Women Writers: Writers' FAQ

So, you feel a burning desire to become an author, but aren't sure how to do it. Check this Frequently Asked Questions list before sending the editors a letter about how to be a writer....

The first three questions sort of work together:

1. I am a high school/college/ student looking for scholarships/grants/money/fame. Please help me.
2. I would like to become a writer, how do I get money to start, / how do I get published/ how do I know I can do it?
3. I am a writer. Just not a very good one, yet. How do I learn?

I really wish the Women Writers' magazine could offer money-- but right now, most of us on the site are still poor starving students too. But there are places a student can get help on this-- the first place you should go is your guidance counselor, and your English teacher. That's what they are paid for and they may know specific grants/scholarships that are exclusive to your town, or situation. Even if they seem unavailable, be assertive. As an old freind from Alabama used to say "It's a poor dog that won't wag its own tail." Get out there, wag your tail, tell people you need help or that you are worth listening to. It's your life so take charge of it.

Personal attention should be best... but sometimes, as the Editor remembers from her own high school days, the help that gets offered isn't as helpful as one might desire. So try the college you're applying to-- they have forms for finanical aid, (the Free Federal Financial Aid form is how you get grants, and each University usually has special forms for scholarships-- check their Financial Aid page, or call them).

Otherwise, to get money for college, you have to just search, and search, and search, just like everything else. Some employers, the big companies, offer scholarships for their employees. Check with your manager if you suspect the company you work for might be "big enough." If you don't work for somebody big, and want to explore this as an option, go fill out an application! It's worth a shot.

Now, if you're trying to decide if you have the guts/talent/drive to be a writer, that's only something you can do. You send your stuff out like everyone else and get rejected like everyone else. (My first rejections came from big magazines cause I figured I might as well try! It was disappointing, but I didn't REALLY expect to be published from the get-go in Cosmopolitan). For advice that is much more fluent and poetic than any I can give you, read Ranier Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke is an important 20th century poet, and the letters are advice written to someone who wrote asking "how do I do it?" One bit of Rilke's advice:

Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.

This is some of the best advice I can offer-- and not just for being an author/painter/artist. It's pretty good advice for life too.

The single most important things for a writer to do:

Read

Write

Work on your Grammar (no groans-- it is important to write well, too)

If you haven't read the books that others have written, how do you know that your idea, your work, is fresh, new, important? If you don't just write, how are you a writer? It doesn't matter what other people call you-- you're the one who gets to decide if you're a writer. As the Nike commercial says "JUST DO IT."

4. I would like to find out where else I can publish my work, besides your wonderful site... I'd like to publish my work in a book.

There is a great resource for writers that you should look into. It is published every year, and if you can't afford the newest one, you could try last year's version at your library, (sometimes it's in the bargain books section of your big book stores, for pretty cheap, as soon as the new "model year" comes in). It's called The Writer's Market, and in addition to giving advice from published authors on how to be a writer, it offers lists and addresses of places that will take unsolicited manuscripts (not all editors do, and it's rare to get your foot in the door this way). The photo over there is for the 2002 edition, but the link is the most recent. You can buy an older one, but some markets fail every year, so it's good to be updated. Look it over, and start figuring out where to send your stuff. Of course, you can always publish your own website, with all of your poetry on it. It's not all that difficult to learn HTML, and there are a number of good web page publishing programs out there to get you started. Then, you find a server that will either publish your site for free, like Geocities , and post your site. There are other places out there for you to get help learning these web techiniques (generally the free publish sites have FAQ and help sheets, just search for them). The domain name which I have (www.womenwriters.net) is a little more expensive, but it's actually not out of reach. I use the server apollohosting which, past the cost of registering your domain name varies in cost depending on who you use.

You might also check out the new places online that are offering to publish you more easily. IUniverse is one, sponsored by Barnes & Nobles booksellers. Their website will, at the least, answer some questions for you.

You can also usually find out how to get (and whether it's advisable) a literary agent in this book. For a list of agents, click this search engine phrase listing here.

Realize that there are millions of aspiring writers out there-- don't let this discourage you, but be realistic and realize that there are steps to take, and few people get "discovered" overnight and make a million dollars. The Harry Potter author is a rarity-- more often, it takes years of training and rejection before you get published-- and many good writers never do at all. I am not trying to bring you down and discourage you, but you have to keep working. If it's worth it to you, you'll make it. Stephen King, who we all agree is successful (I know some of you might argue about great) wrote and was rejected for at least 15 years before he ever "broke in" to real money. He has a new book, which is really entertaining, with really good advice about writing. Check it out.

5. Do you know anything about Freelance Writing?

A little, but I know someone who knows more. Go to this About.Com site, and look through it. There's lots of advice, and job offers too.

6. How about copyrighting my work?

The easiest, cheapest way of copyrighting your work, which is, according to the law, copyrighted as soon as you write it-- is to stick your work in an envelope and mail it to yourself. Once the mail comes back, then DO NOT open it, and stick it somewhere safe. The date on the envelope will be legal proof of when your ideas were created by you. You can also get your work "officially" copyrighted at the US Copyright office. Generally, you're pretty safe submitting your work to publishers-- but there are unscrupulous people in the industry, just like any other place. Be careful. Save your work and a lot of hassle.

Good Luck! This is my best try-- if I haven't answered your question, do a search on Mamma.com for writing advice.


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