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How to Keep Your Passion and Survive as a Writer
"Musings" for June 2005
by Margot Finke
- Architects gauge the yardstick of life in measurements, stress factors, and design breakthroughs.
- Artists paint the world as they see it. Their personal brushstrokes stray from the deepest gloom to the brightest canvases.
- Musicians interpret the work of great composers, imbuing each note with a fragment of individual passion.
- What about writers?
If you long to excel as a writer, treasure the passion that is unique within yourself. Take the irreplaceable elements of your life and craft them into your own personal contribution to the world a book for children. Aha. . . but to succeed, a writer needs far more than a passion to write.
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By passion, I do not mean the sexy kind - "Writing passion" is an itch you have to scratch. It's what has you up at 2 am, pounding the keys. It sneaks you into the bathroom after midnight to make notes of the terrific scene that just popped into your head. It's what puts the notebook and pen in your pocket when you go to the store in case a great chapter idea surfaces between the broccoli aisle and the chopped beef.. Stirring a pot while making one-handed notes is a pastime common to writers everywhere. For the passionate, writing is not a choice; it's a force that cannot be denied.
But what else do you need?
This is the magic that crafts memorable stories. Talent spills fun, plus great characters and excitement into many writers books. Kids can't put down these page-turners. Can talent be learned? Is "talent" taught in a good writing class? I honestly don't know. This subject has spawned many heated discussions. So far, I have found no clear winner.
Basic Writing Skills
Good writing skills are simply common sense. Like building a house, you begin from the ground up. If your foundation is weak your structure crumbles. Grammar and punctuation is the foundations of writing. If you feel a lack in this area, or it has been a long time since a teacher rapped you over the knuckles, take a basic writing class. Read Strunk and White's classic treatise on grammar and punctuation. The Internet offers a plethora of grammar help sites.
The Hard Work
If writers waited until "inspiration" struck, publishing houses would fold, and bookshelves would stay empty. You often need to push yourself and get on with it. Once seated, fingers on the keyboard, eyes staring at the screen, ideas, thoughts, and yes, even inspiration can sneak up on you. An unused keyboard is a writing career on hold.
The Ability to Survive Rejection
Can you allow someone else to bring in the mail every day? Can you still smile after receiving three rejection letters in a row? Are you regularly sending out completed manuscripts? Can you fight off tears when your husband (or wife) says, "But sweetie, it doesn't matter, I still love you!" Have you quit Prozac?
If you answer YES to these questions, you have graduated from the, "I Will Become A Published Author" school of rejection with honors. Be proud!
This is the biggie (talent, passion and punctuation notwithstanding).
Time can eat away at your determination and confidence. Long years of un-rewarded writing, plus enough rejection letters to paper a small room, can douse the flame of the most talented and passionate of writers. And those so-called friends and relatives the ones who sniff and say, "But you only write for kids, why does it bother you?" Aaaaaaah!!!
*Combat this with a big dose of the following medications:
- Go to conferences.
- Meet with editors and other passionate writers.
- Keep sending out your work. -- Editors don't make house calls!
- Soak up reassurance and comfort from your critique group.
- Sit at that darn computer and write something every day. YES, the grocery list does count, as long as it comes with strong verbs and great adjectives!
- And my favorite. Say this once every day. "I can do it! I will become a published writer!" And for those who are on the brink of the void, sure that publication will elude them forever, shout this mantra every hour.
Know That Publishing Today Is a "Bottom-line" Business
Publishers want books that sell. Profits rule! Many venerable publishers, sympathetic to first time writers, have found themselves folded into international conglomerates, their longstanding style and writer-friendly persona forever lost within the grinding wheels of big business. The Answer: Make sure you are in a critique group that has published writers. Use good research to find the right editor and publisher. Participate in every aspect of your book's metamorphosis from editor-requested rewrites and school visits, to book signings and TV interviews. You need to hustle to get those sales figures up. If your first book flies off the shelf, your publisher will be keen to give your second book a chance.
Develop a Passion for Research
Research is not just for nonfiction writers. The most exciting book in the world will stay unpublished if the author's research does not dig up the right publisher. Begin your research with The CWIM (Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market). This book comes out annually. It offers hard copy information about publishers, their current editors and needs, plus submission guidelines, website addresses, and more.
Go online and check out publisher's websites. This gives you up-to-date facts about the type of books publishers' want, plus current submission guidelines. Below are a number off excellent online research resources and writing help sites.Amazon.com is research friendly. Their Amazon book search allows you to track books and publishers with ease.CBC (Children's Book Council)--Great site for checking out many things to do with writing, and publishing. Plenty of help, information, and links.Writer's Market - You can research publishers and update information, including which editors to contact: also, a submission tracking program. You must pay a fee, and become a member to be eligible for this and other extras. You don't have to subscribe to get their free updatesThe Purple Crayon - Harold Underdown's web site for writers of children's books. His book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books," plus great articles and interviews, and links to other sites, cannot be beaten. A must surf site!SmartWriters.com - Roxyanne Young's website is bursting with the information every writer needs. Her website is a must if you want to become a published author. PLUS - let Roxyanne's Two-Tier Design program set you up with a wonderful website.Margot Finke - Critique help for new writers - Personal Guidance at Reasonable Fees. The "Site Directory" links to Margot's Books Writing Secrets Writing Chat - "Wahoo" page & The Scrap Heap. Her "Musing's" column can be read monthly in the Purple Crayon - check the archives for various writing topics.Jan Field's Website - "Nuts & Bolts & Magic Wands," Jan's e-Book covers children's writing from A to Z. Her style makes it fun to read. Well published, with talent to burn, Jan's writing advice and good sense shines.Verla Kay's Website - Verla is a multi-published author who offers a wonderful resource site. She is a trusted, respected, and much appreciated writer. Visit her chat archives to learn from terrific agents, editors and writers.Write4Kids - Jon Baird offers links, helpful advice, writing news, plus a Newsletter. Surf this site to find the writing tools you need.Yellapalooza .com - This is a delightfully designed site, specifically for those who write and illustrate children's books. Helpful tutorials for writer/illustrators, and lots of links. Coming soon is News and Reviews.SCBWI - (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators). If you look at none of the above, at least join SCBWI. This international writing organization caters exclusively to writers of children's books. Check out their website for details about a variety of helpful services. The small yearly fee is worth every penny. Their local and interstate writing conferences attract top-flight editors, agents, and a slew of terrific writers you can network or share critiques with.
Writerly Passion Gets You Published
I'd like to sum this up by saying that your whole approach needs to be one of writerly passion. You need to be passionate about everything to do with your book -- the writing and rewriting, your critique group, your research, your search for the best agent/publisher, plus your query letter. Not to mention the passion (translation: hard work) that goes into promoting your book. Nothing less will assure your survival as a writer, and earning that signed book contract.
Happy writing, mates!
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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