Be a Better Writer
Read More. The more you read, the better you will understand how language is used in literature, and the better you will write.
Read Widely. Don’t stick with one or two genres of writing. Expand. Read outside of your literary comfort zone. You love Dickens? Read Sartre. You adore Flannery O’Connor? Study Poe. Bradbury is your thing? Get into some Hemingway. Fiction is your go-to genre? Dive into some nonfiction like Folklore or History. The power of your writing will increase exponentially the wider your library becomes.
Turn Off The TV. A favorite TV show or maybe two is alright, but show after show and film after film starves the imagination of the writer. How? When we read, we are forced to imagine how the characters look, their facial expressions and tones of voice, and where they are. Film gives us all of these things through the actors and cameras–and more often than not they’re not how we would illustrate them.
Write A Lot. If you are really a writer, then write. Don’t be too much of a perfectionist, either. Likely more than half of what you put to paper won’t be any good, but if you write every day, at the end of the year you’ll have at least a few pieces to be proud of–but probably a lot more than that.
Send Your Work Out To Publishers. Try not to worry too much about being paid for your writing, because the point of our art form is to chronicle life and then share it. If we become mercenaries, then we commit treason against our artistic expression. If publishers can pay you, great! Many can’t. Don’t avoid them because of that, deciding that they must be lesser editors or even worse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Get Good Sleep; Eat Healthy; Exercise. Your brain needs regeneration if it’s going to work for you. It is true that sometimes sleep deprivation helps us with certain writing projects, but normally the best writers are the ones who know how to sleep. Eat certified organic foods (or don’t and ingest herbicides, pesticides, sulfites, carcinogens, GMOs, melamine, hexane, and other deadly ingredients). Exercise every day, and take frequent breaks from your writing.
Use Your Writing As A Refuge. The world is harsh. Everybody needs a place to hide. Run to your writing and let out all of the frustration, fear, anger, pain, hatred, and everything else that keeps you from being the unique and powerful person you were born to be. Wait. What just happened? Look at what you wrote when you were so mad! Wow! That’s some great writing!
Edit. Edit. Edit. This is the lazy point for most writers. Why? Because it’s the least creative aspect of our art. But, it must be done if you want to be a great writer. Line-Edit the heck out of everything you write. You’ll thank yourself when the acceptances begin pouring in.
Write Because You Can’t Imagine Ever Not Writing. Too many people pick up the pen for lack of anything better to do–but they’re not real writers. The real writer is a storyteller at heart–a chronicler who can’t imagine not sharing what he or she has discovered–that new perspective, that different use of language, that hope found out, that dream revealed like a breathtaking treasure once lost.
Never Take A Rejection Of Your Work To Heart. Editors are people too, so they have their literary likes and dislikes. If by chance you should get a personal rejection–which is a rarity from any publisher–thank the editor for his comments and move on. Do not become angry or vindictive–you are only hurting yourself. The editor couldn’t care less what you think about him or his publication.
Use Logic, Reason, Situational Ethics, Compassion, and Love. To assume that because a person is this way or that, or worse, has a certain skin color that somehow insures that he or she will react a certain way and support a certain ideology, is tantamount to Nazism, Fascism, and every other far left and far right movement in the history of our world. Judge people as individuals by their characters, not what you assume they are. Evil people never make great writers.
Write About What You Know. If you haven’t experienced what you are writing about, research your subject until you know it as well as you can without living it. Little is worse for an editor or reader than to come across a writer who obviously knows nothing about his subject.
Let Your Editor Do His/Her Job. Like a good judge is first an attorney, an editor is first a writer. His or her position is to help you polish your work. You’re also an editor? All the more that you need to rely on someone else’s eyes to make sure your writing is presented at its very best. Too many publishers in our day–from independent presses to long-established periodicals and magazines–have no idea what real editing entails. In fact, the trend with many publishers is that they refuse to edit the works of writers, preferring to reject the writing outright or publish “as is.” This attitude is damaging across the board. Potentially great writers have their work rejected on a few technical issues–misspellings and other accidents–and far too many unskilled or lazy writers have their works accepted and published, giving them false senses of accomplishment. The real editor either rejects the work for being poorly written by an untalented writer or sees potential and then restructures the work to make it the best that it can be. None of the other arts–music, voice, painting, sculpture, etc.–allow mediocre (or worse) work, yet somehow writers are being allowed to write how they want with no consequences for their sloppiness or lack of talent. This ridiculous situation changes in the presence of a skilled editor.
So you’re ready to finally submit your work to a magazine or book publishing company. You may want to consider the following thoughts.
Be sure your manuscript is set up in the standard 8.5 x 11 layout. Use Times New Roman as your font, and always double space. In the top left corner put your name and contact information, which will include your PayPal email address. In the top right corner include your word count. Drop down and center the title of the work and just below that put your name. Then include the work itself. Many editors don’t like headers and footers and page numbers, so try not to include those. When you send your email to the editor, be sure to attach your file.
Multiple Submissions means that you are sending more than one piece to one editor.
Simultaneous Submissions means that you are sending the same piece to multiple editors.
If a house is a paying market, do everything in your power to follow the guidelines exactly, and wait as long as they ask you to wait for a reply. But, if the house pays only by exposure (publishes your work but does not pay you), and they still say that it will be three or six months or longer before you hear back from them, they likely don’t know what they’re doing–so avoid them.
Far too many creative writing majors think that they are capable editors because they have this degree or that academic experience. Usually they aren’t capable at all and should have decided upon a wholly different college major when they were pushed by their advisors to declare. A real editor has been editing the work of others for at least a decade before he decides to launch a magazine or publishing house–and then he’s still going to make the occasional mistake. Save yourself a lot of heartache by first studying the magazines or books of a potential publisher–especially if you plan to have e-books produced, a strange animal indeed and one for which a house must know how to translate from .docx to electronic book format. It is not a simple matter of cutting and pasting.
Your cover letter need not be lengthy, but it should greet your potential editor cordially and state the purpose of your submission, the title, the genre, the word count, and even a sentence or two about your work. If you are sending an entire manuscript, a paragraph synopsis is preferred.
Some few editors are impressed by your past successes, but most are not and only want to see what you are submitting to them.
A brief third-person bio just after you type your name is also high on most editors’ lists.
Write only about what you know. Any editor worth his salt will discern immediately that you don’t know what you are writing about if indeed that is the case. Stick to what you know and have experienced. This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use your imagination, only that your imagination should be strongly informed by your own experiences.
Despite what you may like to believe, expletives, unless used ultra-sparingly, don’t make your writing more edgy, they reveal your laziness and lack of imagination. These include the name of a certain deity beloved by many millions around the world, so the use of his name in vain makes enemies of readers who may have otherwise enjoyed your work.
Rejections of your work are never personal, so don’t take them personally. There are editors out there who will like your voice, and editors who won’t. Let rejections roll off like water on a duck’s back–and keep writing and submitting. And, when you have something rejected, don’t follow up with a request to tell you why it was rejected. Editors are busy people, and, like you, they also have normal lives to lead outside of the publishing world.
The above thoughts don’t in any way cover all of the ins-and-outs of the writing and publishing world. Most of them you’ll have to discover for yourself. So, write something every day of your life, read something every day as well, and when you watch films be sure that they are visual literature and therefore capable of feeding your imagination–because far, far too many films starve the imagination of the writer.