(Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - Accent Press - p/b and ebook)
It’s not unusual for people meeting
famous writers they admire to say afterwards something like, ‘He/ she was so ordinary!’
Now, whether there was a suspicion beforehand that said famed author might have a spare head tucked under their arm, or a silicon chip in place of a brain, I’m never sure. Ten to one it means the author was found to be surprisingly genial and down-to-earth, rather than so far up themselves light couldn’t penetrate the surrounding darkness.
Ego – or lack of one – aside, it helps to reflect that successful writers (and how you measure success depends on you) are, for the most part, ordinary people. They breath the same as everyone else, they survive the same daily rigours of life and, as my sainted old dad used to say about VIPs, they have to get out of the bath for a pee, the same as the rest of us.
So what’s so special, then, that gets these other people published?
Let’s ignore for the sake of our blood pressure, the celebrity writer. It’s a fact of modern life, and pointless getting too worked up about people cashing in – or being shown how to cash in on their supposed fame by a smart agent/PR expert. It’s like saying, ‘If only I’d been born taller/thinner/blonder/smarter/faster than I am.’ (tick whichever is applicable).
It didn’t happen, so suck it up.
(Actually, if I may confess a childhood wish here, I always wanted to be 6’2” tall. Don’t ask me why – well, okay, I’ll tell you why: my fictional hero, Simon ‘The Saint’ Templar was that height, so I figured, why not? Of course it was nonsense; but when you’re only eight years old and 3’ 6” on a bucket, it’s allowed. Did I hang like a bat from doorways in the vain hope that I’d stretch a bit? I tried it once, but succeeded in ripping the beading off the doorframe. The resultant lecture from my father convinced me that there are only certain things you can change. And ruining a perfectly good doorframe wasn’t going to work.
In other words, you have to make the most of what you’ve got.
In writing, success in getting published is usually down to luck, hard work, persistence and producing what the market wants. But it also needs a hefty measure of self-belief.
I know a couple of people who will never drive a car as long as there are spots in front of their eyes. It’s not because they’re dim-witted or have the coordination of a mud puddle; it’s because they simply don’t believe they can do it. Yet those same two people do all manner of other things in life without a second thought, purely because in their subconscious, they think – or assume – they can. No doubts, no lingering fears – they get on with it.
Looking up at successful authors and thinking ‘I couldn’t do that’, can prove a real problem for some people. Lump on top of that all the other fears and self-doubts we’re prone to from time to time, and it might become almost insurmountable.
But there are certain things you can do to put yourself in the right ballpark.
Write for the market. Recognising that there are things you can write which will probably never be published is one thing. In other words, produce what the market wants, thereby getting your foot on the ladder and building a track record. If, once you’re there, you want to take a punt on writing something outside the mainstream, that’s your choice. But you have to get your foot in the door first.
Be professional in your attitude and approach. Mavericks who write in green ink on both sides of the paper, then insist on phoning an editor the day after posting the manuscript to see if they’ve syndicated the idea around the English-speaking world without telling the author, are prone to disappointment. And yes, they do exist. Freelance writing is like any other job: treat it seriously and professionally, and the approach will usually be reciprocated. It still doesn’t guarantee publication, but at least you’ll be closer than otherwise. The alternative is like turning up for the office party wearing a creepy smile and a suit made of cling-film; it won’t get you asked back.
Be prepared to write to order. Most writers try all manner of things along the way, be it poetry, short fiction, articles, comedy material or books. Much of it is to find out what they can or cannot do; others do it because they like to vary their output.
Don’t be precious. Be prepared to accept criticism. Yes, it’s your baby and you’ve spilled blood getting every creative word on paper. But if an editor says they want changes, be prepared to consider it and, if reasonable, do it. It might be the only chance you get.
Keep writing. Writing one story and sitting back to wait for results is a sure-fire way of getting old and disappointed. Write another, then another. Submit them and if they come back, review them and send them out to someone else. Activity breeds results and inspires more ideas.
Assume that everything is possible. Don’t even give a moment’s thought to doubt – or doubters. Nobody can guarantee you success, no more than added height, brains or beauty. But neither should you promote obstacles for yourself by thinking ‘I can’t do that.’
TOP TIPS· Be professional – turn in the best work you can.
· Don’t try to cut corners.
· Don’t be precious about your work - be prepared to make changes if asked.
· Study the market and follow any guidelines.