Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writing for a Living - Entry-Level

Enough about Twitter! I’m actually here to share some of what I’ve learned during the past 17 years I’ve been writing professionally.

I started my career after graduating college... OK, that’s leaving a lot out. First, I held a series of jobs I found seriously unrewarding (telemarketer, secretary/receptionist, front desk clerk, and house reinspector among them—no offense to anyone who holds these positions. They just weren’t for me.).

To escape the madness of my career-going-nowhere, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in literature. Not being all that interested in literature, I was unmotivated to actually earn the degree and realized by the end of the first semester that I had to change my situation. After class one day, I went downtown to the newspaper office and asked if they were hiring. The answer was yes—
and I got the job.

I had no real interest in news, newspapers, or newspaper writing either. But I did want to write and this was a way to write and earn a living at the same time. For a year, I wrote to nightly deadlines five or six days a week. I wrote on all sorts of topics: zebra mussels, school board meetings, house fires, fashion, criminal cases, politics, etc. Not all of these topics spoke to me personally, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had, for both personal and professional development.

What can you learn from my meandering experience? Hopefully this:

•    Writing every day and sticking to deadlines is good practice for a writer. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to write or what you get paid to write.

•    Learning about writing doesn’t have to cost money. With the right entry-level job, you can hone skills while earning money instead. (Too bad I didn’t learn this one before investing in that degree I never got.)

•    People are always saying, “Write what you know.” Writing what you don’t know can be rewarding, interesting and lucrative, too. You just have to research. And learning new things makes writing much more exciting than typing on a computer has any right to be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Joining the Larger Community, Part 3 (I promise, a new topic next!)

My first tweet was basically, "Hi!" My second tweet offered information about the reduction in self-employment taxes for 2011. Maybe a lot of people know about this already, but I thought it would be nice to share. After all, I only learned about it a short while ago.

As soon as I tweeted this information, I realized I’d left out a whole bunch of people I should be following. Why wasn’t I following self-employed people? Other writers? I quickly searched and added to my list. Now, I was following more than 75 accounts. I felt overwhelmed.

I turned once again to my husband, who advised grouping them into lists. Which I did. I made them private lists because I can’t figure out why anyone would make them public, and private is my default setting. Maybe I'll change my mind as I learn more about this. While I had his ear, I asked my husband what to do about my followers. (Yay! I have followers!) He recommended a short note thanking them for following. It’s proper etiquette, he said.

Twitter can easily get pretty time-consuming, but I think it's going to be worth the effort. On my first day following only editors, I learned many were at BookExpo America. Without Twitter, I never would have even heard of the event!

Definitely a sign I’ve been too isolated as a writer.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Joining the Larger Community, Part 2

When I went to twitter.com, my intention was to do exactly what I'd heard I should do: follow editors. I didn’t realize that meant opening my own account, but quickly found out. So I opened an account. I found a bunch of editors, agents and publishers to follow, and suddenly, I was part of this bigger community.

If I was going to be there, I figured I’d like to contribute, too. But what to tweet? I grilled my husband, who tweets for work, and he advised the idea behind Twitter is to offer something, not try to promote or sell or anything like that. Sounded good to me. I wasn’t sure at first what I might have to offer, but then I realized Twitter is kind of like saying, “Hey, did you see this interesting thing?” So whenever I find out anything interesting about writing and related topics, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

Tweet it, I mean.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Joining the Larger Community

A few nights ago, I attended a meeting of SCBWI—Eastern, NY. Supremely beneficial. I met other children’s book writers. I took away some advice from the critique session about how to create an arc in each scene, avoid small talk among characters, and write major transitions into chapter beginnings and endings.

I learned about the value of certain upcoming workshops and retreats. (Namely, the Highlights Foundation Workshops and the Falling Leaves Retreat.) I’d heard of these— and others—before, of course. But I’d always let the cost to attend sway me against considering them. Now, I see the value. It’s a chance to spend focused time on your piece, work with editors, and network with other writers and editors in an intimate setting.

I also heard it mentioned during the meeting that Twitter can put writers in touch with the larger community of writers and editors. Apparently, editors sometimes offer to answer questions on Twitter.

So I've decided to start using Twitter, and there’s definitely a learning curve. I invite anyone who’s learning Twitter to follow along. Maybe we can help each other!