The Things That I've Learned

I’ve now spent a LOT of time away from the city of Brotherly Hub,  
which has made me reflective, which is the proper mindframe to either  
a) create a sappy (but totes cute!) collage of Saved By the Bell and  
Party of Five heartthrobs for your best high school girlfriend or b)  
think about some lessons that you’ve learned in your extensive and  
averagely-traveled writing career. And since I didn’t have any hot  
pink posterboard on hand, I decided to opt for the latter (Sorry  
Kristin!). So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Write. The stupidest, most obvious one is actually the hardest  
to consistently follow. You can’t get better without doing what  
you’re doing, so keep doing it. More than you do now. 20% more.  
It’s amazing what an extra half hour can add to your skill level. I  
wouldn’t know, of course, but I’ve heard. From, like, other blogs.

2. Read. The only thing almost as good as writing. Reading is to  
being a writer as ingesting a ton of protein and eating Powerbars,  
and those little kind of nasty cans of tuna is to powerlifting. It  
gives you the base of knowledge to improve the writing. So read  
anything and everything you can. Absorb it. Ingest it. But not  
literally, that’d be gross.

3. A little bit of research goes a long way. You’d be surprised how  
many people blindly pitch things, hoping that the sheer quantity of  
mail they’re sending will somehow cause something to stick. Take the  
time to read, skim, or at least Google whatever places you’re  
interested in, narrow your list to a realistic portion and tailor  
everything to each individual magazine/lit journal/agent/pub house.  
Yeah it takes longer, but so does actually getting things accepted,  
and that’s kind of the point right?

4. If you’ve established a relationship, check in. I can’t emphasize  
how important it is to periodically check in with editors. Like parents,
they get busy and forget about you, so you sending them an email or giving them a  
call (only after you’ve established a relationship/written for them  
before, etc… only very lonely talkative people like cold calls)  
just to check in is a great way to get back on their radar. Do this  
once or twice a month and you will double your assignments not  
guaranteed! Unless, of course, they hate you and your work. Then this is probably
a bad idea.

5. Figure out who runs what. The published writing world is small  
circle filled with connections that resemble shorter versions of  
Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you’re interested in getting into  
that world, figure out the genre you’d like to crack, and  
then go about getting closer to people in that arena through non-
stalkerish means. So if you’re interested in writing mystery novels;  
see if anyone in your town/city/province actually does what you’re  
interested in, and pitch the idea of profiling them for a newsletter  
or paper or something small. This gives you the chance to meet them,  
which could lead to figuring out who their agent is, other people  
they write with, publish with, etc, giving you a clear picture of their publishing
tree, how to climb it, and potentially setting you up to marry them and  
eventually ghostwrite their books.

6. Enjoy it. Because that’s why you’re doing it, right? It’s not for  
the riches or the semi-exclusive parties at Hampton beach resorts, or  
the way that people double-take when you walk by them and then  
realize that you aren’t the dude from Can’t Hardly Wait… because  
none of that matters, or maybe even exists. So remember: you do this  
because you love it and because it’s fun to make original semi-clever  
declarative phrases, not because of the wealth and the fame.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be going: My butler just pulled  
the unicorn up to take me to a deep tissue massage.

In sign off news, Eddie Vedder continues his musical onslaught.  
Comment at your own peril.

Long,
Road

Pearl Jam

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8 thoughts on “The Things That I've Learned

  1. Jodie

    Okay I have to say one thing…the Can’t Hardly Wait guy? Ha…that is so hilarious…I laughed for a good thirty seconds out loud…and this laughed might have turned into a rumbling/ugly but pleasurable laugh-snort whenever I scrolled up to look at your picture…The flowers might be covering your face, but I would definitly say your a dead ringer for that guy…who is kinda tall, with hair…and wears t-shirts sometimes :)…and yeah I just said dead ringer…

  2. Joanne

    Coming from a family with marketing and PR in our genes (not jeans, weird!), I guess I am letting my bad habit of analyzing everything to death take over again, getting in the way of the actual work of writing. There should be a 12 step program…Analytics Anonymous…to help me get rid of this annoying habit of using my time to go OVER and OVER and OVER the problems, possibilities of defeat, and reasons why I may not succeed. Didn’t I learn anything from Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture? Sigh. I know what I want to write about, yet I spend so little actual time doing that exact thing. Back to Kevin’s number one on the list: Write. That’s why this is your blog, Kev, you’re the master.
    Joanne

  3. Pat

    Great topic here, Kev. I caught the seven degree mistake but I figured I’d be nice and not mention it.

    My seesaw is going up an down, sometimes slowly, somtimes not. I guess I should be happy it keeps moving, just wish the pace was a little faster.

  4. Tom

    Joanne,

    Kev kind of said what I was thinking for the most part. The joke of it is that I don’t really have much of anything to market right now, so I still spend 99% of my time writing. A friend of mine says, "Do the work, and let the results be what they will be." So, write, and let what happens after that happen. Obviously, I have to put some effort into actually getting my work into the public eye if I want to eventually get paid, but first and foremost I have to write and learn how to write well, which happens through…writing more.

    My seesaw is sitting on the ground on the writing side. The marketing side is dangling its feet in the air right now going, "Um, hello! A little push??"

  5. Kevin Alexander

    Mike– Crap. Maybe that’s why I was always so good at the game. I gave it an extra degree. Not that Kevin Bacon needs it, that cocky son of a…

    Joanne– since my semi-success has come strictly through writing and not really at all through marketing, I tend to truly believe that the writing will take care of itself… with that said, writing is also a business and if you don’t take care of the business side (after you’ve established yourself with the writing), you can’t nurture and grow the artistic side… so think of it like a seesaw but both sides have really large people on them, and it’s your job to keep them healthy and weighing exactly the same. Right? Doesn’t that make total sense? 🙂

  6. Genevieve

    Joanne – I’m way ahead of you on the chocolate. There’s a bag of dark chocolate M&M’s waiting for me on my dresser as we speak.

    I hate marketing myself, but then I’m not sure anyone truly likes it. I try to keep up with the markets the best I can. I agree with the list, but I think that the joy should be closer to the top. It can’t be first on the list because that wouldn’t make any sense. First enjoy writing, but don’t write yet, that’s second on the list…ok, now do it. Here’s how I would arrange it:

    1) write
    2) enjoy
    3)rinse and repeat

    I think remembering to enjoy it is harder than everything else on the list because you can so easily lose sight of why you started. I’ve enjoyed writing my blog and doing my morning writing exercises lately because I’m not worrying about perfecting them. I don’t have to sell them to anyone. But do I want to sell something? Oh hell yes. So the rest of the steps are important to me too.

  7. Joanne

    Kevin,
    Love Pearl Jam. And Temple of the Dog.
    Okay, I agree with what you wrote, but I really wonder if you can develop a successful writing career with that alone? Two things that I have been told repeatedly: to be successful (and here this depends on your interpretation of success) a writer MUST have a niche (and how do you find one that is SO different from the other zillion writers out there) and you MUST have a platform and market the hell out of yourself. What happened to just writing for writing’s sake, and if it’s good, it will rise to the top? I am curious, Kevin, how much do you market yourself? And does it come naturally or do you resent it like I do? I feel like a phony writing query letters and cover sheets. Genevieve? Tom? How do you guys feel about marketing yourselves and do you spend a lot of time doing that?
    And one more thought…have any of you noticed the economy affecting your success? For instance, getting pieces cancelled or magazines folding just when they were about the print your article? That seems to be happening to me and some of my writing friends quite frequently this year.
    Okay, enough gloominess. I need chocolate.
    Joanne

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