by Mr. Z
A report of a presentation by Chuck Sambuchino on how to become a successful writer
|Ten Keys to Writing Success
A report on a presentation by Chuck Sambuchino
Every writer wants to know the key to becoming a success. At a recent writers’ conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Chuck Sambuchino, a writer for Writers Digest, gave us a list of his ten keys to becoming a writing success.
First, always write the best thing you can. His point being many writers become impatient and grow tired of a project, so they hurry to finish and send it off. Sambuchino’s suggestion is instead, put the project aside, work on something else, and return to the project after taking a break from it. One issue with this is “What if I have a deadline?” I wrote many articles for magazines, and they always had deadlines. What I noticed was good writers gave themselves enough time to write, set the article aside for a few days, and return to it before the deadline.
Second, know what you are getting into before getting into it. The important thing is to know the issues, problems, and process of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. This applies to any writing project. For example, if you want to submit a short story with a Christmas theme, you need to realize the story will be edited and printed in a publication months before Christmas. The vetting process for the story to reach the editor will be months before that. So the best time to send in the story is not in November, but in the spring.
The third point is build your writer’s platform. The goal is to get as many people as possible to know who you are. Using social media is now becoming a must for any writer. Also, membership in professional, social, and veteran organizations is encouraged. It is important to remember membership is not enough. You need to be active and get your name out there. One reason famous people have best sellers is because the public recognizes the name. The more people know who you are, the better luck you will have in selling you writing. A personal example is my wife, who got commissioned to write a language textbook because of her social platform.
For his fourth point, he stressed to keep moving forward and don’t let rejections stop you. I have written hundreds of articles and I still get rejections. There are many reasons why a publisher or editor will not accept your project. You can’t let it stop you from writing. Sambuchino recommended joining a writers’ critique group. This will not only help you improve your writing, but also give you encouragement and motivation to continue writing.
The fifth point was don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. His advice here was to keep writing and don’t limit yourself to just one project. He is not suggesting jumping from one project to another without completing any of them. The idea is not to put all of one’s energy and resources into a single project. Write articles, short stories, letters, novels, etc. Often a writer will have limited success with one project, but great success with others. For me, I have had hundreds of articles published, but have yet to get a novel published. So while working on my novels, I continue to write articles and get published.
For his sixth point, Sambuchino says write for love and write for money. There is nothing wrong with writing for money to cover living expenses while writing things you enjoy. I work for the government writing technical documents. It’s a job. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my life’s dream either. So I work at writing these technical manuals to pay the rent while working on my novels.
The seventh point is don’t believe everything you hear. The main point here is to educate yourself about the industry. Go to conferences, talk to agents and editors, try things yourself, talk to other writers, read books and articles about the industry. The issue here is learn things yourself instead of relying on second-hand information. It is important to note that other writers’ experiences may provide you with ideas and encouragement; not every book follows the same path. For example my wife wrote and got a textbook published. She does free-lance work as a translator which led to her being commissioned by a publisher to write a language textbook within 90 days. This is extremely unusual, but it proves the point that everyone’s experience is unique.
Point number eight is don’t let agents reject your manuscript for the following two reasons. The first reason is nothing happens on the first page. It’s not compelling; there is no desire to keep reading. The first page should introduce one of the following: tension, a problem, conflict, or trouble. Make the reader curious as to what is happening. The second reason is too much information too soon. Too often writers tell the back story or describe the characters in detail. A good way to avoid this is to tell the back story in dialogue later in the beginning, and limit any description of a character to a single sentence. One article I wrote was about a chemical substance that changes from a solid to a kind of goo, which can help keep buildings cool or warm. Starting with that kind of sentence is boring. Instead I started with, “An ice cube may hold the answer to heating your home.” It seemed strange and therefore encouraged people to read the entire article.
For Sambuchino’s ninth point, he recommends stealing from yourself. Many times you write something great for one story, but the story itself doesn’t work. However, that passage will work great in another story. Many writers will write short passages, even though they don’t have a complete story; but later will find a place to use the material. I write lots of letters, and often an incident I wrote about in a letter can be used in one of my novels.
The last and most important point is quite simple. Put down the TV remote. In short, make time for writing. Every successful writer makes time for his or her writing. Hemingway, who spent a lot of time on his hobbies and drinking, made it a point to write every morning from seven to noon. While it was just five hours a day, it was time when he focused on writing. Sambuchino quoted Michael Jordan who said, “If you put in the hours, the results will come.” From personal experience I know finding time to write when you work full time is difficult. I spend an hour each day, during lunch, working on my novels. I may write only 600 or 700 words, but I am writing, and by the end of a week, I have written at least 3,000 words. That’s a fairly good chunk of writing.
In short, there is no magic trick or shortcut that will make you a success. It takes work and dedication, but the rewards are worth it. Ask any writer and that person will tell you there is a great deal of satisfaction and pride when you see your name in print as the author, regardless of the number of copies sold.