The Only Formula A Writer Needs
There is only one formula a writer needs to succeed. It's something that
successful writers probably know without thinking about it. It's something that
tyro writers can never quite put their finger on. It's what makes the difference
between rejected and read: a professional attitude.
- Writing is your job. It doesn't matter if writing is the love of your
life, or something you do to pay your phone bills. It doesn't matter if you
write forty hours a week or four, earned thousands last year, or lost
thousands. Writing is your job, and you should treat it with the same
respect and consideration any other paying job would receive. Keep "sickies"
to a minimum (preferably none), regular work hours, separate accounts, and a
commitment to entertain and enlighten the reading public in exchange for
their hard-earned dollars.
- Never submit anything that isn't the very best work you can do at that
time. You may look at it in a year and shudder ... which is good, for it
means you are still growing and improving. But don't settle for nearly good
enough now. Now is all you have.
- Always write to a market. This doesn't mean picking out the publisher whom
you are going to next inflict with your misunderstood masterpiece. It means
understanding what the publisher and the publisher's readers want, and
supplying it. This is perhaps the hardest aspect to appreciate because it
brings art and commerce into conflict. As a professional you must be able to
precisely identify the unique demands of a market. A professional doesn't
groan about the limits of a market, but accepts the challenge of writing the
best work they can within those limitations.
- Act like a professional. Keep to deadlines, keep promises and
appointments, return phone calls. Send letters of acknowledgment. The days
of the temperamental artiste are long gone.
- Never wait for inspiration. The quickest way around writer's block is to
sit down and write, even if it's terrible. Once you get started, inspiration
will come. You just don't have time - that deadline is looming; regardless
of whether it is your deadline, or your editor's. While you're waiting for
inspiration, the publisher is going to buy work off another writer who can
deliver on time, as promised.
- Have long and short term objectives. These keep a business focused and
directs effort. Without them, a business would be just a lot of energy sent
out in hundreds of meaningless directions. What are you planning on
happening in the next year?
- Present your work professionally. This doesn't mean you must have an
official letterhead and the latest technology in printers, but it does mean
that nothing but perfect is good enough. Don't settle for a hand-correction
... reprint the page. Don't fool yourself into thinking that just because
you were never taught to type you can be excused for sloppy typing
practices. This is your profession, your vocation. It is your responsibility
to go out and find out about these things. Aim to constantly improve the
appearance of your printed page.
- Hone your craft. There are a myriad aspects to the craft of writing, from
the technicalities of grammar, to the artistic aspects of plot, character,
etc., to the hard core commerce of the publishing industry. Gradually
learning more about all of them will help you become a more professional
writer. Likewise, you can explore the artistic history of the profession -
the great classics, biographies of writers, and so on.
- Keep an open mind. You will never know everything. You will never come
close to knowing everything. Even when you are considered a successful
professional in the eyes of others, there will still be gaps in your
knowledge and skills that you may not even be aware of. If you close your
mind by deciding that you have learnt all there is to know you will never
fill those gaps. You will stop growing and stop improving. Don't limit your
learning to acknowledged and approved sources. Teachers come in the
strangest shape and form, and often you don't recognise them as such until
the lesson has been taught...
Copyright © Tracy Cooper-Posey, 1995
(First appeared in West Write, 1995)