Today I had the opportunity to participate in the Panel of Possibility for my local group of National Writing Project fellows.
It was only three years ago that I was sitting in their seats, squirming in the overly air-conditioned room. And squirming because I always squirm when I have to sit still for too long.
They've spent six weeks together, writing, laughing, getting scolded for whispering and passing notes (or was that just me?) and learning how to be better writing instructors for their students.
"Live like a writer" was something that we bandied about when I was a member of the Writer's Institute, but what does that even mean? Being open to inspiration? Taking time to write each day? Being willing to forgo sleep, laundry, bathing to get the words on the page just-right?
My job today was to talk about my path to publication and the opportunities that are available to them post-Institute.
In. Ten. Minutes.
Clearly this wasn't going to be comprehensive. Or even more than puddle-deep coverage. And I had some extra incentives to keep it concise: I brought the twins with me and knew at any moment they could morph from adorable angels to adorable imps.
Even in a snack-sized serving, I wanted to make sure my talk was helpful. So I brought a handout. I love a good handout, don't you? I love a bad handout, too, because then if the speaker is boring, he or she has provided me with the prefect space for doodling or writing notes—which will hopefully keep me from getting scolded for whispering.
In ten minutes – or 8 steps, here are my suggestions for pushing your writing further:
1) Write. Make it a habit. Do it daily. Don't make excuses or allowances for anything that comes between you and putting words on the page. If you're not doing this, the rest doesn't matter.
2) Critique Groups – Writing isn't finished when you type the end. Give yourself a pat on the back, take a break, bathe, then revise. When you've finished revising, revise again. Repeat. When the idea of reading your own words one more time makes you want to vomit, it's time to borrow someone else's eyes and judgment. Joining a critique group or finding a critique partner is invaluable. Take your time to find the right fit – not everyone's opinion, writing or critiquing style will be a match for your own.
3) SCBWI – (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) consider joining a professional organization. They do a great job of hosting local and national conferences. Their newsletters and website are full of great information.
4) Conferences – SCBWI mentioned above, but there are many others. Look around online to find one that meets your needs.
5) Online support – A virtual cheering squad, a place to find answers, and to learn from others' journeys. A few to get you started: Verla Kay Blue Boards, Absolute Write Water Cooler, Query Tracker
6) Educate yourself – if you decide to take the next step and pursue publication, take the time to do your research. Nothing burns bridges with potential agents or editors faster than committing a faux pas that could've been prevented with a quick google. I recommend following a variety of industry blogs.
7) Get involved with the literary community – go to author signings and book events. Reach book festivals in the closest towns and cities. Get on the local school's visiting author committee and look for other ways to bring authors into your classroom or community (check out: http://www.katemessner.com/authors-who-skype-with-classes-book-clubs-for-free/ )
8) Read. Often. Widely. Prolifically. "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." – Stephen King.
Which step resonates the most with you? What other advice would you give writers who are considering commencing a path to publication?