You know that old commercial "When so-and-so talks, people listen?" I can now say that when I talk, people puke. Let me explain...
I spoke to a group of 4th graders last week. They are having a writing camp of sorts at their school, focusing on taking an idea and turning it into a story. And their teachers are trying to get them to accept that revision is a part of the writing process, even for multi-published authors. I had intended to borrow from a speech my friend Le gives to very young writers (with her permission, of course). In order to get their undivided attention -- especially that of the squirmy little boys -- she opens by comparing a first draft to "vomiting" words onto the page. The she compares the revision process to cleaning up that vomit. However, before I launched into that scenario, a little girl threw up on one of the computers in the library where I was giving my talk. At that point, I decided against using the vomit analogy.
I'm happy to report that things got better from that point forward. They were a great group of kids. And smart! They asked intelligent questions. One of those questions was the ever-popular "How can I get published?" I told them exactly what I tell the adult students in the writing class I teach, and now I'm going to tell you. Get out your pen and paper. Here are the...
Six Secret Steps to Publication:
1. WRITE. Write as much as you can as often as you can. The old cliche is true: Practice makes perfect. If you think you don't have time, you're only fooling yourself. Carve time from your day. Get up a half hour earlier in the morning or stay up a half hour later at night. Utilize wasted time spent in doctors' office waiting rooms, sitting in the car waiting on your kids at school, or on the bleachers at hockey practice. Give up a television program and write instead. Make a deal with yourself: promise to show up at the computer or notepad every day or every other day or once a week for a specified amount of time as long as you don't have to write well. You can clean up that vomit later.
2. READ & STUDY . Read, read, and read some more. Study the work of published writers whom you admire. Take writing classes. Join writer's organizations to hear speakers, network, and meet other writers.
3. FINISH WHAT YOU WRITE. Ignore your fear of failure and/or fear of success and just keep writing until you reach the end. Find someone -- another writer or a reader you trust to be honest but encouraging -- and let them read and critique your work. Take suggestions that work for you and throw out those that don't. Give yourself a reasonable deadline for a project. Polish it to a point where you believe it is the best you can make it without an agent or editor's help, then declare it finished. Move on.
4. SUBMIT YOUR WORK You won't ever get published if you hide your work in a drawer. Again, ignore your fear of failure or fear of success and enter your writing in reputable contests (those judged by published writers and editors and/or agents)in order to get feedback. Consider the feedback, but also keep in mind that it is just the opinion of one person. Don't let a less than glowing review crush you. Take the advice that helps you and use it. Forget the rest. Then, when you feel the story is ready, submit it to agents.
5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF & PERSEVERE. Learn to distinguish between good and bad rejection letters. Bad ones give you no feedback you can use to make your work stronger and no encouragement. Good ones do. Celebrate and learn from the good ones. Throw darts at the bad ones. Develop a thick skin and keep plenty of chocolate on hand. A friend who will let you have an occasional cry on his/her shoulder doesn't hurt, either.
6. STAY TRUE TO YOUR VOICE, BUT BE WILLING TO REVISE. Those 4th grade teachers are correct: revising is part of every writer's process. When that day arrives that an agent or editor wants to buy your story but asks you to do some more work on it, don't balk...celebrate! That's your goal, isn't it? To make the story the best that it can possibly be.
And on another topic...I've changed the name and look of my blog, did you notice? I think the quote about "ink in my veins" and "blood on the typewriter keys" pretty much sums me up! I'll be making more small changes in the days and weeks ahead. I hope to put up a new photograph at the top every month or so. I took the one of the bridge at a park in Nashville in November. I loved the colorful sweep of grass up to that rusty old bridge.
What I've been reading: I just finished THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. It was my book groups February selection. It should generate lively discussion at our meeting next week. I had no sympathy at all for the female character in the story (Kate Winslet won an Oscar for Best Actress in this part last night). I already know that at least one member of my group doesn't agree with my assessment of "Hanna." A well-written book containing a lot of controversial issues. If you want action-packed reading, though, this isn't for you.
Next on my reading list: JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta. My editor sent me this YA novel (along with a few others). I've been wanting to read this story and can't wait to dive into it.
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