Like A.J., I begin 2010 feeling optimistic about my writing and about the publishing market in general. Yes, I know that things have been doom and gloom in the writing business for some time now. But the economy is on the upswing, publishers that have been tightening their belts for the past year and a half will soon find themselves hungry for new books to publish, and Kindles, Nooks, and electronic readers of all other sorts are going to sell in greater and greater numbers and they’re going to need content. That’s my opinion, anyway, based on pretty much nothing except my own thoughts and hopes. And so I believe that this is a great time for aspiring writers to start looking at how they can advance their careers.
With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to offer a few suggestions of things you can resolve to do in this new year to reach your publishing goals. Not all of these are for everyone, but wherever you might be in your writing development, there should be something in this list that you’ll find helpful.
1. Let’s start with the obvious. That novel that you’ve been kicking around for the past few years, working and reworking, but never quite finishing? This is the year you finish it. Set a firm deadline — a realistic one; as A.J. says, unrealistic goals will derail the best of intentions — and make yourself meet it. Yes, it’s true that you can harm a book or story by rushing it. But you can do just as much damage by overworking it. At some point you need to complete the project and either try to sell it or move on to something new. This is the year.
2. Start a new book. As I say, sometimes you can overwork a novel, and so even if you don’t think you can finish that old project this year, it might be time to try writing something different, to focus your creative efforts elsewhere for a while. Who knows? You might fall in love with a whole new cast of characters.
3. Write a short story. Or two. Or more. You can approach this one a number of ways. As I’ve written here at MW before, writing short fiction is a great way to reinforce your worldbuilding or character development. It allows you to play with voice and to get to know your world or characters better. But this doesn’t mean that whatever short pieces you write have to be connected to your novel. Sometimes the creative distance I mentioned above can come from taking a short break and working on a story. The important thing, in my opinion, is to try writing to a different length. Selling a short story can be a great way to break into the business. That first professional sale can often convince an agent or editor to take a chance on you even if you don’t yet have a published novel. And even if you don’t sell the story, writing a short piece can teach you things about the craft of writing that you can’t learn from writing novels.
4. Along those lines, if you’ve never submitted work before, this is the year to do it. Maybe you can send a cover letter to an agent, with three chapters ready to go out when he calls to say he’s interested in representing you. Or maybe it’s time to send something to that publishing house you’ve always dreamed of writing for. Or maybe you have a short story that’s ready to go out to a magazine or journal. Whatever it is, it’s time to put the fear aside and give it a try. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be successful. But I can guarantee that as long as your work stays in a drawer, it’ll never be published.
5. Okay, maybe you’re reading this and thinking that none of this stuff applies to you. You don’t have a novel to finish, you’re not interested in writing a short story, and you’re certainly not ready to submit anything to anyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t make this a year of advancement. It might be time for you to find or even start a crit group. Working with other writers who are at your career level, or even a bit ahead or behind where you are, can be enormously helpful. You can help each other with writing issues, and also support each other as you start to think about where to take your work next.
6. Or maybe you should consider attending a writers’ workshop. This can cost a bit of money, but if you’re serious about writing it can be a worthwhile investment. Even a workshop that lasts only a weekend can offer lots, including a critique of your work by a professional writer, editor, or agent, opportunities to attend instructional sessions taught by professionals, and, perhaps most important, chances to meet and chat with these same professionals in a relaxed setting.
7. Another way to meet agents, editors, and writers is to attend professional conventions — Romance Writers of America, World Fantasy Convention, World Science Fiction Convention, Romance Times Booklovers Convention, Mystery Writers of America. As we’ve said before on this site, attending these conventions costs some money, but offers you the chance to meet the people who might prove instrumental in getting your work published.
8. Here’s an idea that might not lead to a sale, but just might give you that boost of confidence that you need to get started again. Go find something that you wrote years ago. Maybe it’s something you put away, vowing never to look at it again; or maybe you had every intention of going back to it but got sidetracked. Pull it out and read it. You might find that the distance from it has given you a fresh perspective and you’re ready to tackle it again. You might find that it’s way better than you remembered and is much closer to being ready than you thought. Or you might find that it’s laughably bad, that you’re so much better than you were then that you can hardly believe it. In any case, you’re bound to get a lift from reading it.
9. Share something you’ve written with a friend or loved one who’s never read your work before. Sometimes the first step toward submitting a work to a publisher is trusting yourself enough to show it to someone you know.
10. Set a new weekly or daily writing goal for yourself. If you’ve been writing 500 words a day, try to get yourself to 750. 7,000 words a week? Shoot for 9,000. Or if you’re not concerned about word counts, but you are bothered by some of your writing habits — like those words you use again and again when you know you should be reaching for a new way of saying things, do writing exercises to rid yourself of the habits. I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years and I begin every day knowing that I can be better at my craft than I was the day before. That challenge alone is enough to keep me going day after day. I believe that if I keep pushing myself to improve, the business side of things will take care of itself.
Whatever you do — be it something from this list, or something that you come up with on your own, commit yourself to it and make it happen. Make 2010 a writing year to remember. And we here at MW will do our best to stay with you every step of the way.David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net