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The Three C's: Confidence, Courage and Clips
I know you! You've been writing one thing or another for years: poetry, short stories, letters, e-mails, notes jotted down on scraps of paper. Writing has been one of your main means of self-expression for most of your life. But something's changed. You're beginning to feel a burning desire to see your name in print. You want to be published and get started on that clip file you've heard so much about. You know other writers who sell their stories and articles. You even believe your writing is as good as theirs. But you? Why would anyone buy your work?
I'll tell you why. Because you have something to say in a way it's never been said before. No one else writes from your unique point of view. There's not one other person on this planet who has your writing voice. And no matter whether you want to write stories or nonfiction, your voice and your experience will shine through.
Before you can become a published writer, though, you have to submit your work to an editor or publisher. Whether it's a query letter or a finished manuscript, the work needs to be completed. You don't have the time, you say? Well, find it. No, let me change that. We don't find time; we take it. It's available and we use it to do all manner of things. So, if you sincerely want to get published, you first have to take the time to write.
Here are five basic things you can do in order to get published:
1. Decide on an idea.
Easy as pie. What's this? You say you've gotten through step three or four a number of times but can't make the leap toward submitting your work? You don't feel confident, and you wonder if you'll be able to handle the rejection? Rule #1: Rejection's a part of the writing game, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. From my perspective, a rejection file is a testament to the fact that a writer's not only writing, but has found the courage to submit her work.
Make no mistake. It does require confidence and courage to submit your writing. As co-moderator of a freelance writing list, I often see new listers post messages saying they've read all the how-to books, they know all the things they're supposed to do, but they just don't feel like a writer because they haven't been published yet. The writer isn't taking herself seriously, and so she doesn't see how anyone else will. She has no clips. She's never even sent her work out. Won't the editor see right through her?
It's a classic catch-22, and it's easy to get stuck here. How can you gain the confidence that comes from being a published writer when you don't have the confidence to submit your work? I know of only one way out. I learned this life lesson many years ago from a dear friend of mine after she spiraled down about as low as you can go and then climbed her way back up. I was full of admiration for her and her process and one day, years later, I asked her how she'd done it. She told me that if there's something you really want to do, but you don't think you can, you have to fake it 'til you make it.
But what does that mean for a writer? It means believing in yourself even when you have doubts. It means taking a deep breath, and telling yourself you've done the best you can do: You selected an idea, you found an appropriate market for your work, and you slanted your query or manuscript to the market's guidelines. It means telling yourself you have a good chance of getting an acceptance, and even if you happen to receive a rejection, that's okay, because it indicates that you're a real writer doing the real work of writing.
Getting your first clip is exciting, and getting your first paycheck for your work is even better. But sometimes even those of us who've been in the business for awhile get bogged down by lack of inspiration to write. We have a thousand ideas. We know how to write a successful query letter. We have experience targeting appropriate markets. But we just don't take the time to write; there always seems to be something else to do.
To get out of that slump, you first have to decide that's what you want to do. It sounds simplistic, but it's true. Once you make up your mind you're ready to write again, you can use other writers' inspiration to jumpstart your own. Here are a few ways to get in touch with other writers:
1. Subscribe to (and read!) online freelance newsletters. You'll find writing articles, market info, question/answer columns and other gems of writing inspiration.
2. Subscribe to (and participate in!) online freelance writing lists. These can be places of genuine support and encouragement. Writers on these lists often find that by supporting other writers to "go for it," they gain confidence to go for it themselves!
3. Bookmark (and frequently visit!) freelance writing Web sites. Here you'll find libraries or archived articles, more market info and links to other writing resources.
4. Join (and bring your work to!) a local writing critique group. Critiquing others' work will make your own writing stronger.
In your heart, you're a writer, but you don't have the published work to prove it to yourself or to anybody else. You can change that. Right now. Take a deep breath, decide what you want to write and write it, but this time don't stop there. No one else can write with your unique writing voice. Submit your work. It's time your voice was heard.
Karen J. Gordon is a freelance writer, copyeditor and natural healing practitioner living in Eugene, Oregon. She writes articles and essays on a variety of subjects including the art and craft of writing, natural healing and personal growth. She is a member of the National Association of Women Writers and Willamette Writers and is co-moderator of the online discussion list, Write From Home. Her freelance credits include work in both print and electronic publications. In addition to writing and editing freelance, Karen is currently working on her forthcoming nonfiction book, Loving Theresa. Visit her Web site at http://www.karenjgordon.com