Questions for Aspiring Writers
1. The advice you always hear for writers is, "Write about what you know". Do you agree with that?
Absolutely! Lots of times students say to me, "I don't know what to write about. I can't write about my town because nothing interesting ever happens here." What I tell them then is this: "If nothing happens in your town, then make something happen through your words. Writing fiction is the imagination at work. Let it fly." If all you see every day are cows, then make up a story about cows that can fly or talk or sing. If all you see are tall buildings and cement, then create a world of trees and beauty, create characters that can see beyond the concrete. Writing comes from personal experience or research. What you can't imagine on your own must be supplemented by research to make it believable. For example, before you write a story about a trip to Mars, make sure you know everything there is to know about Mars so your story, even though it is fictional, is based on truth and facts.
2. How do I know if I'm a writer?
If your gut tells you that you have to write, if you are compelled to write or scribble or draw, if you make up stories in your head-then you are a writer. Enjoy it!
3. What should I do now if I think I want to be a writer when I grow up?
The best way to become a writer is to write. I know it sounds simplistic, but it's true. Get yourself one of those blank journals, and just keep on writing until you fill it up! Then write some more. You don't have to show it to anyone--just write whenever you feel inspired. It's like an athlete. Much practice is done alone. At game time, you shine. Game time for a writing athlete is papers due for school, or short stories, or poetry.
4. Why should a writer be a good reader?
Read everything you can get your hands on. That's how you get ideas into your brain. Read the classics--all those old writers that your school requires for college. Faulkner, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens--all of them. Read poetry--the rhythms are essential to good writing--Keats, Dunbar, Hughes, Byron--all of them. Good writers are powerful motivators. Read bad writers as well--they'll show you what not to do. Then write, write, write. Practice, revise, make it perfect, then do it again. Most of my books go through ten, twelve, maybe even fifteen or twenty complete edits before they are finished, and I still wish I had perfected them a little more. Many times young writers are too anxious to get published, and not willing to do the necessary reading and studying to become really proficient at the art and skill of writing. An Olympic athlete starts by running laps with no audience at all. A true champion knows the power of practice.
5. What are your keys to success for aspiring writers to grasp?
- PATIENCE. It takes me six months to write a book, six months for the editing process, and another year before it hits the bookstores.
- DETERMINATION. It is essential to believe in the possibility of success.
- FLEXIBILITY. Willingness to make changes to a manuscript you think is perfect. Willingness to look at an idea from a different perspective.
- DISCIPLINE. Forcing yourself to meet deadlines, whether personal (I'll write one chapter today) or professional (your manuscript is due Friday.)
6. How do I get published?
Please, never ask a writer to help you get published. A writer's job is very different from a publisher. I have no hookups in the publishing world. I have to get permission from editors to get my work published like everyone else. It is your job to find a publisher when you are ready for that. I'm a writer, not a publisher. What I would suggest is this: First, find places online that will publish student writing poetry. There are many fine sites that offer feedback from other teens. Be careful, however. NEVER send any money to these sites. I always tell students, "IF THEY MAKE YOU PAY, RUN AWAY." Those sites that ask for money are not looking out for you, but for themselves. My second suggestion is to look into colleges that let you major in creative writing. There are even writing scholarships available, just like football scholarships. My daughter went to college on a dance scholarship--almost free. My final suggestion is that you keep on writing. I keep a notebook with me and anytime I think of something wonderful, I write it down.
7. What if I REALLY think I'm ready to get published?
Find a copy of the book called Writer's Market. It lists all the publishing houses in the US and divides them by category. It tells you who to send your manuscript to, how much to send, how to word your cover letter--everything--including the name and address of the editor in charge. It also lets you know which houses are accepting unsolicited manuscripts and which are not. That's what I used. I sent my manuscript to 25 companies (of the thousands listed in that book) and got 24 rejections and one yes, and that was from Simon and Schuster. That's all it takes. However, be reminded that the rejections are brutal and painfully honest, and a lot more plentiful than the acceptances.