5 Steps to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
16 Mar 2017

5 Steps to Take Your Writing to the Next Level

16 Mar 2017

A couple of weeks ago I offered a few tips to help would-be writers get started writing. Today, I came up with a few tips for people already writing at any level.

Ready to move to the next level in your life with words? Here are five steps to help you move forward today.

Get Feedback

Writing can feel like such a solitary activity, but it’s important that you don’t always work alone. Getting input from readers will help you know where your writing needs improvement or development, and particularly, getting solid critique from other writers in a writing group or workshop can be especially instructive. Of course readers aren’t editors. Often, the work of critique is more about helping you know what is and isn’t working in your draft. If you want to hone in on structure or correct errors or focus on style, you might need an editor. You could hire an editor, or you could see the editing process as part of the payment for submitting your work for publication.

Submit Your Work for Publication

Most writers I know want to have their work published. For some, it means self-publishing a book of stories or poems to pass along to family members. For others, it means acquiring an agent and having their book picked up by a traditional publisher. Still others want to submit their poetry, essays, or short stories for publication in a journal or magazine. Regardless of the endgame, reaching a goal of publication will never happen unless writers send out their work.

If publication is new for you, think carefully about your strategy, allowing for the possibility of rejection and building in a plan B or plan C. For instance, if you are looking for an agent, choose a few agents who represent authors at various stages in their career. Don’t be afraid to aim high, but be realistic, too. Likewise, go ahead and submit your essay to your dream publication. But have a plan B in case you get rejected. (By the way, you probably don’t want to tell that Plan B agent or publisher that she was your second choice!)

Also, in the beginning, you may decide to submit your work to some publications that don’t offer monetary compensation. But consider what else you may be getting: writing credits, a budding portfolio, editing of your work, exposure to new audiences.

Writers who have been submitting their work for a while have experienced rejection firsthand. If you are frustrated with your results, maybe your strategy needs a tweak as well. Never be afraid to aim high for publication, but also think realistically about what is next up the chain. Create a publishing trajectory that honors your dreams and acknowledges the realities of the publishing industry.

Also, don’t be afraid to admit when the intangible rewards of publishing are no longer enough for you. If a paycheck is what you are looking for, redirect your research toward markets that pay, realizing that even in the paying category, there are more or less accessible publishers and publications that you can grow into.

Everyone starts somewhere … of course! Identify where you are and think about where you are headed. Then plan to submit your work — or more of your work — in the coming months.

Carve Out More Time

Productive writers need time for their craft. They need time to foster ideas. They need time to scribble down rough drafts. They need time to refine their work and create layers of revisions. It’s true, you can have a writing life that includes writing for only 30 minutes a day or two hours a week or whatever amount of time you are squeezing out of your busy life. But carving out more time can help you make progress more quickly.

That doesn’t mean you quit your day job or sequester yourself in the office every weekend, not necessarily. But it does mean you go back to your schedule again and again, looking for the chunks of time that you could set aside to reflect your priority of writing.

Think about Your Platform

One reality of the writing life that many writers loathe is building a platform, or setting themselves up to connect with would-be readers through websites, blogging, social media, speaking engagements, interviews, and more. When you publish a book, your platform will tilt into full swing, but you can’t wait until after you publish a book to think about platform. In fact, many agents and publishers won’t be interested in signing you and your book until they know you have a platform that can support book sales.

I say “think about” your platform here rather than “focus on” your platform, because if you aren’t careful, all that time you’ve carefully carved out for writing can easily be redirected toward Twitter. I personally have spent far too many writing days updating my website. But keep platform in mind, strategize, read up on what works (here’s a place to start on platform is this is brand new to you), and then slowly begin to takes steps to build and maintain your own platform.

Keep Writing

Get far enough into the writing life, and the non-writing tasks of the writing life (platform is just one!) can bleed into all that precious writing time you’ve carved out. Be diligent! Even writers who have quit their day job (like yours truly) have to fight for the time to work on personal projects that keep them motivated and inspired. Otherwise, freelance projects or filing receipts or prepping blog posts or running errands or any number of non-writing tasks can take over.

The writing life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, unless of course you mean the vacuum canister where all the bits and pieces of life get sucked up into our days. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions, the perfect amount of time, the perfect office, the perfect schedule, the perfect you.

You are a writer now. Keep writing.

Photo by Cindee Snider Re, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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