Can You Call Yourself a Writer Even if You’re not Published?

January 30, 2014

When I taught my Writing for Fun and Profit Series, one of the first questions I asked on the first night was, “Who here has told someone you’re a writer?” Amazingly, only one or two hands went up.  I’d focus on those who raised their hands and say, “If you tell someone you’re a writer, you typically get two questions. What are they?”

The answers came without hesitation: What do you write? Are you published?

The implication is you can’t call yourself a writer unless you’re published. But that’s so wrong because the truth is you can’t be published unless you write.

Thus, I maintain a writer writes and sometimes gets published.

Still, most writers want to be published, so here are some tips for getting someone other than yourself to publish what you write.

  • Write nonfiction. Periodicals publish nonfiction. Newsletters publish nonfiction. You can still write fiction or poetry, but your chances of being published increase if you write nonfiction.
  • Focus on smaller publications. My first published piece was in a local newspaper, but over the years I was published by national women’s magazines, wrote a syndicated newspaper column for fifteen years, and wrote or contributed to numerous books. It all started with a smaller publication. Don’t overlook niche publications that focus on special interests or organizational newsletters. If your goal is to collect publishing clips, these are good places to start.
  • Match what you’re offering to what the publication publishes. That may appear obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many writers don’t take the time to do this step. I sold my first query to Victoria magazine, my first query to Woman’s World Weekly magazine, and my first query to Mpls/St.Paul magazines. How? By studying what types of things they publish, then offering articles that fit.
  • Expect little or no payment. Small publications pay less than large ones–that’s just a matter of budget and fact. But they are  good places to start, just as local theater is a good place to start or local opportunities to play music are good starting places. Payment may be small or non-existent, but you’ll achieve a different goal–that of being published.
  • Shoot for the larger publications as well. All of these steps are not meant to encourage you to think small, Quite the contrary. If your idea fits what the large publication needs, you may get the assignment, so go ahead and try.

Can you call yourself a writer even if you’re not published? Absolutely, yes! Remember, you cannot be published unless you write.

Happy writing!


Writing Doesn’t Happen without a Start

January 22, 2014

Writers love to write, but they often can’t agree on how to get started–so they don’t. Instead, they spend precious time debating the best way to start writing. Here are the three main ideas they consider.

  1. Write with the audience in mind. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you won’t know what to write.
  2. Write with the vision/goal in mind. If you don’t know why you’re writing something, you won’t know what to write.
  3. Write with the muse leading you. If you don’t let the muse lead you, you won’t know what to write.

While each of these ideas has merit, none of them is the one answer to getting started once you sit down to write. For example, fiction writers differ from nonfiction writers in audience, vision, and even in where the muse takes them.

I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction and fiction is much more difficult for me. I’m not good at creating a whole world and the people in it, then controlling what they do when. I’m much better at nonfiction writing.

In writing nonfiction, I do think about the audience and constantly ask these questions when deciding what to include and what to discard.

  • What is the reader looking for on this topic?
  • What can I offer to meet the reader’s desire for information?
  • What’s commonly known about my topic already?
  • What’s interesting/exciting about my topic?
  • What’s frustrating readers about my topic?
  • What’s boring about my topic?

One writing instructor I had once asked this question, “Who do you write for–yourself or the reader?” Since I was pursuing a career as a freelance writer at the time, I mentally responded, “The decision-maker,” meaning the editor with the power to decide to accept my query or not. The reality, however, is the decision-maker accepted articles the reader would want to read, so I focused on writing for the reader.

I read a lot of fiction for pleasure and find I most enjoy fiction that feels like it’s written for me, the reader. By that, I mean it addresses questions pertaining to how I might feel about the characters or their relationships or their conflicts. It addresses questions pertaining to my expectations on  plot twists. It even addresses timing, details, and what I visualize from the words I read.

What point am I trying to make in this post? Instead of spinning your wheels trying to figure out how to get started writing, place the seat of your pants on the seat of your chair and start writing what you would like to read. Writers are readers, so the idea should be easy to implement. If you write what you would like to read, chances are you’re also writing what your reader wants to read.

Avoid the trap of debating whether you visualize the reader, the goal, or simply let the muse lead you. The one thing each of these ideas has in common is you writing something you’d like to read yourself. But you can’t do that if you don’t get started!

Happy writing!

You Have Choices about Your Writing

January 15, 2014

Because writing is a solitary activity, writers sometimes risk feeling guilty about writing–after all, they do it alone, which takes them away from friends and family.

I encourage you to rethink the guilt thing because if you don’t write, you’ll never get better at it and your readers will never benefit from your insights or your stories or your characters or whatever your strong writing point is.

  • Take action. As with most things in life, you need to actually do it to get better. You didn’t learn to ride a bike by watching someone else do it. You didn’t learn to make a grilled cheese sandwich by reading a cookbook. You had to actually get on a bike or turn on a stove. You probably fell off the bike or made one side of the sandwich too dark, but you learned and you got better. So it is with writing.
  • Accept your learning speed and style. Some people pick things up immediately, while others are more methodical in their learning. It doesn’t matter which way you learn, as long as you learn. Whenever I hear the term “writing competition,” I cringe. Why? Because writers ought not compete with each other. Every writer differs from every other writer. Instead of competing, writers are better served supporting each other. Writers are also better served supporting themselves rather than beating themselves up. Of course I encourage you to write your best and improve your skill, but you won’t do that until you accept your learning speed and style.
  • Know the writing rules, then use the ones that work for you. No, I haven’t lost my head. I just want to point out that you can get so hung up on rules that you lose your writing voice. For example, people don’t speak in standard English or in complete sentences. So give yourself permission to write dialogue the way people talk. Another rule says to write at the same time (or in the same place) every day. That’s hardly realistic since days differ, so give yourself permission to deviate from this rule if you need to. The important thing is that you write whenever possible. Think of the writing rule(s) that you let control you and your writing, then give yourself permission to bend the rule to your benefit. Can you work on more than one article at a time? If so, go ahead even if the rule says not to. (Did you notice I ended the sentence in a preposition?) If you write the ending first in your fiction, is it possible the characters deviate from your plan and you need a different ending? If so, write it. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for knowing the rules and applying them. But I’m also all for you making good choices regarding using them.

Bump these three points against your writing and see if you can make better choices for you and for your reader. Happy writing!