The Five Stages of Grief: Advice to My Creative Writing Class
How to Be Published In 5 Simple (But Not Always Easy) Steps
Step 1: Lay the Foundation
- Immerse yourself. If you’re a writer, you need to read. All the time. If you’re a poet, read every poet you can find. If you’re a game writer, play every game you can. If you’re a dramatist, go to plays, watch movies, soak up good television, you name it. Popular stuff, obscure stuff, critical hits and fan favorites – dive into it all.
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself. If you want to write sci-fi, it’s great to read all the sci-fi you can find, but don’t stop there. Nothing’s more boring than a genre writer who doesn’t read anything outside their genre. It seriously limits your perspective.
- For that matter, don’t turn up your nose at other mediums. Be able to appreciate a good poem, a good movie, a good book and a good game for what they are, even if they aren’t usually your thing. You never know where a good idea might come from.
- Read criticism in your field – if you want to make games, read game review magazines. If you write fiction or poetry, go to writer’s workshops and listen to critiques. It’s important to see how people discuss your field and what they look for.
- Research! If you’re working with sci-fi or the paranormal, it needs to be grounded in realistic details. Even in a fantasy world, you still need to know how armor and weapons work; sci-fi that is theoretically possible has a much different feel than making stuff up and mumbling something about “science-y” stuff to justify it.
- Outline/prepare whenever possible. After the initial rush of inspiration, outlining helps you keep your momentum. It also keeps you from spinning your wheels.
Step 2: Write, Write Write
- Write 250 new words a day, five days a week. (I recommend Sunday-Thursday). That’s one double-spaced page per day, give or take, and takes no more than 30-45 minutes if you just sit down and do it with no TV, internet chat or other distractions.
- Incidentally, at this pace you’ll have a novel length manuscript in about three or four months. Think about it. A little less than an hour a day, with weekends off, will give you a novel in less than half a year or so. Seriously – what’s stopping you?
- Have an idea how long you want a piece to be, and budget your word count. Give yourself a set amount of words for each scene. Even if you don’t know how long the total work will be, set goals for the next section – “this chapter will be 4K.” That keeps you honest and prevents chapters from just going on and on with no focus.
- Writer’s block IS. NOT. REAL. It assumes that inspiration is some sort of magic force that comes and goes, totally beyond your control. Sometimes inspiration does strike out of the blue, but serious writers know it mostly comes from having a routine and getting used to writing on a regular basis. You don’t find inspiration – you create it.
- Just keep writing. Even if it’s total crap, don’t stop writing. You can always edit or delete later, but the longer you stop the tougher it will be to restart. This is why a lot of writers have so many abandoned projects – they start strong, run out of that initial burst of inspiration, get discouraged and never come back. Don’t stop writing.
- If you go off schedule, if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Just keep writing.
Stage 3: Revise, Edit, Repeat
- Don’t edit while you write. I mean, if you spot something, fix it, but don’t try to do serious edits while you’re still writing. Don’t get stuck; make a note and move on.
- Let’s be perfectly clear: Your first draft is rarely perfect. For serious projects, most authors go through at least five or six drafts, and some do twice that (or more).
- Be advised that authors are poor editors of their own work, beyond basic spelling and grammar. Yousee what you meant to say; another pair of eyes will see what’s there.
- Have you work edited by at least one person who has training in the craft. Make sure they know that you’re looking for a serious edit, and compensate them for their efforts. If it’s a professional, shop around and make sure their rates are fair, and make sure they have credentials and/or author testimonials. Good edits are worth it.
- Polish, polish, polish! Submissions with a lot of errors are far less likely to be accepted. It shows a lack of professionalism and sometimes even a lack of respect.
Stage 4: Publishing & Agents
- Research your market! Don’t submit to a magazine you’ve never read, or a publisher whose books are poor quality or badly reviewed. Make sure agents are looking for the type of material you’re submitting, and if possible see their other clients/books.
- NEVER pay “reading fees” or other upfront costs. They’re almost always a scam.
- A handy reference for finding all kinds of publishing markets: http://www.duotrope.com
- Before contacting agents, make sure your work is finished and polished. Agents don’t want to hear “I have this sweet idea for a book” or “It’s mostly finished, kinda, but if you sell a publisher on it I’ll totally finish it, I promise!” When you’re an unknown author, it’s hard enough to sell a finished product, let alone an idea or partial draft.
- Whether it’s for agents or publishers, always their read submission guidelines AND FOLLOW THEM. Submissions that don’t follow guidelines are deleted unread!
- A handy reference for finding agents: http://www.agentquery.com
- Agent query letters are as important as your manuscript. TRUTH. Study up on good query letters, and make sure to tailor each query to an individual agent’s requests.
- Read your contracts CAREFULLY. If you don’t know contracts, get help from someone who does. Make sure your rights are protected, that you aren’t getting abused on payment and that you know what you owe – and are owed – and when.
- Always get some form of compensation, whether it’s money, free copies or whatnot. If you choose to do a project knowing you won’t get compensated, that’s your prerogative, but don’t accept getting nothing if you were promised something. Your time and your talent are valuable, never forget that. And never let anyone else either.
- Always be polite, prompt, concise and professional. Make sure your emails have correct spelling and grammar, and use formal language and salutations. If you make a mistake or give offense, just acknowledge it, apologize, and fix it. Manners matter.
Stage 5: Moving Forward
- Don’t quit. There is literally nothing like seeing your work in print (or ebook). Truly.