The Four-Letter Word In the Writing World

Thursday, September 28, 2017
So I was sitting on the floor going through binder after binder of my writings, throwing stuff in the toss or save piles. Until I came to an old Atlanta Journal Constitution from 2007 where I saw an essay I’d written, one I didn’t remember. I took a break and read it.

I expected to cringe. I mean, that was ten years ago and I had a lot to learn back in the early writing days. But as I read, I smiled. This Cathy C. Hall opinion was not bad. Actually, it was pretty good. Which made me wonder: how did my writing improve so quickly?

Quickly, of course, is a relative term here. I’d been writing for a couple of years before 2007. And when I started writing for children, it was nearly five years before I had a book published. See, writing is all about that four letter word: T-I-M-E. Time is not exactly on our side, but there are ways to maximize it.

Write regularly. Any successful writer will tell you that practice makes perfect. Still, regularly means different things to different people and so what the pros generally mean when they say “regularly” is “daily.”

But in the real world, we don’t always get to write every day. We just don’t have time. So is your writing career doomed before it ever takes off? Nah. Because when it comes to writing, it’s more about stick-to-it-ness.

It’s okay if you don’t write every day. Maybe twice a week is all you can handle, or even once a week, or at the most once every two weeks. But stick to a time schedule because that’s how you build on the progress you make. (And don’t worry that you might only have 30 minutes at a time. Write regularly, whatever you can regularly schedule, and quantity will take care of itself.)

Improve your craft. Taking a writing class is not new advice, but when you take a class can make all the difference.

What we want to do with our sparkly new manuscript is jump right in! Query it! Sell it! Publish it! I know because that’s what I did with my first children’s manuscript. But we don’t always know what we don’t know until it’s too late.

So curb your enthusiasm a bit and start out with basic writing classes, the ones that will introduce you to the information you need as well as the craft you need. Once you’ve mastered how to write what you want to write, then is the time to take those advanced classes. Like the class on finding an agent, or indie publishing, or how to make the perfect pitch. Trust the process (and you’ll save yourself time and money).

Get professional feedback. Here’s a step I think too many writers skip because they have a critique group and feel like that’s feedback enough.

It’s not enough. Only professional feedback, the kind you can get from an agent, editor, publisher, or established author, will take your writing to the next level. You’ll find these professionals at conferences, or online offering their services, or in a class. And yes, it’s expensive, but getting professional feedback is a step for down the line, when your writing is ready. It’s not for the writer just starting out, though I’ve known plenty of writers who have spent the money for a professional critique at the wrong time only to be in tears. Including this professional writer.

Time will always be a four-letter word. But it doesn’t always have to work against you. Give yourself time to grow into the writer you can and want to be. It’s so worth the wait!

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She's currently working on a middle grade novel and trying to keep to her schedule! (Her latest release is Great Leaders of the World, from Darakwon in South Korea. Read all about it here!)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Time IS a 4-letter word. Sometimes it's a nasty one, and sometimes it's a delightful one.

The paid-for feedback is where I am now. Well, I'm almost there.

Yikes, that's a big step. Thanks for nudging me closer...

Mary Horner said...

Good advice, simple and effective strategies for dealing with time.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

I'm so glad you qualified the "write regularly" thing. New writers read over and over that they must write every day, and that just isn't practical for a lot of people. (Anne Rice agrees---if you can, great, but if you can't, don't sweat it. It was nice to see a big name author say that.) Your other comments are spot on, as well---and I hope people who read this article will click through to your blog, because that's a great essay too.

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