This I Know 2.0

Wednesday, November 07, 2018
At a recent workshop on wordplay, I was surprised with a couple of new techniques I learned. I mean, I’ve been at this writing thing for a good while now and I’ve become a bit jaded. But just when I think I’ve seen or heard it all, someone introduces me to something brilliant and I think back to years ago, at one of my first writing conferences. I heard an attendee say, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

That’s pretty brilliant in itself, that realization. Because so many writers just starting out—myself included—think they know all about writing. We’ve been writing since we were kids, after all, and we may even have degrees in writing or related fields. So we think we have this whole writing thing down. Really, we just need a little bit of information about agents or publishing. And yet, the writer who gets better at this whole writing thing is the one who realizes early on that he or she has a lot to learn.

But unless we go to conferences, sign up for workshops and/or classes, read the genre we want to write as well as read up on the craft of writing that genre, we will never know what we don’t know.

So there are a few things I’ve figured out, after being in this business for so many years, and I thought I’d share to give you a writing leg up, as it were. It’s a short list, but this I know:

That if you want to be a writer in the 21st century, you must be familiar with and use 21st century technology. I’m not saying you can’t write your first draft in longhand; I am saying that when it comes time to submit, you will need those words typed nice and pretty in a digital document. I’m also not saying that you must be signed up for every kind of social media available; I am saying that you must have an online presence somewhere so that readers and/or publishers and editors can find you. And finally, I’m not saying that you must use all the latest financial technology; I am saying that if you want to sell your books or other writing-related materials, there’s a very simple app for that. (Because seriously, y’all, no one carries cash anymore.)

That the best writers have had their work rejected way more than accepted. The thing is, we may not hear about the years of struggle; we only see the success. But very few of the best writers start out with a bang. They start out writing, revising, submitting, and getting rejected. And then starting all over again. And again. And again. And again. The best writers keep at it, even though they will still face rejection after hard-won success.

That if you want to be taken seriously in the writing profession, be professional. Ditch the cutesy email address and never use crazy fonts or colored paper to attract attention. (You will attract attention but not the kind you want.) Use proper grammar. Honor a deadline and reply promptly if you can’t. Treat others—whether you’re meeting them online or in person—with respect.

So how about you? What do you know now that you didn’t know then? I’d love to hear your thoughts because this I know: there’s always something out there I need to learn!

Cathy C. Hall writes for children and adults. Look for her latest byline in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Miracles and More. And if you're in South Korea, you can find her recent leveled readers in bookstores and schools. But if you want to catch up with Cathy herself, look for her around SCBWI conferences or at her website. She knows other stuff, too, and she's not afraid to share it.


Pat Wahler said...

I've learned it's tough to be a multi-genre writer. Not impossible, but perhaps not the best idea ever.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh, so true, Pat!It takes a lot of hard work...and P.S. I know a lot of children's writers who use pen names for their novels whether writing for adults or YA exactly because of this challenge.

Margo Dill said...

I agree with Pat. It is hard, but it's not impossible. You probably have a common theme that runs through your books, and you will build on the audiences that you already have in each genre.

I've learned that there's NEVER enough time!

Cathy C. Hall said...

You got that right, Margo! And everything always takes longer than you planned for, right?

Renee Roberson said...

I've learned that it's never too late to try new things! I never knew I could write short stories until I started submitting a few to contests several years ago. Also, while I've always loved reading suspense, I didn't know I could write it. Wrong again. I'm enjoying learning more about the craft. I started out as a newspaper and magazine writer and thought that was the only thing I was qualified to do. I didn't know what I didn't know!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I love that you pushed out of your comfort zone, Renee! And you're being pretty modest here :-) have really excelled in the short story genre!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I didn't know HOW helpful a talented editor could be (and I'm talking about Margo).

By the way, you look fabulous. Your new photo is wonderful. (Nobody puts Cathy on a stick. Nobody.)

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

How many "I didn't know" statements are there room for here? lol How about just this one: I didn't know the finish line would keep moving. But I'm grateful for friends who give of their time and knowledge to reach out a hand and pull/nudge/push/yank/haul me forward. (Thank you, Cath.)

P.S. Sioux is right. You look amazing!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Aw, go on with y'all. (But if I ever pull out Cathy-on-a-Stick again, she's getting an update. Good pics, like good men, are hard to find! Hahahhahaa!)

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