“Good writers define reality: bad ones merely restate it.”
“Van Gogh created art whether anyone cared or not. He didn’t need recognition or the applauding approval of an audience…he didn’t need anyone to recognize his greatness. All he needed were his canvases, brushes, and paint.” As a writer, all you need is a pen and paper, or a computer and a flash drive. Do you find yourself writing what you’re passionate about or what you think will sell? Do you seek approval from others or are you writing to tell a story or to dispense advice? Do you set small goals or do you have a habit of setting large goals and becoming frustrated when you don’t get there quick enough?
Did you know bestselling author Seth Godin has received more than 900 rejection letters from book publishers? Stephen King had thirty rejections for his first novel, Carrie. It was because King’s wife urged him to continue submitting the manuscript that the book was eventually published. John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, took three years to write and was rejected twenty-eight times before being published. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, was rejected by a dozen major publishers and was only published when, as reported on WiseBread.com “…a small London publisher chose to publish it only after the CEO’s eight-year old daughter begged her father to print the book.” What do these writers have in common, apart from being bestselling authors? They set small goals along the way. They didn’t sit down and say, I must be a bestselling author, or I will not write. Rather, they sat down and started writing. They sat down and shared a well-crafted story that was dying to be put on paper. They got to work. And they kept working. They continued writing, despite the self-doubt, despite the negative self-talk, despite the naysayers and the critics. They kept writing and it paid off.
Starting small means practicing your craft. It means writing stories that will likely never be read by the general public. It means writing articles and contributing to newsletters without pay. It means attending writers workshops. It means reading constantly. It means writing every chance you get. It means blogging, joining a local writing group, volunteering to be a beta reader for a new author, writing for literary magazines, entering writing contests, submitting opinion editorials, writing book reviews. Starting small means you are ready to learn; you are ready for the journey.
Although I’d been writing my entire life, it was while hosting a fundraiser event for our non-profit organization that I met the editor of one of our local newspapers. I told him the story of how and why we founded our animal welfare organization and his eyes danced. “Do you happen to write?” He asked. I laughed and wondered why on earth this man had asked me such a question. At the time, I worked a full-time office/day job, operated the non-profit organization and I was running distance races competitively (which required regular training and traveling). When I nodded, he introduced himself and asked if I’d come downtown to the office to interview for a freelance position with the paper. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t give any thought to when I’d find the time. I knew I would find it somewhere; after all, this was an opportunity to be paid to write! About the same time, I began writing for an online news source and a second local paper. Eventually that led to local and then national magazine work. Being paid for my writing was merely a bonus. When authors came to town on book tours, I was the first to volunteer to interview them and to write the book review. I loved learning how they got their start in writing. I felt inspired placing myself near published authors. And I soaked up every word they shared with me. Several years later, when I found myself on the other side of the table, I couldn’t help but smile.
Every action we take is a building block. We are writers, so we must write. And as writers, we must seek and seize opportunities to better our craft. We must take small steps to keep moving forward. What small steps are you taking right now? Below are a few examples of small steps you can take to build to your writing life:
· Enter a writing contest
· Start a blog on a topic you’re passionate about
· Be a guest blogger
· Submit an Op Ed for a local paper
· Become a freelance writer for a local paper
· Start or join a local writing group
· Start or join a local reading club
· Leave reviews online if you like a book (e.g., support other authors)
· Attend writing seminars and workshops
· Write every day (e.g., set a word count, “I will write 1000 words each day)
· Read every day
· Tell stories
· Write short stories
· Observe the world around you, take notes (i.e., future story ideas)
· Practice writing exercises (e.g., check out Melissa Donovan’s books)
· Join a genre focused writing group or organization (e.g., Romance Writers of America)
· Volunteer to be a beta reader for other authors
· Submit article proposals to local and/or national magazines
· Contribute to a local non-profit newsletter
· Volunteer to help children learn to read/write
· Submit story proposals to literary magazines
· Participate in NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org)
· Join/participate in a non-profit writing organization (e.g., Women Writing for Change in
Cincinnati, The Op Ed Project offered nationwide)
· Finish the book you’re writing, even if you’re experiencing self-doubt.
· Try writing a story outside of your genre
· Schedule a block of daily writing time (set a schedule)
What steps are you taking to empower your writing career? What habits do you have that are holding you back? While it’s important to dream and to have big goals, it’s just as important to create small goals to get you there. The secret to pursing your writing goals (or any goal, for that matter!) is to start small. Think of small goals as steps on a ladder. You need to take each step in order to reach the top. In addition, each step will teach you something along the way.
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