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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Writing Game Plan

When I decided to take up writing, I started with a short story and entered a contest. I was peeved I didn't win, until the administrator told me that I had beat out more than 18,000 entrants. So maybe that wasn't too bad for my first time out at bat. It made me wonder if I had the chops to go the distance.

I dabbled a little at first by joining a writing community and reading members' work. But it didn't take long for me to figure out that it was the reviews I wrote that helped me the most. Reading and analyzing other people's work gave me the foundation I needed to improve.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that by year two I noticed I wasn't moving forward. This is when I stopped slugging down Jello shots at the pity bar, bemoaning the fact I wasn't published. It forced me to make a decision. Was I going to be a published author, or not?

Unlike many of the writers I hung with, I was a little older, perhaps a little more worldly, and had more business experience. I knew I'd never make it if I wrote with a safety net, so I made the conscious decision to read other genres, and to put my work in front of people who weren't my friends.

I crossed the Rubicon, and there was no turning back.

Having been a graphic artist, I'd already had one career in the publishing field, so I had a pretty good idea of what was expected. Since I had no pompous preconceptions about writing as an art form, I treated it as a business right from the beginning.

Your mileage may vary, but this is what I did.

• I gave myself a deadline to be published. Since I had a full time job and did a lot of traveling, I decided seven years should be enough time to know if I had any potential.

• I listed my strengths and weaknesses, as unvarnished and honest as I could admit.

• After examining my weaknesses, I looked for specific reviewers and classes that could help me turn them around.

• For my strengths, I looked for venues where they could be of use to other people.

• I joined a lot of writer groups in the beginning, gradually paring them down until I settled in with the groups that seemed the most congenial. Loops I like: Broad Universe, OWW, Forward Motion, Absolute Write. This isn't an extensive list by any means, but these are groups that have been helpful on a regular basis.

• I attended writing conferences. This was scary at first because I knew no one, but I've met some of my best friends at conferences. I prefer to go to writing related cons, as opposed to genre or fan cons. The writer cons are more business oriented.

• Joined RWA (Romance Writers of America). This is probably one of the best values around. I don't care if you write romance or not, these people know about writing and they know how to get published. They are well worth the membership fee.

• Created a private critique group. I asked a very select group of peers to join. Those asked were deemed (imo) as serious writers with the sand to get published and stay published. They were also excellent reviewers. More than once, individuals in my group have told me how strong our circle is. You will never find a better set of reviewers than my current group. I've been around. I know that for a fact.

• Contests. I enter very few contests. I just never think about them. Luckily, I have friends who are very good at twisting my arm and telling me to get in the ring. And I've learned to only enter contests that will further my career in some way. I won't enter a contest for a detailed critique or a monetary prize. Those things aren't that important to me. But if it's an editor with a prestigious house or a hard to get into line, you betcha, I'll try. You want your work to be noticed by the right people, people who can give your career a boost in the right direction.

• Publication. I write nonfiction when I get the chance and this does several things. You get a clip for your portfolio, your name is in print, (hopefully there is cash involved), and most importantly, it gives you some sense of accomplishment while you're working your way up. It's hard to keep your motivation up if everyone keeps saying no to you. Find ways for people to say, yes.

• Volunteer. I believe in volunteerism. Not only has it given me an in with the movers and shakers of our writing community, but you learn more from the inside than you do as a spectator. It also does your soul good. The more I volunteer, the less I worry about myself.

• Never stop learning.

That's pretty much it. Each of these steps was created to either further my career or improve a weakness. Along the way, I made an awful lot of friends. That was a bonus I never expected.


Josephine Damian said...

Oooh, Maria, we have so much in common. I too was a graphic artist.

I like how you improved your writing by being a reviewer - by reading with a discerning eye - it's what I try to get across in my "Why I Stopped" posts.

I too imposed a deadline for myself to get published, and when the deadline came and went, I kept going - for seven more years until at last I was.

Maria Zannini said...

>>I too was a graphic artist.

LOL! Now I'm convinced we were separated at birth.

When it comes to perseverence, I think in our hearts we have to know whether we have the sand to make it or not. Wishful thinking and good intentions are not enough.

It helps to have a goal and a direction. The timeline isn't as important as making forward progress.