This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Lynnda Ell) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent -- by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
In December, 2008, at the age of 62, I began preparing for a new career. That was not something I had chosen to do. My health collapsed from post-polio syndrome and hurricane Katrina came to town in 2005. My career as an engineer was no longer possible so I thought about plans for a future career as I repaired my home. Since I had written many technical articles, two books, and more reports than I can remember, I decided to become a writer. A year and 1,000 work hours later, I have not changed my mind. Here are seven things I learned this year.
1. I don’t know what I don’t know. Since I read voraciously and can write a technical report clearly, I thought I could learn everything I needed from books on writing and the Internet. Wrong! That method left holes in my education. After nearly a year of trying to climb Mt. McKinley with no help, I finally accepted the inevitable; I needed formal training. I researched the options and decided that The Christian Writers’ Guild had the program that best fit my needs. Working on the lessons and getting feedback from a seasoned professional have been pure joy.
2. Writing in my head is easier than turning my thoughts into written words. Ideas for books and articles are always swimming in my mind. That sounds good! I think. I turn around to write down the thoughts and the words that flew so easily over the express lane of my mind slow down to a crawl in the congestion of exiting that expressway and traveling down the lane that merges onto the page. Idea gridlock then meets instant editor. It’s a wonder I get anything finished.
3. My writing should be so good that readers see how smart they are, not how smart I am. When this light went on over my head, everyone could see me blushing. I spent almost twenty years using my skills in a demanding profession. In all that time, my writing showed how smart I could be, so I was embarrassed to learn that I had gotten that basic idea completely wrong. My readers want to feel smart by understanding what I have to say. Back to the drawing board…
4. Knowing why I write is important. I enjoy writing for the pleasure of it, but that is not why I want to become a professional writer. Writing professionally gives me opportunities to share my passion; I want others to know the spine-tingling, breathless adventure of living a life committed to God. Once I expressed that, I began to see opportunities everywhere: I write articles for SAGE Ministries for Girls; I sold seven devotional essays to Barbour Publishing; and I started a blog, Passionate for the Glory of God. Verbalizing that focus made a difference in the way I work.
5. Readers in our 21st century culture want to be entertained even when reading nonfiction books. The first time I read that idea, I didn’t believe it. I read some nonfiction books from the previous two centuries and they are not very entertaining. The writing styles have changed and evolve over time, however. The today’s readers want to be entertained while they are being informed or inspired. The nonfiction books that I find easy to keep reading and stay longest in my mind with the least amount of effort have been entertaining as well. Now I write to both entertain and inform.
6. Trying to write a book for the commercial market is a high-risk enterprise. Working for a Fortune 500 company where I learned about introducing new products, competition, customer service, budgets and time-to-market helped me understand some to the complexities of publishing when I read popular industry blogs. I quickly learned that trying to publish a book before learning the critical writing skills and gaining a mature understanding of the publishing industry (or getting a great agent!) is a little like someone who cooks meals for their family trying to become a contestant for the Iron Chef competition; you can’t even get into the door.
7. The Internet is a great source of information, but it is skewed heavily toward writers of fiction. That was one reason I was happy to see WritersMarket.com develop a neighborhood for writers of nonfiction books. Rather than complain about the need for more sites devoted to writers of nonfiction, I started a community blog, Calling All Writers of Nonfiction Books. Join us, you might learn something.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
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- Looking for an agent? Author Jolina Petersheim explains finding hers.
- Agent Roz Foster seeks clients now.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- 7 Ways a Writing Career is Like a Theme Park.
- Writing sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, romance or YA? Query this agent!
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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