New Year, new you, right? Or, at the very least a fresh start on some aspect of your life as you commit to some change or resolve to try something new.
May I suggest writing? Perhaps I’m partial to the career that has brought me great pleasure and pain at various times in the decade-long journey. The sting of knowing my book was rejected by yet another publishing committee can be countered only by the elation I’ve felt signing a book contract.
But before you simply jump into writing your memoir and expecting it to top the New York Times bestseller list, you need some direction.
Just because you have a computer doesn’t mean you can churn out the next bestseller? Like other arts pursuits—dancing, singing, acting—or like professional sports, training, discipline and practice help prepare us. Top writers train and practice in order to hone their craft to near perfection. They set high standards for themselves in both productivity and the quality of the work itself.
The accessibility of agents and editors makes the writing profession particularly prone to newcomers. These days, anyone can send a magazine article to a dozen editors or a manuscript to several publishers with the click of a mouse. The problem is that too many “anyones” do! This simple practice, repeated daily by thousands of beginners, clogs up the system so that many editors no longer accept unagented submissions. Unprepared and unpolished writers inundate agents to the point that many will no longer sign unpublished writers. This hurts the profession as whole, keeping many legitimate queries and manuscripts from getting reviewed.
The suggestion of those much more experienced than I is to be better prepared before you send out any material to any agent or editor. It’s hard hearing your writing needs work, but it probably does. (I’ll be the first to admit that mine has much room for improvement. Truth be told, I’m nervous about your evaluation of this column—as I am with every column.)
But think how much better off you’ll be if you learn and hone your writing now—before it ever sees the light of day. Much less to be embarrassed about later when you’re a bestselling author. Think of it as your creative way of dodging the “Before They Were Stars” show that reveals clips of famous actors when they had their first acting jobs.
Bottom line? If you’re a new writer, work on improving your writing. Don’t worry about submitting anything to publishers or agents in the beginning. You don’t want to fall into the trap of many new writers who constantly complain that no one will read their stuff because they haven’t published anything.
Instead of setting yourself up for failure, face the fact that you’re green and resolve to learn everything you can about the craft and the process before you submit your work. Stop moaning and groaning until you’ve paid some dues and sweated a little.
If you’d like to make this your New Year’s resolution, clip out my next two columns. I’ll offer a variety of ideas and helps to get started with writing and submitting the next bestseller . . . the right way!
In the meantime, think about what you might want to write. Do you want to pen your life story? Do you want to follow in the footsteps of The King? Stephen, that is—and offer readers a chill ride? Do you like to make people laugh, a la Dave Barry?
Tomorrow, we’ll start with our list—Things Every New Writer Should Know and Do.