I’ve been writing for over 30 years. The writing bug bit me when I was about 10. I was away at summer camp for two weeks and my father, a professional writer, would write to me every day. He’d tell me about the goings-on at home and ask about camp life. At night, before lights out, I’d pick up pen and paper and write back. In one letter he wrote: “Gee, you write an interesting letter. I read it last night…and liked it very much. You’re going to follow in your father’s footsteps as a writer except you’ll be so much better.” Years later—after numerous jobs—I am a professional writer, too. What took so long? Mistakes and procrastination. If I could go back in time, there are 10 things I’d tell my 10-year-old self about writing. Learn the basic mechanics of writing and grammar. Take an online or continuing education writing course and attend webinars or workshops.Observe. This is the basis of all writing. If you can’t observe the world around you, you can’t write.Tweak.

Tweak. Then tweak some more. There’s nothing worse than finding a typo after you’ve hit “Send.”Don’t kid yourself. Writing isn’t easy. It requires discipline, hard work, commitment, patience and a sense of humor.Read voraciously. Reading others’ work expands your vocabulary and makes you a better writer.Develop your own unique voice and don’t compromise your style. That’s what sets you apart.Let go of your fear of failure (or success). Don’t think about publishing, royalties, New York Times’ reviews or bestsellers. Just write.Take your craft seriously. Create a sacred space to write that’s quiet and free from interruptions.Writing is a form of self-expression. It’s a therapeutic, lifelong journey of self-discovery.Enjoy what you do. Otherwise it’s an incredible waste of time. Many barriers can stop you from being a writer. You don’t have the right mindset or good writing habits. Or maybe you need to focus on boosting…

Virginia Woolfe said that all women need a place of their own to write. Jane Austen might have disagreed, since she wrote all of her wonderful novels on a small table in the drawing room, with her family carrying on activities all around her. Your place to write should fit your needs as a writer. Think about what you need. Quiet? A door to shut? A cork board to pin up pictures and notes? A filing cabinet? A window? Nice, neat little desk accessories? Many homemakers have made do with the kitchen table, but other writers prefer a desk that doesn't have to be cleared at meal time. A few writers have even taken over a corner of the furnace room, that being the only private spot in the house that no one else had laid claim to already. Don't spend too much time arranging the "perfect" space, either, if you use its lack of perfection as an excuse not

to write ("I can't write today -- I have to find colored binder clips."). Rather, think of your space as a work in progress just as you do your writing. "Edit" your space as an ongoing project. Who has access to your writing space? Do your kids feel that your things are theirs, too, and constantly make off with your pencils, staplers, and tape? Can your domestic partner look over your shoulder and critique? Are these things okay with you, or do you need stronger limits to your space? If your writing time involves statements such as, "Okay, NOW where is the stapler?" it may be time to set aside a box or cabinet of writing supplies for your use only. No place in your house that works? How about turning a briefcase into a writing case and taking it to the library? At least you'll have unlimited research material at your fingertips! You'll also find quiet spaces where you…

So you did it. You carried your manuscript all the way to the post office, you paid for the postage, you got your SASE stamped, you sealed the envelope, and you handed your precious creation to the postal worker, who tossed it in a bin. It's on its way to the publisher. Now what? Waiting It's easy to go neurotic while you're waiting, hovering over the mailbox, hoping that today will be the day that the reply comes. Instead of obsessing, get to work directly on your next project and let the ones that are out in the world go. If you keep several projects out at once, you won't fret so much over any one of them. If you've read the submission guidelines, you should know how long of a wait to expect before you should look for a reply. If you haven't heard from the publisher in that time, you can write a polite note requesting to

know the status of your manuscript. Don't call; neither the editor nor the secretary will have the information that you need at his or her fingertips. A note will do. Rejection About 98% of all manuscripts that are submitted to a publisher are rejected. Of those, a huge proportion are simply wrong for that publisher: wrong genre, poorly written, badly submitted, or any of a number of other submission sins. Nevertheless, of the 10% or so of remaining viable submissions, only a small number can be accepted into a publisher's list. Even a very good piece of work may be rejected if it simply doesn't fit the publisher's current needs. That said, it should be plain to the writer that rejection is simply a part of the writing life. It's not personal rejection: the editors aren't rejecting you. They're only saying that they can't use one of your works right now. That still may not take the sting out of the…

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What sounds like a good idea can sometimes be a major mistake, and mistakes in submission may be merely embarassing or may be early career-wreckers. Before you make your first submission, study this list. While these may not be the most common errors, they are common enough and can be damaging. Some may waste your time and money, while others can send your submission straight to the "reject" pile, if not the trash bin! 1. Do NOT EVER pay ANYONE to "publish" your work unless you really, really want to get into the self-publishing business. If you do want to self-publish, you must read as much literature as you can on self-publishing, choose a good printer, learn about filing for copyright and getting an ISBN number, and develop a business, marketing, and distribution plan. Otherwise, remember that publishers are supposed to pay YOU for the privilege of making your work public. For more on this topic, see our article,

How not to get burned. 2. Do NOT file for copyright on manuscripts that you are submitting to publishers. U.S. copyright laws protect works of U.S. writers the moment they are put into some tangible form. If your work is accepted by a publisher, the publisher will file for official copyright on your behalf. If you file ahead of time, you're sending a clear message to the editor: "I don't trust you. I think you might steal my work." Stealing manuscripts and ideas is so rare it's not worth worrying about (read The Sobering Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript, by Tappan King to see why editors never have to steal manuscripts). Filing for copyright "just in case" can actually hurt your chances of selling the manuscript because 1) it immediately dates your work and 2) it makes for legal complications if the work is accepted. For a deeper explanation, see "Copyrights and Meteorites" by Chuck Rothman on the Science Fiction and…

Many new writers find that writing for children's magazines is a good way to break into the children's market. However, some writers -- especially writers who don't care much for reading magazines -- don't care for the magazine market and prefer writing books. While writing for magazines is never a prerequisite for writing and publishing books, it is certainly one way to break into the market, and can provide experience in working for editors. Fiction Did you like reading short stories when you were a child? Did you love getting magazines in the mail? Can you still remember some of the stories you read? If so, you might find your niche in writing short stories for magazines. Magazine fiction, like all children's fiction, needs to be lively, original, and well-grounded in the child's world. In general younger the child you are writing for, the more real the story needs to seem. Very young children like stories about the things they're

most familiar with: mealtime, bath, bedtime, going to the library, playing with friends. A story about losing a favorite toy at the grocery store and finding it again under the vegetable bins can be an exciting adventure for a toddler. A story showing another child or animals in their bedtime routine can be a soothing read for a child who is getting ready for bed. These stories may or may not be written in rhyme, but they should have a cadence and rhythm to them. If you want to write for toddlers, read magazines geared for toddlers, such as Babybug. Think about your own experiences at that age. How did you view the world? What was important to you? What were your fears? Jot down these ideas and compare your ideas to what you see in the magazines. How could you turn these ideas into short stories? Five-to-seven-year-olds are learning to read, and need stories that they can read with…

In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of book publishers, each turning out anywhere from one or two to dozens or even hundreds of books each year. Over 50,000 books are published in the U.S. annually. Yet those 50,000 books represent somewhere between 1-3% of the total number of manuscripts submitted. What, you say? Just a 1-3% chance of getting published? What is a writer to do in the face of such odds? Give up? Of course not! Cheat? Absolutely not! Send bribes? Not a chance. What the writer must do is to be smart and totally professional about submissions. Remember, writing may be an art and a craft, but it is also a business. Publishing, too, is a business, and the business of publishing is to sell books and magazines at a profit. In the eyes of the publisher, your precious manuscript is just another potential product, and the bottom line is, "Will this sell?" So how do you

find the right match between your manuscript and a publisher? Understanding what goes on at the publisher To avoid the most common and most embarassing mistakes when submitting, it helps to understand what happens to your manuscript after you put it in the mail. If it is addressed to a specific editor, it may go directly to that editor's in box, especially if it is marked "requested material." You ONLY mark it as such if it really has been requested; that is, you sent a query and the editor asked to see the manuscript. Manuscripts that are not sent to a specific editor (and many that are, depending on the publisher), go to one common storage place known as the slush pile. Hired readers or junior editors have the grand pleasure of sorting the slush until their eyes cross, stuffing unwanted material back into their self-addressed return envelopes, discarding those that did not come with self-addressed return envelopes, and occasionally,…

Scam artists make their living by telling people what they want to hear. And what unpublished writers want to hear most is, "We want to publish you." An intense desire to be published combined with lack of knowledge about the publishing industry leaves novice writers vulnerable to scam artists, from the "We'll publish your book!" vanity publisher ads in the backs of magazines to full-scale rip-off artists posing as agents. Educate yourself The best way to protect yourself against scams is to educate yourself about the publishing industry. Read the articles on this site and other legitimate author sites. Read the books we recommend that appeal to you. Be sure you are getting advice from either real authors whose books you can find in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, or real editors with major publishers: that is to say, people who are truly experts in their field because they live it every day. Find out how the industry works, find out the

rules of the road, and use the information to help you get published. Along the way you'll run into many people who will tell you that the advice we're giving here is bunk, and that they know the "real" secret to getting published. Some of these are well-meaning but naive people who may have had a bit of luck to begin with, perhaps a nibble from an agent, or a book "published" by a vanity publisher that has sold a few dozen copies. Others are professional scammers. Both can get you into trouble and cause you to waste time and money on fruitless pursuits. It's also wise to educate yourself about the scam artists that are out there. We recommend these websites: Preditors and Editors (yes, that is how they spell it, for alliterative purposes): an extensive site with information on many, many editors, agents, book doctors, publishers, and more. Writer Beware: a service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy…

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Getting an idea, once you've practiced idea generation, is the easiest part of writing. Turning the idea into a finished book -- that's the hard part! Creating a plot requires a certain amount of organization. Some writers can simply start at the beginning and write all the way to the end, but most writers find that they need some kind of organizational tool or underlying plot theory to keep their stories coherent, whether they are writing a short picture book or a long, involved novel. There are as many ways to craft a plot as there are writers, and each new project may require a different approach. While some writers of "how to write" books may insist that some particular method is the "right" method, most writers acknowledge that what works for them may not work for others. Outline or no outline? Horror writer Stephen King says that he never works from an outline. Other writers insist that good writing

can't be done without an outline. Even those writers who claim that they never use an outline may in fact have an outline in their heads, holding the structure of the plot in their imagination as they work. Not all of us have that kind of genius, and need some kind of written structure to keep our stories from wobbling out of control. By "outline" we don't necessarily mean the standard Harvard outline that we all learned in English class, with its Roman numeral headers, sub-topics, and all. While the Harvard outline can be extremely valuable in structuring nonfiction, fiction often requires something more flexible. An "outline" can be any kind of visual device that you use to organize your plot. It may be a spider-web-like mind map. It may be a series of storyboards, such as movie directors use. It may be a series of ideas written on index cards or sticky notes and stuck to a wall, where…