I have to be honest, being a writer sucks.
There’s so much that I like about it. But there’s one part that I hate and unfortunately it’s the most important part of this job. Before I get to the part that I hate I need to remind myself of all the things I really like about it because again, being honest here, there’s days that I want to chuck my laptop out my window and quit over this one really important thing.
Here’s what my process looks like in order. I’ll follow that with the thing that I hate the most because sometimes that thing comes before and sometimes it comes after the following:
I actually love the research part. I’ve written articles about sports, tech gadgets, bit coin, therapy and digestion. I’ve written poetry, short stories, novels, plays, and essays and every single thing I’ve ever written usually takes at least some research. It might not even be while you’re preparing to write or while your writing it, but some sort of digging has led me to be inspired to write a short story or a poem. Trying to write a short story about a man who fires a Desert Eagle? Head to the firing range with an ex-cop and learn something! That’s the best part of being a writer. I don’t have to actually choose a profession, I get to try them all on for a bit.
Trying to write a short story about a man who fires a Desert Eagle? Head to the firing range…
Planning and Development
Remember in high school when you learned to make an outline for your essay? Yup. That’s all this is. Every paragraph has about 4 or 5 sentences, the topic sentence starts it off and then a few supporting sentences. The last sentence may segue into the next paragraph. But tone and theme must be chosen and then each paragraph needs to fit into that mold. The prose and syntax is where the creativity can shine through. That was a segue sentence.
This is absolutely hands down the best part of writing! You just write. Sounds simple and it is. A runner might say that they hit their high and don’t remember the last ten miles. This can be this part of the writing process where your head is down, the fingers are moving, and the brain is on a roll. To me this part can kind of be like watching a movie. I can see the events unfold and I’ll be damned if my fingers can’t move fast enough. I don’t stop for misspelled words or other common mistakes. This is machine gun typing and it’s total madness and it’s friggin’ awesome.
Kind of boring but you need to fix all that machine gun typing. Capitalization, correct punctuation, misspellings, goofy errors and other easy to spot mistakes are taken care of here. This usually gets done the next day after a machine gun session when I feel a bit more calm and collected. It’s a completely necessary piece of the puzzle.
Here’s where it gets tricky. This is the body language of the written word. Tone can cover up the theme and sometimes the theme gets lost inside the tone. This goes for the whole piece and also for each and every sentence. “Can this sentence be rearranged”? “Can this sentence be said in a different way”? These questions get asked about every single utterance on the page. In a short piece, an off sentence can really derail a reader and authenticity can be quickly sidelined with a few badly written sentences. (See what I did there? Badly should be replaced with poorly!) As a writer all you have is your words so make ‘em goodly.
This is where I read the piece out loud and if I can’t smoothly read a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter without fumbling over my own mouth then something needs to change. It’s all about flow, baby. Make it flow. Make it beautiful. Make it unique. Make it make it because if you can’t sit there and read it and be entertained and feel the prose come alive then the editor won’t either and that means the reader won’t. Fix the spots that seem awkward.
Writing ain’t got nothing to do with writing and everything to do with rewriting and editing. I know I missed something and chances are I missed several things. Read back through very carefully.
Final Read Through
I have a very close friend and editor and this is where I would send it to her but not every article goes through her so sometimes this part is left up to me. For larger pieces she would read through here, put down her comments and I would go back to the first edit stage with what she wrote, sometimes having to wade through the creative stage again. But for smaller pieces I take one last read through and send it. If the editor of the magazine, website, etc. has any edits that need my approval it will come back to me, but nine times out of ten those edits are made without my approval (who the hell am I?) and the piece goes to publication.
Now we can get to the part that I freakin’ detest.
Like I said at the beginning this can sometimes come before the research stage or sometimes it comes after the Final Read Through stage. But it doesn’t matter where it rears its ugly head, I hate it no matter what. But it is more important than all the other stages combined if you want to get published. If you are only writing for you and you never want to share it then this stage will not matter to you and you no longer have to read my drivel.
You must query. A query is a question that you ask. That’s it. And it’s either “hey do you want me to write this thing so you can publish it”? or it’s “I wrote this thing, do you want to publish it”? Sounds simple enough but there’s a real art to it. I’m not very good at it and it’s by far my biggest downfall as a writer. But here’s why I hate it so much. Everything I believe in and want to write, feel passionate about, love, hate, ideas that I have, damn near everything that can evolve or devolve from writing comes down to a query. They’re about one page long and sometimes include a bio.
So all in all, you have a few sentences to prove to a total stranger, or an editor that you’ve worked with several times but actually never met in person, that whatever the hell you are going to write or have already written is worthy of getting paid for and for publishing. A lot of editors own the company you’re querying, or this is the editor’s dream and brain child and they want to know how you fit into their master plan, their complicated equation, their literary take-over. It’s depressing to think about and because of this my queries stink and I struggle for publication.
The best and most dramatic example is the current novel I’m shopping around. It took me six years to write it and it all comes down to a one pager to a stranger. It happened with a stage play I was shopping around too.
I ended up getting invited to a meeting filled with producers. I gave my one pager away to all of them. No one bit. Two and a half years of developing a stage play and I got fifteen minutes in a room full of producers who ultimately told me to take a hike. Then I had to read how they were reviving Guys and Dolls or some adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird because they knew audiences would come to that. No one is going out of their way to see some play they’ve never heard of by a guy they don’t know.
No one is going out of their way to see some play they’ve never heard of by a guy they don’t know.
It’s gut wrenching and keeps me awake at night. It’s probably the reason writers have the stigma of being drunk and staying up late, smoking by a dim light and eerily staring out the window to an empty street.
That’s not me. I don’t smoke.
Anyway, I trudge on, trying to get through one cruddy query at a time, trying to make a little money and hoping to catch that break that everyone keeps talking about. I started freelancing around 2007. So it’s only been twelve years. I’m not sure how long you have to wait for your break, but I think I can go another twelve years, another few novels, a few more plays, a thousand more articles, hundreds of poems, and countless mind numbing, gut wrenching queries.