Sunday, March 25, 2018

What the Hell Do I Know? Thoughts on Writing

Some thoughts from a long-time storyteller, me.

It seems every writer with a computer is blogging advice about this or that, and most of it is a lot of blah-blah. (I'm guilty, too.) Honestly, advice is cheap. Yes, some of it comes from wonderful people, great writers, teachers, people who have walked the walk, many who have walked the walk far more successfully than I have. But, I've been telling stories professionally since the mid-1970s, either in print, online, in literary mags, through journalism, in books, or on the radio. And believe me, my long radio career has helped me be a better writer. "Telling stories" is far different than "writing" them, but telling stories on the radio is a key ingredient of my storytelling life. One has assisted the other.

So, with this background, some thoughts you can take or leave from this storyteller...

Write Each Day

Something. Anything. And be dedicated to it. Own it. Write it for you, but, even better, write for others to experience. Writing is a gift to others. The cliche of the lonely writer sitting with his own thoughts in a quiet corner of the world is a tired, pathetic thing. Writing is meant to be shared. Get it out there on social media, a personal blog, anything. Let it fly! 

Read Out loud

You've heard this before. But it is essential. Whether your work is for print, online, or for the speaking voice, reading it aloud will give you a sense of its musicality, its weight, its clarity.

Perform Lit Live

There are dozens of Live Lit groups around the city of Chicago, where I am, and in many other cities everywhere. They are wonderful opportunities to get your writing out there, to see how an audience (your "reader") reacts, how it resonates and connects. And most are open to new voices. Just reach out. 

Be Careful with Self-Publishing

I'm not here to bash self publishing. My very first book was a hybrid-publisher, which is one step above pure self-publishing. That book won respectable awards. My experience was a good one. But not all self-publishing experiences are. There are some awful publishing companies out there preying on writers. Be cautious. Do your homework. Hire an experienced editor and book designer. Hire a publicist. And be ready for bookstores to reject your book, simply because it's self published. All this said, self-publishing can be the right way to go if you are diligent and prepared for its realities and what comes with it. 

Don't Self-Publish

I know, I just suggested self-publishing might be right for you, depending on your goal. For instance, genre fiction does better through self publishing than literary fiction or memoir. So, before deciding to go that route, give your work a real shot with small presses and attempt to find an agent. Take your time and do your research. If you can get a traditional publisher, it's almost always going to be better for you. There will be more chances to get your book in bookstores and the like. I had an agent once. Dropped her. She was good. But I found I was making better inroads on my own, at least with small presses. If you're really going after the Big Five publishers, you will need an agent. Still, you can get published, legitimately, without one. This said, a great agent is just that, great, and along with a good writer, one can create a dynamic duo. 

Get Used to Rejection

You hear this all the time, but it needs to be repeated. It's part of the gig. I have been rejected over and over. Many times, it doesn't necessarily have to do with your writing or your story. Many times, it's a marketing dilemma. Is your story too much like a book the publisher already released? Is the subject matter too risky? I had one acquisitions editor tell me that no one in this business will admit that much of the decision-making process is purely subjective. Yes, the writing is important. You have to be a good writer. So, keep writing, and keep submitting. 

Take All Criticism with a BIG Grain of Salt

Not everyone is going to like your writing, your stories. They just aren't. This goes for other writers and readers of all kinds. Refer to the above about rejection and how so much is simply subjective. Still, one can learn from criticism. Yes, it can help you improve, just don't let it define you. Not all criticism is valid. 

Don't Dismiss Amazon

Too many authors badmouth Amazon. But the reality is Amazon is here and will remain and they sell a lot of books. This is not to dismiss supporting your local bookstore. Certainly not. But Amazon is a reality and, I contend, there is a place in the market for both. Be loyal to your bookstore. But if you are trying to sell books, you simply cannot completely dismiss Amazon. 

Read, For Goodness Sake 

This should be a no-brainer. You must read if you are going to write for print, online, radio, or TV. Reading is absolutely essential. And stretch yourself. Read the classics and read the comics. There is no good writer who is not a voracious reader. 

And Lastly, Forget This Advice

Advice is not always good advice. It's just advice. It's only someone's experience. And yes, what I have done well or not-do-well can be valuable knowledge for others, but still, it may not be what is best for you. Make your goal, aim high, and gather knowledge, but do not take what I say or write, or what someone else says or writes, as gospel. It's not.

One More Thing

Consider stopping when you want to improve. Don't over edit. Sometimes the fourth draft doesn't need the fifth. As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

Oh, One, ONE More Thing

Take risks. Writing is art. Art is risky. Putting yourself or your stories out there is courageous. Take the leap. It is worth it. 


  1. Ya know plenty! And sharing it with others, including this memoir-writer-always-in-progress, err process, is very valuable. Glad you put your thoughts together and posted.

  2. Thank you, Nancy. Keep writing. Passion fuels it. Keep us posted on your work!

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