(Skip directly to ten for the fastest shortcut!)
Like any field, excellent writing requires study, practice and mentorship. Very few successful authors ever published their first draft of their first work. Nearly all had to expend considerable effort to improve their craft. Here are some ways to prepare for that moment of publication. These tips also help keep you on your toes after publication for better and better writing results as your career develops.
1) Read, read, read in your field. You can never read too much when you’re trying to excel as a writer. Reading in your field helps you develop a discerning eye. You need this discerning eye for when you step back and look at your own work.
2) Cultivate role models. Know who the top-selling authors are in your field. Find out more about them. How did they get to where they are? Do searches in the Internet (available in most libraries-ask your librarian how to use a search engine) for information about particular authors whose careers you admire. Let your role models inspire rather than daunt you. There is no competition, only inspiration, potential teachers and opportunities for cooperation. That author you envy this year may be writing a blurb for your first novel next year.
3) Research your markets. If you want to publish in periodicals, whether literary fiction, journalistic writing, or anything else, realize publication standards serve a purpose other than to frustrate new authors.
4) Take classes. Many cities offer writing classes through community colleges or local writing groups. Online writing classes are popping up everywhere. If possible, choose a writing teacher who has published in a field you’d like to enter. Even better, find someone you already consider a mentor. Not every published author has what it takes to offer beginning writers what they need, but many do.
5) Join or start a writer’s group in your area. We teach best what we most need to learn. There is no better way to improve your own writing than to help others with theirs.
6) Find a writing buddy with whom to check in on a regular basis. The two of you can be each others’ inspiration, accountability market, guidepost and reality check. Having structure and someone to check in with may help you look forward to your otherwise lonely writing sessions.
7) Play with changing voices. Copy other writers you admire. How does that feel? Pretend you suddenly got an injection of creativity serum or I.Q. booster, then write like mad for ten minutes. What happens to the quality of your words? Is this a possible new direction for you? As creative and intelligent beings, we have so much more within us than we could ever dream.
8) Accept the reality of rewriting. Unlike other professions who get to rest on their milestones, for writers, a completed manuscript often represents a beginning. The best writing comes after lots of rewriting, even for seasoned authors. You needn’t throw any of it away, but not every sentence belongs in every work. Save the scraps, but don’t get attached to where they go, or the integrity of your project will suffer.
9) Get clear on what you want out of getting published. Many writers move forward without knowing where they want to wind up. As a teacher once told me, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” The answer to what you want out of getting published will help you determine the best route to take. And in publishing, those routes are many and varied. You can use our Twenty Questions as a self-help guide.
10) If what you want is to get published in the least amount of time, considering hiring a ghostwriter. An extremely common but rarely discussed practice, many successful authors talk to ghostwriters, who put their skills to work on an author’s behalf. Although some such ghostwriters get a cover credit, many do not, hence the “ghost” terminology. If you have more money than time or inclination to toil, ghostwriting may be the option for you. To learn more about ghostwriting, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.