Writing is a process and just because you’ve got your story down on paper doesn’t mean you’re done with your work. If you have time, put your writing away for a day or two (or even just an hour or two if you are on tight deadline), then take out your red pen (personally, I like a plain pencil, but this is totally your call) and go over your work. Check your spelling and grammar (don’t rely on the computer checker!), ask yourself if your story flows and, if you are writing a fictional story, if characters grow. Examine your transitions and see if you can tighten up your prose to make your writing as clear as possible.
In order to get your work out there you’re going to have to query it, to a local newspaper, a literary agent or even a book or magazine editor. Write the best query letter you can, focus on what makes your story special and why you are uniquely situated to write the story.
Sure there are writers who sit at home and work in their PJs. And if you fall into that category, that’s fine. Just remember that when you deal with anyone in the industry or even the general public, act like a professional. That means you are courteous and respectful. FYI, this rule also applies when attending a writing a conference and in all your online interactions, including blog posts and reviews.
Sure, you dream of making the bestseller list or seeing your article on the front page of a national newspaper or magazine, but smaller, local markets are much more likely to need you and your skills. They also love finding new talent and are willing to take on writers with limited (and in some cases no) previous writing experience. Besides, just imagine the kick you’ll get out of walking into your local library, bookstore, supermarket and seeing your work being read by your neighbors!
No, I’m not suggesting you ask the person sitting next to you on the train for their life’s story or that you eavesdrop on your best friend’s phone call. Rather, I’m suggesting you be curious and, OK a little nosy, about what’s going on in the world around you. Become an observer of people and nature, both of which will help inform your writing.
This week I had a fantastic first. I did a webcast with aspiring first- and second-grade authors at a Jewish day school in the Philadelphia area. We talked about how an author gets ideas from things they see every day. The children had prepared questions like “Were you always a author?” and “Why do you like being an author?”
They also showed me their “heart maps,” where they wrote down things that were most important to them as a way of brainstorming for the books they will be writing in the next few weeks. I thought it was a very clever approach to the old adage, write what you know.
While I wasn’t actually in the room, we had a great and engaging conversation. I thought being on a screen would be limiting, but it worked out really well. I think we all took something away from the class, and I can’t wait to see how their stories come out.
This was the second school program, I’ve done recently. Just last week, I had a great afternoon with the students at a Jewish school in Morristown. I was thrilled by the enthusiasm of the kids and their great questions. My favorite was did I ever give up and not finish a story. (There was a long, long answer to that one and a good idea for a blog down the road.)
What was really interesting was that students from both schools had the same question -- how did you make the picture on the cover and can your next book have pictures inside? Well, I’m not sure about the pictures inside, but I did tell them that the cover was made by a fantastic artist named Dena, and I have no idea how she did it. (I have absolutely no drawing skills.)
If you’d like me to come in and meet with your students and talk about how a writer gets their ideas, how to use words to say what you want the reader to see and more, please let me know.
While the market may dictate what’s hot, that doesn’t mean you should write to market. Keep in mind that it takes several years from the time a book is written and sold until it’s published and by then the market may have changed.
If you’ve finished a story, and rewritten and polished the prose, you’re ready to take you story to market. Before you do, make sure the story is the best you can make it and that you are submitting it to the right agent, editor, publisher or publication.
Maybe you’re writing a sad nonfiction article or a really tense suspense thriller or maybe you’re just writing a story and it’s not going as well as you’d like, then it’s time for you to step away from your work and laugh. Find a video on YouTube, watch an old episode of your favorite sitcom or just watch your kids play. One of these things is bound to make you smile and laugh, and that’s always good for you.
Writer, Editor and Author of the Achdus Club novels for girls.