Every now and then, I get an email from someone who
has heard about me—I became a writer without having gone to college first—and they want to do it, too.
I tell them sure, they can do it. It takes a lot of
work but it can be done.
More often than not, I find they want to “be”
a writer without the work. (Maybe that doesn’t make much sense to you. Think about
it a bit and it will.)
It doesn’t work that way.
If you want to be a writer, you have to do your homework
and pay your dues. You have to read and study and practice and try your wings. There’s no such thing as just tossing
your wonderful story out into the mail and hoping somebody will buy it. My work was for a weekly newspaper but in truth, I
got a college education in the first five years I worked for that paper. In my 17 years for the newspaper, I probably wrote
a million or so words. And with minor editing, every single one of them was printed.
New writers sometimes ignore the basics of submitting
their work to publishers and editors; in fact they don’t even know the basics. That requires knowing where to find the
information and knowing how to interpret it. It also requires doing it a few times and being told “No, thanks, not interested”
a few times. Even the best work will sometimes be ignored, especially if it doesn’t fit the professional format.
If you want to write for publication, you can write
whenever you feel like it, which is nice. But you also need to make a commitment to yourself. You have to spend some time
doing more than writing; there’s also time to be spent researching potential markets, analyzing what they’re looking
for and preparing your work for submission.
All this takes time, dedication, desire and determination.
Here are a few other tips:
pleasant on the telephone and in person, if you have the opportunity to meet an editor in person. Don’t whine if he/she
gives you short notice for a story. Just be glad you got the assignment.
able to disagree without being disagreeable. For instance, if your editor has
changed one of your sentences and you aren’t happy about it, remain calm and discuss it respectfully.
your deadlines. If something unexpected comes up, call the editor and let him/her know. If the “something unexpected”
is merely a minor inconvenience, break your neck to meet the deadline. The editor
may not know it but then again he might.
don’t need a separate space to write, although it would be nice. Many a writer has made use of a kitchen table or bedroom
bureau. Be sure to keep an assignment notebook, a daily planner and a simple accounting notebook.
you send in your finished piece, send in an invoice. It doesn’t have to be fancy but with today’s word processing
programs and fonts, designing a simple invoice is easy. If nothing else, make it a letter form.
good records for the IRS. They don’t care how your records are kept, just so they are, and that they are consistent.
Write down everything. Your accountant will sort them out at the end of the year, or help you with a system.
Good luck and get going!
(NCWritertoo is a retired journalist
who worked as a writer for over 25 years. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org)