My mom, Hindi Brooks, who was an amazing, prolific writer, was the first person I knew who had a personal computer. I’m talking early in the days of home computers. This thing was as big as an old TV (how appropriate that she was writing for television). It was such a dinosaur she had to insert the brain before she could start writing. (I’m serious.) She put the computer’s brain—an eight-inch floppy—into the A drive and locked it in, and then she put whatever she was working on—another eight-inch floppy—into the B drive. When everything was securely in place, she could go get a cup of coffee while the beast took forever to boot up.
Consider yourself lucky that you have such fast, efficient machines working for you. And they’re getting faster and more efficient every day. It probably won’t be long before you can simply have a thought and the machines take care of the rest. Oh, I have to email my agent. And poof! the email is sent—thanks to our trillion GHz natural language, wireless brain port.
Technology helps a busy writer take care of business more quickly and efficiently. Maybe it even helps you write more quickly and efficiently. But does it make you a better writer? According to my mom—who got to make the jump from typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to modern-day computer, and saw other writers do the same—the answer was this: Computers make good writers better . . . and bad writers worse. Those who have a tendency to send their writing out before it’s cooked now can send it out completely raw. Those who tend to over-edit can now edit the poor text to death, changing things back and forth so many times the magic is simply edited out.
The moral here? If you want to create good writing, really good writing, you can’t skip over the stages of the process that writers have always had to do:
read fresh and rewrite (but don’t over-rewrite)
get feedback from a qualified individual (editor/coach/etc.) . . . and rewrite again (as many times as necessary . . . but don’t over-rewrite)
don’t forget to spellcheck
know your audience, know your market
do research as necessary to know your audience and market
In essence: Don’t be so dazzled by the shiny prize of being able to publish your work online in two seconds that you skip over the necessary stages of creating good work. If you take it slow, you may even get a surprise benefit: you’ll enjoy the process.
I’ve finally finished the manuscript I’ve been working on and handed it in to our editor at Random House (ah, that’s why there haven’t been any posts in a while). It’s a book on which I’m the collaborative writer. It has been an amazing project! More on that as it nears publication (spring 2014).
Now that I finally have a breather, I’ve decided to spruce up my site. Made changes here and there, including the addition of a page of writing samples. I’ve started with just one sample, a personal essay I wrote a few years ago and read aloud at the Tasty Words essay show in Santa Monica.
I’ll add more samples soon, when I figure out what I’m allowed to post (copyright issues, etc.); I do a lot of writing for other people.
I am deeply inspired by the stories brought forth in my Write Your Life class and feel honored to serve as witness.
When you sit down to write (and to share your writing) in the company of others, you are giving yourself a profound gift. Your stories no longer live locked inside you, but are witnessed and held by a group, by a community.
Write Your Life is a wonderfully supportive environment in which to share your stories. It is my hope that you give yourself the gift of joining us.
Finishing a first draft is very exciting. Finishing a second (or third or fourth) draft is even more exciting. Let’s face it, finishing is exciting. But does a completed manuscript mean you’re ready to publish? According to Penny Sansevieri, in her Huff Post article, there’s a lot more you’ve got to do before your manuscript is ready to become a book. See what she has to say in 7 Signs That You’re Not Ready to Publish.
Back in the day, a writer could drop the full manuscript of his or her novel over a publisher’s transom (thus the term “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited, submission). . . . The prospective editor would then read the manuscript, love it (or hate it), and a novel would be born (or die). Publishing was simple. Life was simple.
Life is not as simple these days, and neither is publishing. Editors at the publishing houses get so many submissions now, if they were still to accept over-the-transom manuscripts, they wouldn’t be able to push open the door to their building in the morning, let alone read all the manuscripts blocking their passage.
Today the proper route to take is to first find an agent (unless, of course, you’re planning to self-publish, but that’s for another blog post entirely). And don’t even think about sending a full manuscript off to an agent unsolicited.
But how does a manuscript get solicited?
The simple answer is: the query letter.
There are many styles of query letters and numerous how-to books telling you how to write one. But if you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start, try getting your feet wet with some simple guidelines laid out by my colleague at the L.A. Editors and Writers Group: Kristen Weber on How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.