One of the writing assignments I had to complete recently for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing course involved doing an interview. I then had to write an article suitable for a magazine, giving it a creative angle to show the personality of the person being interviewed. All that in only 500 words.
I don’t enjoy being that restricted but I rose to the challenge. I had to be very ruthless with my word count, cutting back to the bare bones of the story. On this occasion it was my lecturer imposing the restrictions and I would have been marked down if I’d gone over the word count. Editors of magazines are just as demanding. Often they only have space for 150 or 200 words, or less. If you don’t cut the extra words, they will. Then you might find important facts missing from the final article.
Anyway, I was reasonably pleased with the end result. I managed to keep within the word count too. The lecturer gave me a distinction, so she was pleased with it as well.
I had a pleasant surprise relating to my writing last week.
An editor of a magazine sent me an email requesting that I submit an article for one of the magazines she edits. I didn’t have to go through the normal process of sending a query or submitting an article on spec and that makes it a pleasurable experience. What is more – she actually specified several topics she wanted me to consider writing about. That took out the frustration of not knowing what to write about.
After a few hours of thought I set to work and the words flowed quickly. They actually flowed a little too well, and before I knew it I had way too many words. Nearly 600 words when the limit was strictly 450 words. My wife thought that this was typical of me. “Your writing is too flowery,” she says. “Too many unnecessary words.”
So I set to and did some ruthless pruning. Much to my wife’s surprise I soon had the word count down to 447 words.
Writing Hint: when an editor specifies a maximum (or minimum) word count, you ignore that figure at your peril. That is a sure way to get rejected.
Anyway, the article was soon on its electronic way to the editor. Now – I wonder if there are any more editors out there lining up to send me similar emails??? I doubt it, though this would be nice. Truth is, the editor in this case is a friend. Never mind – it is nice to get a break like this from time to time.
Now – back to getting stories, poems and articles sent off to all those editors too busy to send me invitational emails.
I regularly receive an email newsletter about writing called “Writing World.” It often has excellent articles about writing, the writer’s life, being professional and hints and tips useful for writers.
I have kept one article written by editor Moira Allen in my inbox for several months. Here is an extract:
Writing IS a rewarding, exciting career. As long as I have to work at all, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. And becoming a freelancer offers a number of benefits that go far beyond money.
Freelancing teaches you how the writing world works — that acceptance and rejection aren’t, for example, mere whimsical events that depend on which side of the bed an editor rolled out of that morning. You learn what sells and what doesn’t, and why, and when something doesn’t sell, you learn to spend less time moaning and more time hitting the keyboard.
You learn that one can’t afford to wait for the “muse” to drop by
before you start to write — and that, even if you don’t feel the
least bit inspired, you CAN write whenever you force yourself to
sit down at that keyboard, and write well. You learn not only
how to meet deadlines but how to set your own. Over time, you
begin to build a name for yourself, and a portfolio — both of
which can be helpful when you ARE ready to start that novel.
And best of all, you see your writing skill improve, month by month
and piece by piece. In short, you learn professionalism, discipline and skill — three essential ingredients for the writing life. When you DO decide that it’s time to start following your dreams, those ingredients won’t guarantee success — but the lack of them will almost certainly guarantee failure!
[The whole article can be read here.]
Three Essential Attributes for Writers:
- Professionalism: Treat your writing seriously; if you treat it like a hobby it will always remain just that, a hobby. Treat your writing and your time as if you are going to a job in an office, school or factory.
- Discipline: This is a tough one. The more time you have available for writing, the more time you have to waste on non-productive activities. Set some firm goals – and stick to them. I set a minimum number of words per day and month as well as a minimum number of blog posts and hours devoted to my writing.
- Skill: There are three basic steps to becoming a better writer: Practice, Practice and more Practice. There is no easy way. It is hard work. Lance Armstrong didn’t get up one morning, mount his bicycle and say he was going to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times. For every kilometre he rode in the race, he practised for hundreds of kilometres in preparation.
Have you ever thought of publishing your own poetry or fiction on your blog or on the internet?
I was reading through some articles that have appeared over recent years in Southern Write, newsletter of the South Australian Writers’ Centre of which I am a longstanding member.
One article caught my attention. “Poetry and Short Stories on the Internet” written by South Australian poet Graham Catt. This article appeared in March 2003, almost exactly four years ago. He did a Google search for poetry e-zines and fiction e-zines. He found 96 entries for poetry and 114 for fiction.
Times have changed:
How the times have changed in four years. Today a similar search (using quotes around the words) returns over 1600 for poetry and 2000 for fiction. This means that there are many hundreds of potential markets for your poetry or fiction on the internet. Mind you, only a handful are paying markets, but that is the case with print magazines too.
The Poetry Kit
One useful resource mentioned by the author is still very active. It can be overpowering and time consuming getting a list of thousands of sites to check out. The beauty of The Poetry Kit site is that all the searching has been done for you.
Publishing on your blog:
I read a variety of blogs in the course of week. It surprises me that so few writers actually publish their own fiction or poetry on their blogs. I have been doing this for some time now (see the links below or go to the Contents section of the sidebar). I also have inspired and encouraged at least one person to do the same (Rick on Shards of Consciousness). I think that it is something writers should seriously consider.
- The Poetry Kit – lists of on-line and print magazines
- South Australian Writers’ Centre – I recommend belonging to a writers’ group as there are many benefits. Check out my links section for more organisations.
- Poetry blogs – some of the sites on this list may be worth checking out – I’ve only checked a handful and they looked interesting if you have the time to browse.
- My poetry – read some of my poetry
- My fiction – read some of my fiction.
There are only a few questions that are common to all people.
They are The Big Questions of Life.
Many philosophers down through the millenia have attempted to bring answers to these burning questions. Probably the most inspiring attempt was contained in the trilogy of five books written by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where he cleverly tries to answer the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Sim’ on his blog The Rhyme of Sim’ has written some learned answers to life’s perennial questions.
- I must point out that Sim’ is related to me; he is, in fact, my son.