intro to writing

The ONE Essential skill for Success

One skill that will help you dominate your market

Sometimes writers or writer-wannabees think Great Talent is essential for success.  They believe one must be born with an innate gift with words.  These blessed writers succeed.  If you’re not so gifted…. Stinks for you.

Like genius, talent is rarely all it’s touted to be.  Unless it’s combined with other skills, it can be more of a detriment than a blessing.

Educators say that you can be trained to write.  I agree.  There are rules of successful writing and if you follow those rules and practice, you can certainly become a skilled craftsman with words.

But that alone, will not bring you success.

I’m convinced the essential skill necessary for success in writing—as well as many other endeavors—is persistence.   Stick-to-it.  Gritty determination to stay with the project until it’s mastered.

That doesn’t sound nearly so pleasing as, “Oh, what a talented author!”  Or “The words flowed so skillfully!”  But the truth is: behind that talent and skill lies a whale of a lot of practice, training, and persistence.

It takes persistence to get up and write day after day.  Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outlier, says it takes 10,000 hours to master something.  Ten thousand hours.

If the average person works 40 hours a week… and that’s WORKING at mastering a skill… he or she will have put in 2080 hours at the end of the year.  Not coffee breaks, not checking emails—working.

If you put in 20 productive hours a week, in 10 years you will have mastered the skill.  Um.  And that’s the skill of writing.

Then you have to market.  The most exciting piece of writing will not find a broad audience without marketing.  Who will buy your masterpiece?

Thus, you enter another apprenticeship to gain skills in query letter writing, cover letter writing, finding agents, or publishers, learning how to self publish, finding businesses looking for copywriting…. And so on.

I don’t mean to be doom and gloom.  Writers do write good stuff.  They find places to sell it.  And some do it in MUCH LESS than 10 years.

But the pathway to writing for income is littered with souls who had talent and training… but could not stay the course.  They lacked persistence.

You can find persistence in several ways:

1. Don’t expect instant success.  Cut yourself some slack.  Give it time.

2. Believe in yourself and your work.  Believe that as you keep writing, you are gaining skills that will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

3. Find a support group that will be your kindly critic and exuberant cheering section.

4. Redefine success.  Make it producing work, practicing craft, researching, instead of selling. (At least until you have your 10,000 hours in.)

5. Know, know, KNOW that if you just keep writing and improving, Success WILL Come!

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Keep your options open

My military husband moved our family to Okinawa early in my writing career.  It was a great move for writing! I was finishing up a middle grade novel and planning my next fiction.  And there were so many new ideas, places, stories, and events to explore.

I found US children’s magazine hungry for authentic foreign stories.  One of my early articles was on Japanese Girl’s Day (Hopscotch Aug/Sep 1998).  I saw a fantastic photo I wanted to use for my article on the front cover of Okinawa Today so I called the magazine to see if I could connect with the photographer.  When we met and talked, he asked if I’d be interested in writing for Okinawa Today.

I had thought of myself as a children’s writer.  I wanted to write fiction… did I want to write for adults and nonfiction?  I know you’re thinking, Duh!  Jump on the opportunity!  And in that way, you’re smarter than I was.  I did agree, but it took a little thinking.

It turned out to be a great decision!  It was fantastic practice writing LOTS of beginnings, middles, and ends.  Nonfiction has a story arc of its own.  And my writing skills increased with the practice and the variety.

Matsui-san would say, “Go make nice story about dam.”  Oh really?  You see in Okinawan culture, there were lots of exchanges of favors.  If Matsui-san’s magazine had a nice article about someone, then, somewhere down the line, something good would come her way. So my challenge was to write something that would please the publisher AND be of interest to my English speaking audience.  One of those interesting facts was that 90% of our drinking water came from the dams that collected rainwater… and if it didn’t rain for 6 weeks… we were likely to be on water rationing.

I learned about the bushido way of doing business that exists today, of gorgeous hikes to waterfalls, ruins of castles, and of high class resorts. I was to write about each in such glowing terms my readers would jump at the chance to go there.  And it was easy to do.  They were fun, exciting, interesting, and inviting.

Writing for Okinawa Today started my love of interviewing people and sharing what I learned with readers. I loved unscrambling the complex and making it understandable. In all ways it broadened my writing and my career choices in writing.

So, when you are faced with new choices—with a writing career path that might not be like the one you envisioned… take a chance.  Risk.  Try it on for size.  And see what you can learn from that experience.  Likely, there will be times it stinks.  But more often, you’ll look back and say, “Duh!  That should have been a no-brainer.  This was a GREAT experience!”

If you’ve had a time when you tried a new writing path- will you share with us how it went for you?

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Writer’s Digest Magazine

I wrote stories as a kid… none of them brilliant….and I was an avid reader.  I loved words.  The nuances, the shades of meanings, the coloring of a topic by the way it was addressed.  I loved how you could influence people’s thoughts and decisions and feelings by the kinds of words and the phrases.  People could create worlds… and escape to those worlds… and even invite others to come along.   I discovered  amazing facts—coral reef fish, how to make cardboard boats, mysteries of the Aztecs, or what courses to take to become a radiologist—by the connection of words in nonfiction.

And I thought I want to DO THAT!

So I studied what it took to be a writer.  First I subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine.  I have to tell you, it was a good step.  I felt like I’d joined a community of like minded people.  Instead of people saying, “You can’t make money doing that.”  I saw evidence of people who did!  And those people were kind enough to take me by the hand and say, “If you do this, you can become successful, too.”

What I liked about Writer’s Digest, was its blend of topics.  I found how-to articles and articles about successful writers.  They exposed me to different genre.  I’d try on each genre.  Did I want to write mystery?  Romance? SciFi? Biographies? Did I want to write books?  Magazine stories or articles?  What age did I want to write for?  Ohhh.  The possibilities were so exciting!  And the articles encouraged.  Try it.  Take a risk.  Rewrite.  Polish again.  You can do it.

At my solitary desk, I had friends whispering from the pages of Writer’s Digest.  And because of the confidence and skills I got from them, I did submit.  And I sold my first piece under their tutelage.  I continued to subscribe as I began to publish more.  And to this day, I have faded, yellowed pages ripped from the magazine that hold treasured bits of information I refer back to.

There are a variety of writing magazines out there.  But if you’re starting out, I’d recommend Writer’s Digest Magazine as your first go-to magazine.

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Your Canvas

Some people feel their creativity is cramped when their writing is restricted or channeled into a specific market.  This could not be further from the truth.  You stretch and challenge you creativity when you focus your writing.  You have freedom to create, but within certain perimeters.  This is true of other arts as well.

For example, when an artist considers a work, she first chooses the medium-- oil, watercolor, mixed media, etc..  Then she chooses the canvass size-- 1''x1'' , 12"x24", mural, etc..  Within those perimeters, she brings her art to life.  In the same way, writers choose first their market-- children ages 3-4, homeowners, people trying to put together this gizmo, businessmen seeking to invest in gold, and so on.  The more specific the market, the more likely you will be to resonate with them. To be able to connect and bond with your readers.   Then you choose the canvass-- a 300 word article, a manual, a 2 page letter, a book, a post card, web page, or whatever your employer chooses.

Within those confines, you have the freedom to write and create.  To reach out and touch, change, motivate, or enlighten your reader.  It's an exhilarating experience to stretch and try writing small and direct.

Challenge:  choose a market and format and have fun! Hint:  If it's your first time, imagine someone you know that fits into your market choice (your dentist, your uncle the investor) and write directly to him.

Share with me how you were able to be creative as you worked under these new restrictions.

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Published in intro to writing

The Fun, The Lifestyle…. The Money?

What makes us love the written word, play with words, cherish and value them?  I wonder if it’s innate—some inborn instinct that drives us to put words to paper.  And then, is it a romanticized version of a writer's life that pulls us into writing as a profession? Writing on the beach, or from the comfort of your bedroom slippers.  Having the freedom to make your own schedule.  It's possible you and I can work together to make this happen if your heart shouts "yes!" to these statements.  I'm looking to connect with someone who says:

  •             I’m driven to write.
  •             I’m committed to make this work.
  •             I’m willing to learn what I need to learn and do what I need to do to be successful.
  •             I can take direction and criticism and learn from it.
  •             I am willing to write to and for a specific market.
  •             I can change how I write and limit my parameters of expression for a purpose.
  •             I’m willing to write something other than my “favorite way” in order to earn money.

Because the truth is lots of people DO make money with their writing.  As we go along, we’ll explore the vast variety of ways of making money with writing. We’ll go beyond the rosy glasses of picture book, novel, and magazine writing (although we will visit those) to writing for hire, ghost writing, business to business writing, copywriting, direct sales copy, internet copy, directions, recipes, how-to's and writing manuals.  I’ll share my opinions—or the opinions of others—about different books, courses, and methods of writing.  We'll discuss skill sets necessary for each kind of writing. We’ll talk pricing and marketing.  We’ll cover where the jobs are and how to find them.

I guarantee you, brilliant writing, correctly marketed does pay… and it pays well.

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Published in intro to writing