P.C.'s advice on writing
I’m getting lots and lots of questions from aspiring authors, so I thought I’d post a blog entry on my advice for those of you who would like to be published. Yes, I’m going to be blunt and honest with you, but please know I wish each of you the best of luck in attaining your dreams. Remember, dreams are realized through tenacity and hard work.
P. C. CAST’S ADVICE ON BEING AN AUTHOR:
1. If you want to be a professional author you need to approach the career like you would any other job. RESEARCH THE WRITING PROFESSION. You can begin by reading: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, HOW TO GET HAPPILY PUBLISHED by Judith Appelbaum, THE WRITERS MARKET, and THE AGENTS MARKET. Ignore the romanticized ideal that says being an author is something magical and mystical – that you lay around, waiting for your Muse to whisper in your ear, or for your dreams to coalesce, and then you’re simply the vessel through which all the stories flow. Ugh. Being an author is a job. Writing is work. Period.
2. Speaking of work – please remember that whatever you write represents you. No one is going to correct your errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. That’s not an editor’s job. Your editor is there to guide you into honing an already well written manuscript into the best work it can possibly be, and not to be a remedial writing coach. You need to work on the mechanics of writing and be as perfect as possible BEFORE you submit work to an editor or agent. Spelling counts! Even in emails. Get serious about that or no one will take your writing seriously.
3. What do I do to overcome writer’s block? Answer: I don’t believe in it! Again, writing is a job. When I was teaching there were many days I didn’t particularly feel like showing up at school and teaching 100+ teenagers, but it was my job and I did it (and did it well) whether I felt like it that day or not. That’s what writing is, too. Some days it’s a pleasure to be an author. Some days it’s hard as hell. Actually, most days it’s hard as hell. But I write whether it’s a breeze or whether it’s sloughing through mud, and so will you if you’re a real author.
4. Should you ask me (or any other published author) to read your work in progress, idea, summary, essay, poetry, etc.? NO. Okay – here’s the truth: another author can NOT get you published. Agents and editors can. Focus on them. Oh, and regarding allowing tons of people read your work as you write – my advice is DO NOT. If you need feedback get into a writers’ group, or a creative writing class, both of which you can find by searching the internet.
5. For the record – no, I don’t read unpublished work. First, I can’t read your work and still have time to write my own. Second, my opinion doesn’t mean anything. I can’t get you published!
6. How can you get published? That’s a question you need to research and work on yourself. See #1 above for more info. Here’s the deal: you wouldn’t walk into a dentist’s office and say, “Hey! I want to be a dentist, so could you tell me how to drill on that guy’s teeth and let me have a whack at him?” Same thing about being an author. I can’t tell you how to do it. I can’t tell you how to write a book. Those are things you need to research and then do for yourself.
7. How do you start writing? JUST WRITE. Sometimes doing an outline helps. Sometimes drawing a chart helps. Sooner or later it all comes down to the writing. There is no magic pill that makes it suddenly happen. Read a lot. Write a lot. That’s all you can do.
8. Go to book signings and buy books signed by someone with a pulse. Don’t ask anything of the author – just go. It builds up good Karma and it helps support the career to which you aspire.
9. Don’t ever download a pirated copy of any book. It’s stealing from an author and her publisher. Yes. It’s seriously bad Karma, whether you ever want to be published or not. If you can't afford to buy a book visit your public library.
So, in summary: writing is a job like any other. Educate yourself about it. No, that doesn’t mean you have to be a literature major in college. It means you need to read writers’ resource books and become knowledgeable about how the publishing business works. Yes, it’s a lot to know. Just like in any other job. No, there are no shortcuts to being published. Yes, you have to have a completed, rewritten manuscript – in an acceptable format – before you begin looking for an agent or an editor. No, an “idea” won’t sell unless you’re a celebrity, and then it’ll be ghost written anyway, and that’s a whole other issue. Oh, and be careful of Karma...
I wish you much luck in your quest!