Just some notes on writing a publishable piece… Getting published can be as easy as hitting “publish” on your blog and as death defying as writing your very own, “Eat, Pray, Love.” You need to enter into the process with strategies of coping with both the highs and lows of being a writer. Some days it’s as wonderful as writing the most heavenly line of all time, knowing it, and basking in the sunshine of your talents, and some days it’s as brutal as getting an unexpected rejection letter in response to what you thought was a sure thing. The crazy thing is, these both can happen on the same day! I recommend being brave. Don’t ever send in something that you aren’t at a point with at which you don’t want it critiqued. And remember, rejection is usually just a 72-hour bug. That being said….
Being an amateur writer, not dissimilar to being an amateur musician, can be a solo endeavor. It’s hard to get people to sit and listen to your latest piece or song. Sure, it’s YOUR baby, but to them (a.k.a. roommate, boyfriend, sister, etc.) it’s that thing you are making them listen to over and over again and comment on. My first advice is to go out and get yourself an audience! Buy one if you have to. You are going to need a second and maybe even twentieth opinion from someone outside of those contractually obligated to think everything you do is amazing (think your mother or best friend). Try a writing group, coach, or workshop, and be open-minded! A dynamic assortment of readers can be very useful in getting a range of feedback. A trusted community of opinions will not only be your fresh ears and eyes they will ask questions of your work that you wouldn’t ask yourself. In the transfer from your brain to the page to the audience, a lot can happen, never underestimate the power of that event (the power of interpretation)! In addition, learning to read other’s writing under these circumstances can be as informative as the benefits of having other writers read and comment on your work. The exchange of ideas from writer to writer should also be a great source of inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration, what’s yours? Oh no! Are you feeling uninspired? If you are hanging your head in shame, stop, because you are not alone! Everybody knows that sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down. I know this whole blog is about getting your writing into a publishable state—but we all hit the wall sometimes and when that happens there is no writing! So, you need to get a diversion tactic on hand so when you bump up against those nasty tricks your own brain can play on you, there is a way to counteract the downward spiral that inevitably follows.
Here is a list of activities that may sound trite or elementary but they have proven success fighting against mind-blankage:
1) Go for a walk
2) Open a book to a random page and read it—find a word you love and use it immediately. Read in general, it’s always good for what ails—and it’s like brain calisthenics.
3) Go to a museum or a gallery.
4) Scan the room and find something and describe it as you would to a blind person.
5) Allow your mind to wander, you might need a break.
6) Watch your favorite movie.
7) Try writing your earliest memory, start with the line, ” I remember….”
The most important thing is to not fall into the trap of thinking that just because you aren’t working on what you had intended to, that you aren’t working. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at once, or a burn project that happens simultaneously with your main project. The point is you are never wasting your time if you are exercising your writing muscle. Think of it like a hardcore runner would. If you are a serious runner—you love it, but if you hurt your knee you will need to find another way to get your endorphins kicking while your knee is healing. Swimming is to running, as writing a review of a restaurant is to writing a memoir. Any writing is better than no writing. A basic checklist for editing and revising is always handy. Once you are in deep with a project and things are going well and you have a trusted team of readers and listeners on board—the process of revising and editing should be well underway. A perfectly natural step to writing is unwriting. It can feel like you are committing some unthinkable crime against your own, but it is so absolutely necessary to be able to edit away even the lines you love most if they are in the way of achieving your ultimate goal. Some find it very helpful to work with an outline, some go commando—whichever is your poison—know your objective, it will faithfully carry you through.
1) Read your work out loud to yourself, and not just once, more like 42 times—this is a full proof way to catch minor errors, know if the tone of your piece is just working in your head or if it is universally successful.
2) Be fearless. Strike anything that isn’t working, even characters and scenes. Remind me to tell you about the gun in the glove box sometime.
3) Sharing is caring—be sure you have taken other’s constructive feedback and considered your options.
4) Title your piece. This can happen for some at the end of a project, at the beginning, or in the middle of the night. Whenever it hits—be sure you are ready—titles have a reputation for being squirrelly and elusive.
Try getting into a groove. I always find that much like exercise, the more writing I do, the easier it is to weave into my daily life. Soon, you will be running home to work on the opus of your life! Remember not to be too hard on yourself, like anything else, if it’s worth your time in the first place, it’s not going to happen over night!
• Practice makes perfect
• Take notes all the time—if you don’t, trust me you WILL forget that amazing line you thought of in traffic, walking to your yoga class, or in the shower—I recommend always having something to write on nearby!
• Write about what you WANT to write about first.
• Read!• Risk!• Revise!• Relax!
And if you take nothing away from this rant, take this, please: Know your audience! If your plans with what you are working on is to get it published and out into the world—know into what world you want it shared. Knowing your audience can be as organizational and directional as a thesis. Publishers represent an audience, do some research on who is out there, what other types of writing do they work with—look for patterns in their choices, this can also be very informative to your writing. You definitely want to look alive when putting yourself out there; it’s a critical point of reference to know your market!