Today I was sitting back and reflecting on the writer’s life. It got me to thinking. How did I get that first sale? That first book review?
The first sale involved learning the system. I attended a Smokey Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. I was a wanna be writer. I learned basics of magazine article writing. Maybe the most important happening at the conference was meeting editors and publishers. I talked to several publishers who expressed interest in working with new writers.
All the editors required that I write on speculation. That means I write on the subject they assign, but they have no obligation to buy my work. It allows them to see if I can follow their rules, meet their deadlines, write sale-able copy, etc. It lets them see how thick-skinned you are and if you take things personal.
I had a kind editor who loved taking a few rookie writers under his wing each year and mentoring them.He called offering me an article on speculation. I had to rewrite six times before he bought the first article. My payment was 2 1/2 cents per word, that is a check for $12.50, three copies of the magazine – one for me, one for my parents, and one for my wife’s parents – plus my name was on the by-line.
The article appeared in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership” published by Lifeway Christian Resources. Its circulation was over 250,000 subscribers. It’s audience was my church members, seminary classmates, and members of the 40,000 plus Southern Baptist Churches in the USA as well as most directors of Christian education of all denominations.
I wrote an article or two for this editor every year for the next 15 or 16 years. It took me over decade before I got a cover article. Once I did get a cover article I got one every year until he retired. The first article is very basic. It’s title was: “Who Does What“. I wrote the article in the Emory University Library in Atlanta, Georgia. I lived close to the campus. It was a favorite place for me to hang out and study. The article is available by clicking on the link with the article title.
In 1986 I asked about reviewing books. At the time I would put a book review about once a month in my church’s newsletter. My editor was on the mailing list and said I wrote good reviews. He recommended me to a colleague. The thought of having someone give me a book for free to read was exciting to me. I was buying and reading about 100 books a year so free books were a good thing. The review for the first book is available by clicking on the link with the article title: “Book Review“.
I wrote this article while sitting in my church bus. I had taken the senior adults from my church to an event in the Smokey Mountains. We had the afternoon free and had gone to the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, NC.
One lady refuse to tour the house. She was protesting paying homage to the rich and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was fall and cool in the mountains. I would not let her stay on the bus by herself. So, I sat out there all afternoon and wrote. I can write anywhere I think. The dear lady is still living and around 90 years old and still as stubborn. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.
What is my point? My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying gig. You’ll never get rich. I learned at the DFWCon (the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Conference) this spring that less than one percent of all writers are able to support themselves writing full-time. So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it? Just write!
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It’s a question of balance. Balancing your day job with your passion for writing and reading is hard. The day job is important. You need a regular paycheck and insurance. So unless you’re a Dean Koontz with a spouse who is willing to give you five years to make it with her working full-time to support you, you will need a day job.
Having a life is important. You need to divide enough time to keep yourself spiritually and physically fit. You need a sound body and a sound mind as you write. You need time for a spouse or whoever you are with in a relationship. Your spouse isn’t going to cook, clean and give sex on demand for you while you hibernate in your room or study reading and writing. You have to invest in time in your relationship.
Let’s face it, there are days when you are too tired or exhausted to write. There are other days where all you feel like is reading. The reading recharges your energy and is fodder for future writing.
You need to write regularly. Notice I used the word regularly, not daily. Why not daily? Because you will have some days you cannot write. If you are trying daily and miss a day you will feel guilty and may give up. If you just write one page a day for 25 out of 30 days in a month that is a 300 page book in just one year!
You can do it. You can find the time to write if it’s your passion. You can find the balance to do it. Go for it!
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One way a writer can improve his odds of traditional publication is having an established writer as a mentor. Writing groups can mentor. Let me share an example of the influence a mentor.
In 1919 a young veteran returned from World War I. He moved to Chicago moving into a certain neighborhood for the purpose of being close to the author Sherwood Anderson.
The young beginning writer liked the critical praise for Anderson and his book Winesburg, Ohio. He had heard that Sherwood Anderson was willing to help aspiring writers. He worked to met Anderson. The two men became close friends. They met almost every day to read newspapers, magazines, and novels. They dissected the writings they read.
The aspiring writer brought his own works for critique having Anderson help him improve his craft. Anderson went as far as introducing the want-to-be writer to his network of publishing contacts. The aspiring writer did okay with his first book The Sun Also Rises. The aspiring writer was Ernest Hemingway.
Sherwood Anderson didn’t stop there. He moved to New Orleans where he met another aspiring writer. He took the young man through the same steps and paces of the craft. They shared an apartment. He even invested $300 in getting this writer’s first book Soldier’s Pay published. This young author was William Faulkner.like the encouragement of learning how others
Anderson would later move to California and repeat the process with John Steinbeck. Thomas Wolfe and Erskine Caldwell were also mentored by Sherwood Anderson. Ray Bradbury says Winesburg, Ohio was on his mind when he wrote The Martin Chronicles. He basically wrote Winesburg, Ohio placing it on the planet Mars.
Only Mark Twain has had a greater influence in shaping modern American writing than Sherwood Anderson. Anderson didn’t do too badly, did he? William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck each won the Nobel Prize for Literature and there are multiple Pulitzer Prizes between them.
If you are serious about writing find a mentor or join a writing group. My writer’s group and critique group keep me motivated.
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