Today, I had the chance to visit with a group of high school students in a creative writing class. They asked me questions about how I got started writing, my writing process, and submitting work for publication.
At the end of our time together, the teacher asked me to sum up any final words of wisdom for the students. I had three pieces of advice, which are really helpful for beginning writers of any age:
- Finish Stuff. There are millions of wanna-be writers out there with half finished manuscripts on their hard drives. Many remain in the perpetual rut of re-writing the first fifty pages of their stories. If you want to get published, first concentrate on getting to “The End.” After you have a complete draft, then you can work on polishing the story and making the writing beautiful.
- Recognize that Publishing Professionals Don’t Get Paid to Read Your Stuff. Student writers are used to turning in papers to teachers who actually get paid to read every word they have written. The grammar may be horrible, the spelling may stink, the formatting may be completely wrong. The teacher still has to read the paper and award it a grade, whether it’s an A or an F. By contrast, Agents and Editors don’t get paid to read your work. They get paid to find stories that will sell. They come to your submission looking for any excuse to stop reading, because that allows them to move through their slush pile faster. Don’t give them any stupid reasons to stop reading, like not following their posted submission guidelines.
- You’ve Got to Love It. If you are interested in writing because you think it will make you rich or famous, you are wasting your time. Very few published novelists, even best-selling authors who are household names, ever make it into that category. If you are writing because you love to write, then the time and effort will be worth it. The journey is far more important than the destination, even if you only have the chance to share that journey with a handful of delighted readers.