginning writer has those moments. But it seems to me that in the days before instant communication, we did things differently. In the days before the Internet people looked up answers. They did the real research. And they used the few (or many) writing friends/acquaintances they had for the important questions.
In short, they “grew up” a little faster.
And while we all want to be accepted, shouldn’t we want to be accepted for the right reasons? For our work and our work ethic? For the quality of our writing, and not the fact that we have a WIP?
Remember, editors and agents read these same loops, and we are all making an impression on them. One way or the other.
It’s About the Work
That leads me to the next thing. The only way to be published is to do the work. As Kathryn Ptacek (award winning editor/author and all-around nice lady) told me when I first started writing, “A writer writes.” Craig Shaw Gardner (he wrote Batman, Batman Returns, Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies, and other neat books) gave me some advice that had a familiar ring: “Tom, a writer writes.” And the late Charles L. Grant said something very similar to me on more than one occasion. “Make it quick, I’m on deadline.” (Translation: A writer writes).
Many people talk about writing. Or they talk constantly about their current project. Or the projects they have started.
But a writer writes.
That’s the key to success.
Bad writing can be fixed. And like playing an instrument or a sport, constant practice develops the appropriate muscles for the activity in which you want to excel. Including writing. As we write we develop a feel for the language. We discover an innate sense for how the words should fit together. We learn to listen for the internal cadence of a sentence.
In short, practice makes us better.
And through writing we develop the habits that will make us successful.
Good Habits are Not an Option
Should you write every day? I think so. Even if it is only fifteen minutes a day. There are some successful writers who agree with me and some who disagree. Some only write when they have a project. Some write before, during, and after projects.
But even those who take time off between projects or only write when they have a contract in hand still have good writing habits, and the discipline to sit down and do the work. When they are supposed to be writing, they write. They have put in the hours of writing time that have helped them develop into the writers they are.
So, even if you don’t write every day, write on a specific schedule. If you can only write from 3:00 p.m. – 3:18 p.m. every third Thursday of the month, then every third Thursday at promptly 3:00 p.m., you need to be about the business of writing. And yes, the example is a bit extreme, but it is nonetheless valid. Write every day. Write every other day. Write one day a week. That’s up to you. But whatever schedule works for you, find it and stick to it. Write in a coffee shop, the basement, under a tree, in Elvis’ private bathroom at Graceland. The where isn’t as important as the actual doing.
And read. Read a lot. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
The Final Word
At first glance, there are a lot of words but only a few ideas here. But the few ideas are important. If you want to be a writer, write. Ultimately it is all about doing the work. It’s about sitting down at the keyboard with a plan, with the desire to write, and with no illusions about what it takes to be a writer. Because writing is not about waiting for some flash of insight or waiting to hear the whisper of your muse. That’s reserved for amateurs, hobbyists, and folks who write literary fiction.
Writing, if you want to be a professional writer, is about doing the work in a professional manner. Doing the market research, the marketing, and the work. It’s ultimately not about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media outlet. It’s not about chat rooms, blogs, and impressing online communities. Those are only a part of the equation (when utilized properly).
No, writing is about writing. Period.
Let’s say that together class: Writing is about writing. Period.
So, don’t talk about doing it. Just do it. On a regular basis. Keep at it until you are successful.