Jan. 16, 2022: Are You Asking The Right Question?
Like most writers, I belong to a variety of groups and organizations. From the formal, professional organizations to the on-line communities, to small, local critique groups. They all provide great places for writers to connect and grow and learn.
They are also a great place for new writers to ask questions and gain information from veteran writers and industry professionals. I will say, based on my unscientific observations, the two most often asked questions are:
How do I get published?
How do I make my writing better?
According to Anne Lamott, the best-selling author and writing teacher, only one of these questions will lead to ultimate success. I am currently reading Ms. Lamott’s book Bird By Bird, which I highly recommend, and she addresses these very questions.
She believes that those writers whose main focus is publication, are much less likely to gain traditional publication contracts.
In her book, she says “What is clear is that what these people want is to be published. They KIND of want to write, but they REALLY want to be published. You’ll never get to where you want to be that way, I tell them.”
So what exactly does it mean to want to make our writing better? It means understanding that all writing is not good writing and that writing well, like any skill, takes practice and a commitment of time and energy. Wasn’t it Malcolm Gladwell who was able to find documentation that it took 10,000 hours of practice of anything before one could reach excellence?
Therefore, that first question should be How do I make my writing better?
- Write. Everyday. As much as you can.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing in a journal, creatively writing snippets, working on an actual poem or article, writing a blog or letters. Lamott says not to get caught up on how much you write, just write. She calls it focusing on short assignments. Chunk your writing into tiny tasks and make progress every day.
- Seek out opportunities to learn about the craft of writing.
This might mean taking classes, reading craft books, or attending seminars. Whether it is learning how to use dialogue effectively, learning strategies for plot development, or discovering how to use voice in a piece, anything you learn about writing will ultimately make your own writing better. Be hungry for information on how to write well and strong and true.
- Seek feedback on your writing.
All kinds. Have writing friends read your work. Have friends who are not writers read your work. Have experts on your topic read your work. Submit to contests. Sign up for critiques. And take seriously all the feedback you get. Not every piece of advice has to be followed through on, but consider it and think about whether or not it gives you any insight into how others see or interpret your words. This insight is powerful as you work to become a better writer.
This does not mean that you are not thinking about, and planning for, and seeking publication. It just means that tasks related to publication are behind the focus on improving your writing. While you are working on making your writing better, you can also be doing the following:
- Gather information on agents and publishers who work within your genre.
- Learn how to craft a great query letter.
- Read widely in your genre so you know how your work compares.
- Become familiar with the steps and process of submissions.
When the time is right and your manuscript is ready, absolutely start to seek out publication contracts for it. Writers want our words to matter. We want to reach readers. Which of course means that publication is the ultimate goal.
But according to Ms. Lamott, our first focus, all the time, should be on making our writing better.