There are any number of list serves, blogs, and chat rooms for writers on the great WWW. Some of them are wonderful resources and places to share, while others serve no purpose save for the opportunity for struggling writers to whine about how unfair the world is to them. I tend to opt out when sites I belong to start leaning toward the latter definition.
However, after belonging to several sites and groups for a number of years, I’ve come to find some common themes emerge at different times. One list I belong to seems to cycle about every three months with a crop of new members, or members who have been lurking for a while who decide it’s time to chime in. Their posts have many similarities, and they go something like this:
“My name is Zelda, and I’ve been too shy to post before, but I just want to say that I was born to write. I’ve been writingt stories and poems since I was (3, 4, 5, pick your age), and I was active on the school (yearbook, newspaper, creative writing magazine), but then my life got in the way. Now I find I have a compelling need to get back to writing because there are so many stories in my head now that I have children of my own and I just don’t see any good children’s stories being published right now.”
I used to make an effort to comment to some of these individuals, but I’ve stopped. I get to work with a lot of highly inspired and enthusiastic new writers through the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL), and I am paid for my advice. Often times I’ve found that when I reply to new writers on line, they treat the information with skepticism, or even disdain. The ICL writers are eager to learn about writing and publishing, while many on list serves and blogs are eager to be told they’ll be making millions within a few months.
I don’t know a successful writer who didn’t start with the same love of writing, the same history of writing, and the same desire to fulfill that creative need. That’s the starting point. Then comes the work of actually writing. Then comes the work of learning that your first draft isn’t perfect nor etched in gold and revision is the bigger part of writing. Then comes the work of learning how to market your writing to the right sources. Then comes the work of learning to deal with rejections and learn from them. Writing is like a game, with rules to be followed and choices to be made.
The thing is, in the publishing world, the rules change every so often. That requires writers to be constantly on their toes, reading the journals and newsletters, attending the conferences and workshops, staying in touch with the web sites and list serves.
To be a working writer means more than sitting at a computer with a great idea churning up your creativity. The work part comes in many forms that have little or nothing to do with the craft of writing. It takes effort to learn about the markets, the publishers, submission guidelines, agents, rights, and all the other aspects that go along with being successful in the industry.
Don’t get me wrong: desire is an awesome starting point. As I said, I’ve never known a successful writer who didn’t have it. I’ve also never met a successful writer who said, “I never really had an interest in writing; it just sort of fell in my lap.”
I’ve known a lot of talented writers who believed that success should just fall into their laps. They all became quite frustrated with the work portion of writing and most of them gave up. I’ve also known some moderately talented writers who focused on the work, improved their craft, learned the markets, and began selling articles and books over time. The starting point of desire is not an indicator of success; it’s a prerequisite, but handling the real work is the real indicator.
One of the things I do love about the starting point posts I read is that they are good reminders for me of that passion that pushes me to do what I do. It’s easy to forget when you are ankle deep in rejections or revisions. Those occasional reminders are like a bellows to a wilting flame, so I am grateful for them, even if I don’t respond to them anymore.