May 8, 2013

Pssst: So You Want To Be A Writer?

By Lucy Burdette

Often when I tell someone I'm a writer, a haunted look washes over his or her face. "I've always wanted to write a book," he or she says. "Do you have any advice for how to get published?" Well, yes, after ten published novels and a pile of published short stories and articles, I do have a few suggestions. But you'll see, some of them really have to do with writing, not publishing.

1. MAKE A PLAN THAT INCLUDES LOTS OF LITTLE, MANAGEABLE GOALS: As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many pages I’ll need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I end up with a page goal for each week, and then a word goal for each day. In the morning, after I've read my email and toured my group blogs, I write until I’ve hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little ahead. If I have an unproductive day, I know I have to write a little faster later in the week to keep up.

2. HAMMER IT OUT. Get it all down, even if it's awful. You can always go back and fix things later. Anne Lamott called this “the sh***y first draft”—she had it right! I don't always know where I'm going, but as a mystery writer, I generally know who was murdered and why, and several people who might have been involved. And I know quite a bit about my sleuth, food critic Hayley Snow. But lots of points and details evolve as I type. As my pal Hallie Ephron says, just hold your nose and write.

3. SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGH: As a psychologist, I know the importance of having "big goals" for my subconscious to aim at. So I keep a copy of the NY Times bestseller list pasted up over my computer. Yep, that's where I want to be! Then I forget about it and work on the books word by word…And I'm not shy about getting help either. I've hired a professional editor in the past, and I have a writers group and several outside readers. This is a wonderful career because there's always, always room for improvement.

4. TAKE YOUR TIME: Don’t rush off too soon to try to get your work published. This business is extremely competitive so it’s crucial to have your writing polished before sending it out. The Internet makes querying and even actually publishing a book very, very easy—don’t press "send" until you’re sure the piece is the best it can be. And meanwhile, there are many conferences that are attended by literary agents and editors. It’s not a bad idea to get some face time with a professional—this personal contact could be what helps your manuscript get a serious look. And now even more with a surge in the eBook business; it seems so easy to get work online. Again, don’t make a move until you’re sure these pages are the best they can be! And learn everything you can about the business, so your chances of making smart decisions about your career increase.

5. YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE FRIENDS: Writing can be such a lonely, discouraging business. I’ve gotten very involved with mystery writing organizations (Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.) I also have a very supportive and loyal writers group and three group blogs, Jungle Red Writers, Mystery Lovers Kitchen, and Killer Characters. The friends I’ve met have saved my sanity and supported me endlessly along the way. I highly recommend it!
Lucy Burdette is a clinical psychologist and the author of ten published mysteries, including eight written as Roberta Isleib. The first two Key West food critic mysteries, AN APPETITE FOR MURDER and DEATH IN FOUR COURSES are now available  TOPPED CHEF released May 7, 2013.,, She also blogs and at www.mysteryloverskitchen

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