Ideas

Today I had a meeting with the Idea Team of the church newsletter I write for. We took our theme and brainstormed. It was fun to take a strand of thought and turn it something creative and potentially usable. Our minds were stimulated by the exchange, allowing the ideas to flow freely. We walked away with at least 20 ways to use that one theme for the next issue.

It would be nice if all our ideas flowed so easily. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with something to write. To help me in my creativity, I start looking at the world around me.

Depending where I am at the time I write, I try to see my surroundings through the eyes of my audience. If I’m writing for children, I try to see things from their perspective. If I’m at the park, I may think about how kids play together or what conversation a six year old would have with a new child at the swings. If I’m writing for adults, I may consider what people do with their time while they wait for a doctor’s visit.

Keeping a notebook is an easy way to keep track of ideas. I try to have several available at different places so I can have paper and pen handy for that stray idea that comes charging out at unexpected times.

Overheard conversations are great idea makers. I don’t like to easedrop, but there are occasions, like in the line of the supermarket, or waiting for the kids to get out of school, where conversations can’t help but be listened to. Something funny someone said, or the telling of a situation, could be great fuel for the creative process.

Use an index card holder to keep track of your written ideas or to paste cut-out pictures on 3 x 5 cards. When you need something to write about, randomly pull out a picture or one of your notes and start writing.

Ideas are all around us. Take some time to sit or take a walk and observe. The brain should start generating some ideas soon.

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Setting Short Term Goals

As a beginning writer it’s important to set short term goals. This way you can ease yourself into a writing routine. Start out by setting aside ten minutes each day to write. Try to set that ten minutes for the same time each day. After two weeks increase the time to twenty minutes. Continue this pattern until you have developed the writing schedule that works best for you.

If you cannot continuously write for long periods of time, break it up into different segments throughout the day. The point is to comfortably build in and build up your daily writing time.

Next, start developing your publishing credits. We already discussed Writers’ Guides in To Market, To Market. Look into the Magazine section of your guide and start noting the ones you’d like to submit to. Study their guidelines, and then set a goal to write one article every two weeks. Then send out your articles!

Taking short, easy steps will give you the discipline you need to develop your writing routine. Looking at your goals in small segments will allow you to gain the confidence you need to pursue publication.

Signed

I finally signed my first children’s book contract. What an exciting feeling! I almost don’t believe it’s happened. One of the dreams of a writer is to be published anywhere. But to get a book contract–well, it’s amazing.

Some people may say I’m lucky because I caught the attention of a publisher and now a book is under way. I don’t call it luck. I call it Providential. Nothing in life is by accident or luck. God knew from the beginning of time that I would come along in this time period and that I would eventually become a writer.

Yes, I had to put in the hard work of studying and researching how to put my thoughts and ideas onto paper, but it was God who gave me the ability to learn. He is the one Who I trusted to direct my paths.

So, I thank God that He has allowed me to write, and I thank Him that on April 2, 2008 I signed my first book contract. Hopefully, it won’t be my last.

To Market, To Market

You’ve worked hard developing your writing skills, including learning how to properly format your manuscripts. Your critique group has given the thumbs up on some of your articles or short stories. The next step: try to market your work. But who do you submit to?

There are many resources to help you find the right market. Depending on your genre(s) of choice, there is probably a writer’s market guide for that type of writing. For example, I write for both the children’s and adult’s market, so I use the “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market” and the “Writer’s Market” guides. I also write for the Christian market, so I have the “Christian Writer’s Market Guide”.

Most bookstores carry several different writer’s guides. Peruse one before you buy to find the best one that suits your needs and seems to be easy to use. Make sure you buy for the current year. The market changes often, and you want to be as up to date as possible.

With internet access you may wonder why it is even necessary to buy a market guide. Granted you can find a lot of publishing information online, but a market guide has done that labor intensive work for you. You just need to pick which publisher seems to match your interests. Make sure, though, that you check that publisher’s website to double check their current needs.

Most market guides will give you tips on how to get published, or how to keep good records. They will usually list terms used in the business, and will list conferences and contests that are forthcoming. Costs start at $18 (online) up to over $30. The newest editions come out in the latter months of the previous year or early in the current year. Try to buy around these times to get the most for your money.

“Writer’s Market” is now available online. Although it is a good source, I find it a little hard to work with. I like the freedom of being able to pull my book off the shelf and peruse and insert sticky notes or write comments in the margin. It takes a long time to look through the online list, and you can’t just “flip” to look through a particular group of books. The value of the online version is that you have the most current information as it comes in. Since it is still relatively new, I’m sure they will improve search features as time goes on.

If funds are really tight and you can’t afford the most current guide, buy an older version from a thrift store, used bookstore, or at the library’s book sales. You can use the information to give you some names of publishers, but you will have to check the websites for accurate information (new editors, change of address, current needs, etc.). You will also miss out on any new publishers that have been added to the current issue, or you may find that the publisher you were interested in is no longer in business.

A market guide is a valuable tool if you are serious about getting published. Study it and then start sending out those submissions!

Finding Time to Write

In order to improve a skill, one needs to make an investment of time. A good writer doesn’t just happen. You must dedicate a certain amount of time to develop your storytelling skills because even if you write non-fiction, you are still trying to deliver a message. But with such busy lives, how do you find the time? If you are really serious about writing, you will have to make the time.

When I first began to write seriously, I was homeschooling three of my four children. Besides teaching them for several hours a day, I still had to feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner (with all their preparations and clean up), plus do all the household chores. My husband needed attention, too, when he got home from work, so I didn’t have a whole lot of spare time.

Yet it was during that period that I was very productive. I wrote newsletter articles, inspirational pieces, and short stories. I wrote late at night or when the kids were playing in the yard. I sometimes would awaken early in the morning with an idea and jot it down on a pad of paper to develop later on.

It was easier to write during the summer when we had no school, but often I was watching my friend’s three kids during the day as well. I had more time to write, but I also had an increased noise level with seven kids running around. Eventually I learned to tune out the unnecessary sounds so I could keep my train of thought while I wrote.

Making the time to write was a necessity and a joy. I knew I needed to put my stories down on paper, and it was exciting to do so. Instead of looking at my schedule with a sigh, I tried to look at it with optimism and creativity in order to fit in those moments to write.

It is not impossible to find time to write. Be creative. Be diligent. Use every spare minute possible. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you make those minutes count.

Illusion vs. Reality

Do you have dreams of sending out your first manuscript and having it instantly picked up by the first publisher you send it to and then selling a zillion copies? To be honest, I think most writers have that thought hidden in the back of their heads. But that is just an illusion. The reality is that you will probably see more rejection letters than acceptances.

Writing is hard work. It takes time and dedication to hone your craft. You will receive rejections, but look at it as one step closer to success.

Sometimes you need to start out small in order to build up to bigger successes. Try writing short pieces for a newsletter. Enter a short story contest. As you gain confidence, branch out into online magazines and then into regular magazines.  Do all you can to gather writing experience.

Keep working on your skills, too. Listen to the tips of your critique group. Take a course online or at your local community college. Go to a writers’ conference.

That million dollar contract may be out of reach, but with hard work, dedication, and commitment, your writing career will start to become a reality.

Formatting

Before you send out articles or manuscripts, you need to know the proper way to format or present your work. With the stiff competition in this field, you do not need a badly formatted manuscript to ruin your chances of success. Writer’s guides often give some specific tips that will help, but it’s better if you can see an actual working model.

One book that I highly recommend is “Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript” by Cynthia Laufenberg. This is an excellent book that discusses topics such as cover and query letters, the structure of a book proposal, and the proper formatting of your novel. You will see sample pages which includes what margins to set, how you should set your title, and so forth. This book is a must for any writer’s library.

It’s important to do your homework. You don’t want the manuscript you spent countless hours on to end up in the trash can without a second glance just because you didn’t take the time to make your work look its best.