October 10, 2014

4 Things we Must Do to be Writers.

desk writer

I’ve been in love with words since I was a child, scrawling poems about rainbows and ice cream cones. But only in the last year and a half have I started saying I’m a writer.

For years, I struggled with a complex relationship to the page. Deep down I knew I could write and felt it was part of my reason for being here. At the same time, I was terrified of failing. I wrote sporadically, and when I wasn’t, I chastised myself.

After a while, I no longer knew if I even truly enjoyed writing, or if it’d become an outdated piece of me, a relic of childhood, outgrown.

And then I had children. I had less time, but more drive. And certainly more material. Last year, I told my husband I wanted to add one more day of child care for my daughter so I could have more time to write. The leap was scary, financially and mentally. But the urge to write was hot and intense.

Now, a little over a year after starting blogging and throwing myself into writing, I’m starting to sell my work. While I might never know what forces drove me to fall in love with writing again, I can clearly see what I did differently to get my work published.

1. Write, write, write.

This is deceptively simple, but I avoided writing off and on for several years. What if I sucked? What if I ran out of ideas? It might be counterintuitive, but the more I write, the more I want to write. The more I turn my thoughts into words, the more I see stories everywhere. If you’re struggling to get started, find a prompt. Find calls for submissions for anthologies or themed publications for ideas. Then write. Write because you love to, because you burn to share your unique view of life on earth. Write when it comes easy and the words flow out of you like rain, and write when your mind feels dry and barren. Just write.

2. Get Better.

Find a writing group or a class. Let other writers give you honest feedback. Sometimes it stings, but it’s the most efficient way to improve your craft. Listen. Soak the feedback in, then revise your work. You don’t have to change everything that people suggest, but do look for patterns in feedback. Cozy up to your strengths and weaknesses. Critique your peers’ work, too. Over the long term, workshopping other peoples’ writing makes me a stronger writer. I internalize the editor’s eye, and my own work reaps the benefits.

3. Submit, submit, submit.

Yes, you will get rejections. I got one this morning and it hurt. But my philosophy is that if I’m not getting rejections, I’m not sending enough writing out. Research places to send your work. Then send it out. Submit so often that you forget where you’ve submitted—but do keep a list. I have a simple excel spreadsheet where I list the dates, names of articles, and places I submitted to, as well as whether they’re rejected or accepted.

4. Be Generous.

Find other writers you like and share their work. If you come across a call for submissions that reminds you of a friend, let them know. Build a community. It can be easy to feel jealous or competitive when a writing buddy lands a piece in a venue you’d love to get in. Remind yourself that there’s enough space, enough venues. When envy shows up, use it to drive yourself to write more and better.

If you take these four simple (but not necessarily easy) steps, your words should start landing out there. Be patient, be steady and keep writing.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Jeff Nelson/Flickr

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