As writers, our ultimate goal is to be published, but how do we become the writer that publishers are looking for? The best way to set the course for success is to better our writing and keep bettering our writing until we get published. Never stop.
In our latest podcast on the creative process, I mention that we should never believe that our writing is good enough. We should always be striving for that next level up. It may seem unreachable, that next level, the one after that, etc., but take it one step at a time, one short story at a time, one class at a time, one writing exercise at a time, and you will become a better writer. Just be patient and kind with yourself. You can do it.
Now that you know how you need to become that writer, what resources are available to you to help you along the road to being published? Where can you look for support, for classes, for all the tools you'll need to help you reach that ultimate goal? Lets explore some options that I believe will be the most helpful for you.
1. Get an Editor:
You know that short story or novel that’s been sitting in your hard drive for the last couple of years or so? The one you just can’t seem to get published? Ya, that one. Well, why not have a fresh pair of eyes on it, and not just any pair of eyes, the eyes of an experienced editor. It’s almost a guarantee that they’ll spot mistakes and holes that you never noticed before. And the wonderful thing is, with some substantive editing, they can help make your story come to life. They can tell you ways to make your characters more realistic, make your world more believable and vivid. You will see your story in a whole new light. The important thing here though, is that through this, you will learn a lot about your own writing. You will see where your writing works and where it doesn’t, you’ll see what is missing in the way you writing and aspects of your writing that are well done. Give an editor a chance. I think you'd be surprised.
2. Join a Writing Group:
I know I’ve mentioned writing groups a couple times in the past few months, but I can’t emphasize enough just how important peer feedback is. There is no substitute for good, solid constructive criticism from other writers you trust.
As I’ve said, don’t get discouraged if your first writing group doesn’t work out. You may need to try a couple groups out until you find the one that fits you. Don’t give up, it'll be worth it. One great thing about writing groups: the brain storming sessions. You won’t get this with most editors, but with peers, your friends, you definitely will if you need the help. It can be a lot of fun. Some key things to look for when checking groups out:
a) You want to make sure there is a good, friendly atmosphere. The biggest factor that decides the kind of environment is the way the advice is delivered. Make sure it is friendly criticism, not hurtful criticism.
b) You want your writing group to help you improve as a writer so, you want to make sure your peers are offering useful advice that you can incorporate into your writing, not just spouting out fluff that you can’t do anything with. Of course you’re not always going to agree with them, but at least make sure the advice gives you something to consider. You can’t really consider a comment like, “I think Clara’s character is very deep, but she sometimes acts out of character.” Well that’s not very specific is it!
c) It may be helpful and inspiring to choose a writing group that shares the same genre you usually write in, if you are lucky enough to have this option. I don’t know about you, but I always get better feedback and more ideas for stories when I have people around me that share the same love for fantasy/science fiction. It’s like going to a spine specialist as opposed to a general doctor for back pain. The specialist is going to be able to give me useful, more specific information.
Remember, you can always find writing groups online if you can’t find one in your area or don’t have the luxury of being able to meet in person, say, if you have kids or just can’t fit it into your schedule!
3. Take a Writing Class:
Take a writing class in person or online. In this day and age we are lucky to be able to take classes on the web, so really, if you’re willing and able to throw some money down, then you have no excuse why you can’t. It would be a fantastic way to meet other writers and, of course, keep you writing (the best way to improve your writing!) One thing I almost always do before taking a class is check out the teacher on ratemyprofessor.com. The quality of the teacher can be the difference between a great experience and a lousy one.
4. Read Some Helpful Material:
There are many books and blogs that are out there specifically to help writers on their journey to becoming authors. Here are some books, magazines that I have found most helpful:
On Writing by Stephen King
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
“Poets and Writers Magazine”
Check out this "Poets and Writers" article entitled: Best Books for Writers.
Looking for reading on the web? Visit this site for the top 25 writing blogs!
5. Challenge Yourself:
There are many other resources out there that can help you reach your goal of getting published. Stevie wrote a great blog on writing contests last week that I highly recommend reading because contests are a fun way to keep up with your writing and it may even expand your writing abilities by making you write outside of your comfort zone. Like Stevie mentions, the writing contest that she is doing right now comes up with topics for her. You become a well-rounded writer by writing in every genre, writing different characters, writing in different worlds, writing in our world. Always be writing something new and different.
Another way to do this is through literary magazines. Like writing contests, a lot of times a literary magazine will have a specific theme or genre for their issues. Find one that is taking submissions for stories and/or poems that have a certain theme/genre, one you don’t already have a story/poem for that fits. Even better, make it a theme that intimidates you, one that will make you write a story so different from anything you’ve written thus far, it scares you. Do it! I dare you.
Take the time to explore these options and other options you might have in your specific area. There is more available to you than you might think. Good luck on your journey to becoming an author. Have fun along the way!