Monday, March 25, 2013

A Writer's Advice: Tips for Beginners

I've been approached a lot lately by friends and strangers alike about my writing. People who, like me, love to write, but don't know how to get started. So if it's writing that fuels you, here are my top 10 tips for getting there.

1. Look for Local Clubs or Organizations.  When I started out, I found the St. Louis Writers Guild.  Here was an entire group dedicated to the craft I loved. I was intimidated, but I pushed through that fear and went to a meeting. It was here that I met some amazingly talented people who helped me take my writing to the next level.

2. Take Advantage of the Internet. Believe it or not there are people out there looking for someone like you. If you want to write, google "writers submissions" and the year. You'll get multiple hits for anthologies, publications and writing contests to which you can submit your work.

3. Just Ask.  When I began freelancing, I picked up the phone and called established freelance writers and asked for their advice. What should I charge? How do I find clients? Believe it or not, most creative people love helping each other out. Everyone started somewhere, and we all love to pay it forward. My last year of college, there were several agency presidents and principles who came to speak to our classes.  I would take their business cards and then invite them to lunch so that I could pick their brain. People love to talk about themselves! I would offer to write something for them - free of charge. It certainly fit their budget, and it beefed up my portfolio - a win-win! Nine years later, I'm in a position to help those just starting out.  Hey, take me to lunch... I'll talk!

4. Start Small.  Don't be afraid to write an article for a local newsletter, a sales letter for a local non-profit, or a blog post for a friend.  Anything that gets your name out there, your words read and confidence up is worth your time.  You'll be flexing those writing muscles in preparation for larger publications.

5. Set Goals. My original goal was just to get published.  Just once...somewhere, anywhere! I sent dozens of query letters and submissions and collected an entire file folder of rejection letters. And then, one day, I got an email from an online magazine accepting my submission.  I could not have been more excited. That acceptance led to two more.  So I made a new goal.  I wanted to publish a story in an anthology. And I did. Again and again. Then, I wanted to be published in a regional magazine.  Done. Six times. My latest goal is to be published in a national publication or newsmagazine like WSJ, the NewYorker or The Atlantic. Now, that would be cool.  Oh, and then there's that book I'm working on...The point is to always set new goals.

6. Speaking of Rejection... Remember that a rejection letter is a reminder that you are working at your craft.  Everyone gets them (hell, Stephen King wallpapered his entire bedroom in them).  Don't let one rejection letter stop you. In fact, let it drive you to send out two more submissions. I still get them, and I've kept every one of them in a file folder.  They remind me to keep trying.

7. Market Yourself.  Take advantage of the $0 price tag of social media. Share links to blog posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, pin published articles on Pinterest. Become a resource, share knowledge, and talk about what you do to anyone who'll listen.

8. Gather Your Peers.  I could not write this blog post without mentioning my amazing WWWPs - Linda, Tammy, Lynn and SiouxThis is a group of talented, kind, smart writers who have helped me immeasurably.  If you can find yourself (or put together) a critique group of peers who can help each other reach their goals, you're one lucky writer.  I know I am.

9. Act Like A Writer.  If writers have one thing in common, it's that we have a hard time admitting that we are, in fact, writers.  We feel unworthy of the title until we reach a certain goal, a certain status. Bullshit. You write. You are a writer. Act like it. Get yourself an annual subscription to industry pubs like Writer's Digest (I really like this one - lots of helpful articles). Go to the bookstore and invest in the latest issue of Writer's Market. This is your bible. A big book chock full of every magazine, trade publication and publisher, with information on how to submit your work.  And when someone asks you, "What do you do?" Answer: "I'm a writer!"

10. Just Do It. Listen, the hardest part is just to sit down and get started. You must make time, even if it's just a few minutes a day, to work on your writing (drawing/painting/whatever). The more you do it, the easier it will become.  I can't speak for those other passions, but writers must not only write, but READ.  Read the type of books/magazine articles/short stories you want to write. And then find a quite, comfortable place and get writing. Or if you are as bold and fearless as my friend Jean, grab your dog, jump in the car and get moving!

There are my top 10.  Your turn writers - what's your best advice to those starting out? What's worked for you?


  1. Plow through it. There might be times that you think you have nothing to write about/nothing to add to a longer piece but if you sit down and don't get up until you've written something, you might find that--800 words later--you DO have something to write about.

    Beth--This was a great list. (I really had to dig for that little suggestion, because you covered it all.)

    1. Sioux... this is a good #11! I've done this many times and it does work. Thanks!

  2. Hi Beth,

    This is great advice for writers, no matter where they are on their journey.

    Something that's taken me years to learn is to turn off my internal editor when I'm writing, especially a first draft. Now I try to write with abandon, but rewrite with care.

    1. Donna,
      The first sentence of your comment gave me another tip - specifically for me... quit doubting yourself! When I wrote this, I assumed that I don't have much to add, so I titled it as advice for beginners. But you are so right - it applies to writers at any stage of their journey. Thanks for reminding me of that! And I love your advice, as well. It's definitely all in the editing for me - I just had this conversation with my oldest son, who is writing a short story for his English class. Just write, write, write - worry about how it sounds later! Thanks for the comment!

  3. I'm pretty sure you could turn this into an article for some writing magazine. The only thing I could say, since I'm experiencing it, when you don't have time to write (which means when you're not really focusing on the writing), a bazillion ideas pop in your head. I have managed to jot a few of them down, but I'm like, really? Where were all these ideas when I wasn't in school? So maybe by not forcing things, it comes more easily?

    1. Lynn.... I really should! And you guys are adding even more tips! I agree with your advice... keep a pad of paper everywhere! I even saw recently that there is a waterproof tablet available for the shower... how great is that!

  4. Great advice! I would add: love words and be willing to experiment with them.