By Bonnie Stanard
Way back in 2008, the Columbia II workshop took a moment during its meeting to write down advice we would give a person beginning to write. At that time, the Richland County Public Library had declined our request to reserve their large conference room, and we had begun a search for another place to hold our meetings (which is another story).
In giving advice, many of us took the opportunity to remind ourselves of things we already know but too often forget. My notes from that meeting include platitudes we’ve heard before but may be worth repeating.
1. Believe in the importance of your writing.
If you’re like me, you have often felt like you’re the only person in the world who cares about your writing. Discouragement is often subtle. Your well-meaning spouse tells you how to better spend your time. You get into an argument over space in your house for a desk. You can buy a new DVD player, but the budget can’t afford a writers conference.
To your friends and family, “writing” is never a good excuse. Your mother-in-law is offended if you write instead of visit. Your friends think you’re dodging them. Your neighbor suggests you’re a hermit. It’s a hard battle, and what makes it harder is that the fight is against people you love. And in the end, when you insist on your time to write, you’re made to feel selfish, as if you’re the problem.
2. Get feedback from folks who will give honest thoughts.
It’s hard to underestimate the benefit of a well-run workshop. People who write will approach your work dispassionately and are likely to give honest appraisals, since they have nothing to gain or lose. We get false readings from spouses and friends, who give us well-meaning comments that won’t offend us.
3. Spend more time with people who write and value writing.
I’ve found that as a subject of conversation, writing can’t compete with USC’s football team, golf, the latest way to cook a casserole, or where to go for a good hamburger. Not that I’m interested exclusively in writing, but the average person seems to have zero interest. Fortunately, I now have several good writer friends and I value their company.
4. Read current works in the genre in which you like to write.
If you’re a good painter, you know other painters and what they’re doing; a good banker knows other banks and what they’re charging; a good doctor knows other doctors and their treatments. A good writer knows what other writers are doing.
5. Write, write and then rewrite – every day, if possible.
We’re all busy. We hardly have time to eat or gas-up the car, so how can we find time to write? Write while waiting in line at the post office. Scribble while eating a sandwich. Spend your vacation alone with your computer. Give up cooking, gardening, and/or shopping. Let your spouse go to Waffle House for supper. Put the kids to bed with peanut butter sandwiches. Read number one again. Your writing is important.
6. Balance new writing projects with sending out submissions—both are vital.
I resent spending time with submissions, especially since 99% of them will be rejected. But as we’ve said in workshop, it’s really hard to get published if you don’t make submissions. On a positive note, making submissions is getting easier. Many journals are in the process of switching to online submissions managers.
Of all these suggestions, the most important one to me is the first one. When I lived in