- In the early days, stick to topics you have personal experience of and/or some degree of expertise in. It will make editors and readers more likely to take a chance on you. As your back catalogue grows, you can expand your horizons.
- Sorry to say it, but when starting out you will end up writing many pieces that never get published. New writers are better off submitting complete (redrafted!) pieces rather than trying to sell a brief pitch. As you start to develop relationships with editors and your reader base grows, you will find that editors will be happy to accept pitches from you.
- Get to know other writers. For my first couple of years as a freelancer I did not know a single other writer. I felt quite lonely and removed from the entire media scene, so I made an effort to befriend other writers on social media and at the few events I was asked to appear at. They have proved to be a treasure trove of support, ideas, and advice. Having a network of writers and editors you view as friends not just colleagues really does change everything.
Three Tip Tuesdays
- Read first! Writers are readers with pencils in their hands. If I had to pinpoint one collective gripe expressed by publishers and creative writing teachers, it is the blissful ignorance of their respective fields in which many apprentice writers set out. If you want to write YA fiction, start by reading the books in the genre that count – everything from Catcher in the Rye to His Dark Materials. If it’s crime, everything from Raymond Chandler to Steig Larsson. This will give you a sense of how the literary land lies, its peaks and troughs – and where what you’re attempting might fit.
- Writing is rewriting. There’s no way of getting around it: writing is a grind. There will be days when you will have to chain yourself to the desk, constantly fighting the urge to slip through the digital rabbit-hole, at a loss as to how to proceed. There is nothing romantic about this and only iron discipline will get you through. Write every day – even when it feels hopeless – and be willing to return to flaws in the architecture of your work and start painstakingly re-laying the brickwork. There will be days when the words flow effortlessly, however, and its amazing how the muscle memory of these will get you through.
- Second opinions. Get yourself a guru. Someone whose opinion you trust. Someone who will tell you the bitter or beautiful truth. A friend, a mentor, a freelance editor via the Australian Society of Author’s website – it doesn’t matter who. All that matters is that they are intelligent and honest, because the publishing world is so configured these days that your first book counts more than ever before. Don’t release your manuscript into the wild before it is ready to fend for itself.
- Is the writing course being offered from a reputable organisation? There are many writing courses out there. However, there are only a handful which truly offer useful advice, training, and support. A writing course needs to offer more than just a few exercises that help you tap Into your creativity. By the time you finish the course, you should leave with new skills, a clear understanding of writing techniques, and the confidence that you are pursuing a worthwhile craft.
- Does the teacher have credible credentials? It pains me when I see writing courses being taught by people who have had very little writing/publishing experience. Make sure that you read the biography of your writing teacher to ensure that they have industry experience and, importantly, teaching experience. Remember, just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean you know how to teach, convey information effectively, or inspire students. Every day at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we receive queries from writers who want to teach with us. And we say ‘no’ much more often than we say ‘yes’. That’s because we look for teachers who have the X-factor. We want our students to be inspired – and it takes a very special kind of teacher to be able to do that!
- Do you know what you want to achieve and will the writing course help you get to that goal? Within the world of writing, there are many different genres and career paths. It is important to understand that one writing course isn’t going to teach you all the skills you need. For example, the skills you need in copywriting are very different to the skills you need when writing fiction. And the skills you learn as a journalist are very different to what you need in memoir writing. So before you even enrol in a course, make sure you determine what your goal is: what skills do you want to acquire or what career would you like to pursue at the end of it? Then make sure that the writing course you choose will help you achieve those goals.
- Remember why you started. Your ‘why’ is the driving force behind your motivation. So you need to get real with yourself and work out exactly why you want it whatever it is you’re going after and why it is so important for you to do it. And make your reason a really good one.
You see, the level of desire you have for achieving your goals is what’s going to get you out of bed each and every morning. It needs to drive you every single day. On the days you want to give up. On the days you face failure or yet another setback. It will drag you out of the rut you’re stuck in. It will stop you in your procrastinating tracks. I assure you, there will be so many challenges put in your way and when they come up, you’ll need to keep reminding yourself of it. Commit it to memory and every time you feel panic set in; fear come up, or you start procrastinating – pull out your why and remind yourself exactly why you need to be doing this.
- Develop a success mantra. A mantra is a powerful verbal statement that will reinforce a positive mindset and when used repeatedly it’s a great way to stay motivated and keep your spirits high.
Create a mantra that resonates with you. Write it down and then keep it somewhere visible – repeat it each morning aloud. The more you repeat it, the more you’re going to believe it!
– I will achieve my goals, I am on my way.
– I am in charge of my life and today I will be successful at everything.
– I am strong, I know I’ve got this.
- Create mini-milestones + reward yourself when you reach them.
Break down those bigger goals into smaller goals + create milestones for yourself. Then, when you meet your deadline, reward yourself for reaching them and kicking your goals! It doesn’t need to be something expensive – it could even be the reward of watching your favourite TV show, buying a magazine or a bunch of beautiful flowers.
- Discipline. Given the choice, I’d bury myself in my current fiction project and never come up for air. But if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat. So I factor in time for everything – and I stick to it. I balance longterm projects with short-term projects. Longer feature articles can take a long time to pull together. Books takes months. I try to have a few longer-term projects on the go at any time – even if they’re not paid projects (think book proposals and novels) – and infill with jobs that have short deadlines and turnarounds. And I sit at my computer every day from 9am-3pm, while my boys are at school, and then at night if I need to.
- Planning. I divide my day into blocks of time. And my week into blocks. Then I work on one thing at a time. Focus is everything. If I’m writing a feature, I wait until I have everything I need – interviews, stats, quotes – and then set aside the time to write it. I don’t stop halfway through because I’ve had a ‘genius idea’ for my novel. If it’s that ‘genius’, it will wriggle back out of my subconscious when I’m ready for it an hour or two later. I try to schedule interviews (features, corporate) in blocks, leaving the rest of the day free to write fiction. I squeeze the blog posts in when I’m feeling relaxed, often late at night, because the quiet darkness seems to help bring that intimacy of tone.
- Deadlines. I set deadlines for everything. Even things that don’t have deadlines. And the paid work always comes first.