“How’d you get started with your writing? And how’d you get published?”
I finally decided to blog about my writing detour since I’ve been asked these questions so many times.
A lot of people write, so I’m not unusual in that regard. A lot of people get published, so I’m not unusual there either. I am a little unusual, however, in that I’ve been published sans a degree in English or journalism and without initially knowing anyone in the writing industry.
Getting published is challenging enough with a degree and with connections, so, without either one, how’d it come about?
God’s been all over it, of course, but that’s not what people are asking about. Most of us know we don’t accomplish anything without him by our side. The fact is, though, for writing and publication to happen, we have to be all over it too.
I never intended to be a writer. I intended to open my own counseling practice. It wasn’t until a friend talked me out of my plan that I changed direction. She said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit all day in an office and listen to others’ problems.”
Here’s what she didn’t say, but probably wanted to, “You have enough problems of your own. Don’t be a counselor.”
Around that same time, two things were going on.
The first: I was studying Experiencing God, a Bible study about paying attention to where God’s working in our lives.
The second: It didn’t matter where I was, who I was talking with, or what we were talking about, family, friends, and strangers would out-of-the-blue say, “You should write about that.”
So, I did.
I wrote a book about raising teenagers. I was sure readers wanted to get their hands on a poorly written account of drama, bragging, and preaching. I didn’t get ahold of my writing or myself until a neighbor volunteered to read the 100-page manuscript. She returned it with tire marks on the pages because the day she picked it up, she drove off with it on the back of her car and it blew all over the highway. She handed it to me, apologized about the dirty pages, and said, “I let a writer friend look over it. She said you might want to swim in a pool before you try the ocean. You know, maybe write for magazines and newspapers before you try for a book, but I really like the quotes you included.”
In that moment, I felt determined to learn the craft of writing. I thought, “I’ll show her.”
The problem is, it’s a long, laborious process to proving someone wrong when it comes to writing right. Or should that read “writing well”? Anyway, it took time, but I eventually progressed from misguided motivation and showed up to do what I thought God had in mind all along. He flung open the doors. I’ve written hundreds of articles and blog posts that have been published in dozens of local, regional, and national publications. I’ve also had the opportunity to ghostwrite for local, regional, and international personalities.
Your story will be different, but all writing requires much of the same footwork. Hopefully this encourages you to show up and do the hard (and very rewarding) work of writing for yourself, for God, and for readers who need to hear your stories.
Here’s a little about my story and some bullet points to go along with it.
I drove to Greenville, S.C. to attend my first writing workshop about writing and illustrating children’s books. I had written a book for children some years earlier as part of an assignment for a counseling class. Since a friend took the time to forward the information about the event, I imagined it was a sign that the book would arouse attention. Instead of a book contract, I ended up with a flyer about classes on newspaper and magazine writing (you know, poolside writing before the ocean). The instructor was an editor in Greenville who had written for major publications like the New York Times.
For six weeks, I drove four and a half hours one-way to learn how to write right. The editor/instructor announced she needed freelance writers for three regional newspapers. When she didn’t publish me before Christmas, I signed up for six more classes. The second time around, not only did she publish my first article, she assigned me a column in all three papers, and hooked me up with other publications in Upstate S.C.
“There are two kinds of writers – writers who are bad and writers who keep learning,” she said. Here’s a list of things I do to avoid falling prey to “bad writer.”
- Attend classes, conferences, and workshops. Last year, I returned to Greenville for another six-week class.
- Find a mentor. I paid for critiques, as well as insider tips about being accepted by publications like LifeWay, from a well-known writer who presented at a conference I attended.
- Blog regularly. Okay, so I blog irregularly, but do as I say.
- Sign up for writing sites that post jobs daily. Continue to submit writing samples and clips for assignments that fit my writing style and my interests.
- Familiarize myself with magazines and submit writing samples for publication.
- Read inspirational books like The Artist’s Way and informational ones like The Associated Press Stylebook. Read blogs about writing, social networking, marketing, and sound business practices by people like Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, Steve Laube, and Edie Melson.
- Connect with other writers, mostly online and in critique groups, but also in local networking groups, workshops, and at conferences.
- Drive to Wilmington, N.C. to meet with a critique group for information, improvement, and encouragement. I cherish, instead of challenge, their feedback, then I return home and edit. My editor/instructor reminded us again and again, “Writing is rewriting.”
- Write and submit stories. Sounds obvious, right? I can’t tell you how many writer friends I talk with who either aren’t writing or have never submitted a story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I was a writer when I wasn’t writing.
- I sometimes drag myself out of my comfort zone and write something that makes me uncomfortable.
Are you up for an encounter with writing?
WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – If so, get ready for a beautiful, frustrating, gratifying, scary, procrastinating, delightful, angering, exhilarating, disheartening, uplifting, and life-changing experience that I wouldn’t trade for any other career. I’d love to hear about your experience on paper.
On the side: A great read about writing right, The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers by Jeff Goins.