This is one piece I really did just write for myself, but you're welcome to take a look if you so desire. Though I don't count it as my prime reason for writing, getting a fictional story published has been my hope for some time. Reflecting on this earlier today, my mind had a simple conversation with itself: Inner Critic: "You? Published? Heh." Inner Writer: "It can happen! I just need to work hard." Inner Critic: "Work hard? How vague. What you need is a plan." Inner Writer: "Okay, fine! I'll show you a plan."
Well, here’s my plan. It’s a bit more general in places than I want it to be, but it’s a start.
You have time.
You’re not out to be some child actor of writing. You’re out to write good stuff with good support, and this head start is far more valuable than any “youth writer” appeal. (By the way: see D3)
YOU HAVE A PLAN.
Part A: Read and Write a lot (in effect now)
A1-What’s the best way to improve your writing? Read a lot of good writing! Dickens, Warren Penn Van Brown (or whatever his name was), Joyce, ETC.
Two hours of (good) fiction a day is an excellent way to get started.
There’s a “Things to Read” section at the bottom of this page. Keep filling it; keep crossing stuff out.
A2-Keep on writing. This is more important than you’ll ever know. Articles, short stories, long stories-everything. Absolutely everything.
A3-Experiment. Experiment as if it’s the only way to write. Try out something new every day if need be! Also, develop your thoughts and positions on writing as you go.
A4-Crystallized knowledge! Go into Washington for inspiration. Keep on raiding Wikipedia for content. You have the ability to learn a lot of stuff. Go for it!
A5-Just something to remember: sketch your theme down for the first draft, then edit it (AFTERWARDS) into a finished piece. You don’t send sketches off to editors; you send paintings off. And yet, the first draft is only the sketch (and that’s a good thing); afterwards, you can paint.
Part B: Study the Trade a lot (in effect now)
B1: Do some research
^^^These are four good books to read.
B2: Look for a good agent for what you’re trying to sell. Get to know some possible people.
B3: REALLY refine and shape your query letter. I mean, REALLY refine and shape it.
B4: Get N5 ready for submission. Draft a query letter for it; consider more edits to the book. Explain who you are, why you wrote it and why it (just might) sell. (Yes, you can do this while writing N6!)
Part C: Submit a Lot (once you’ve studied well, and even before)
C1: It never hurts to land a Cessna a few times before setting a 747 down at Kai Tak. J Look for a few outlets to send short stories to; they’re easier to write, better reflect your instantaneous abilities and don’t take up so much space in the SASE envelope. That’s a publishing base that you can build on.
C2: Not to plan out your life right now, or anything like that, but wouldn’t journalism be a good field? You get a lot of experience with writing, pick up on some good stories with your own, gain publishing credentials and find a way to pay the bills. Nothing against CW teaching, but this is an interesting career path to think about. (How about social issues journalism?)
C3: Keep a collection of your rejection letters as a source of pride. Not many people have the courage to brazenly show their work to editors and critics, then proudly display the results (however disappointing).
C4: Submit, of course. Look up agents (see B2) and ship SASE things off to them. Get the hang of it.
C5: Try some writing contests. It’s another way to practice your writing, no?
Part D: See the whole picture. (This is the most important category)
D1: Pray. J
D2: You’ve already got a life-have it! Go into DC, play some video games, cheer for the Broncos and the Nats, watch a sunrise, take a few walks down the creek. There’s a time for huddling up around the computer, but there’s also time for a great James Bond movie, an interesting history book, and-yes-plane spotting.
D3: It’s not as if you’ve been given eight stories to write and no more. At this point, you don’t even know what kind of stuff you’ll be writing in the next five years, should you still be active at that point. Forget five years-how about the next fifty years? In other words, you don’t have limited opportunities to find an agent/publisher/whatever. Luckily, this isn’t basketball or football; you’re decades away from your prime, as long as you keep reading, writing, experiencing (and praying).
D4: Want the good news? Writing isn’t everything. All of this-the things you see above-are a mere fraction of your life. Writing is a reaction; if you spend your entire life on it, where’s the action?
The unhappiest writer in the world has the literary brain of Dickens and nothing to write about.
D5: The worst reason to write is this: “I want to get published.” You write to get your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions and hopes down on paper. Yes, there’s great value in having others see those thoughts, but it’s almost secondary.
D6: Getting published helps you benefit society, but it’s only one way to benefit society. If you want instant gratification in that sense, go to a soup kitchen-donate to Darfur-feed the ducks-tutor someone on anything-talk to a homeless person-anything.
There’s one thing more timeless than even classic literature, and that’s making a personal difference in someone’s life. We read great books and set them down, but such a difference never leaves the benefactor.