Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

What My Dogs Taught Me about Writing

My dog is writing my column this month. And while you may think she has been writing all of them, I take credit for all but this one.

My wife and I have a springer spaniel. Chloe, one year old, is our third. The first two are no longer with us.

All three dogs grew up doing the same thing. From the time they were puppies, all three would come into the office whenever I sat down to write and would sleep under my desk. First Arde (pronounced like Artie with a d), then Corey (aka Dogzilla), and now Chloe D. Dawg (Dawg was misspelled on her papers).

What I didn’t realize until recently is that all three had similar habits, and through those habits, they taught me some important things about becoming a writer.

Go All Out

Puppies have two speeds: Flat-out and sleep. A puppy can play tug-the-rope with as much energy on the last tug as on the first. And they don’t approach their fun halfheartedly. They intend to play until they get tired.

C’mon, tug that rope. Tug harder. You’re not trying. C’mon . . . tug . . . tug . . . tug.

Okay, stop. Time to sleep.

When a puppy (and many older dogs) plays, they put everything they have into it. Throw a tennis ball around a black Lab, or fling a Frisbee anywhere near a Border collie and watch what happens. They become perpetual fetch machines.

We could learn a lot from watching dogs play.

Primarily about the importance of giving each project our all, whether it’s a paid job or a freebie . . . or even just an idea we’re knocking around.

How many times have you sorta pecked a little here and there, answered a few emails, updated your Facebook status, tweeted pithy observations about life, searched for cute cat photos, and toyed with the piece again, only to realize that it has about as much oomph as a deflated balloon?


A couple of you just fibbed.

We’ve all done it. Approached our writing like a skinny girl on a first date. Just kind of picked at it and moved things around a little to make it look like we’ve done something. But we ought to approach our writing like Paula Deen at a buy-one-get-one-free butter sale: dive in with both hands flying.

Editors do not buy halfhearted attempts. And they can tell. The work speaks for itself. All the editor has to do is plow through the manuscript and the cadence of the writing, the word choice, and the competence of the piece (or lack of same) hits them like a tidal wave.

The enthusiasm we bring to a project shows in ways we are often never aware of, so it behooves us to approach each project with the same enthusiasm we bring to the other passions in our lives.

Be Loyal

If there is anything more loyal than a dog (and members of the military), I have yet to see it. My dog loves me when I am in a great mood and when I’m in a funk. She loves me when we’re playing fetch the flying monkey (long story) and when I’m lost in a project and unaware that she is even in the world. She climbs up in my lap every night and goes to sleep, no matter what time I come down from the office.

She loves my wife and me unconditionally and doesn’t make us deserve it.

We should have the same attitude toward the people we work for.

If someone is paying you to write, or if you agree to write a piece free of charge, that person/company deserves your loyalty. You may end up biting off more than you can chew, or the project may be as boring as watching beige carpet rot, but that’s immaterial. If you signed on to do the project, as far as anyone else is concerned, they are a great company to work for and you will not say a bad word against them.

If, however, you are wronged by someone you’re working for, it is still imperative for you to take the high road.


• We are Christian writers (remember, the C in CFOM doesn’t stand for Cauliflower)
• We are (or are striving to be) professionals
• If an editor hears you ripping another editor to shreds (even deservedly), it makes him or her wonder, “What would they say about me?”

I worked as a janitor through high school, and the man I worked for told all of his new employees, “You should always be loyal to the man who signs your paycheck.” And as writers, the same thing applies. I once agreed to do a project and realized halfway through I had undercharged the company by several hundred dollars. I was going to lose money on the project, and the CEO knew it. One afternoon he called to check on the progress of the project. I told him I was about two hours away from finishing the final edits.

“Tom, you’re telling me you going to turn this kit in two days early?”


“I don’t understand. You’re losing money on this deal, yet the preliminary work I’ve seen from you is outstanding. And on top of that, one of our potential vendors told me you were really talking up this new venture. Why is that?”

“Donald,” I said, “just because I miscalculated the amount of time this job would take and pretty much cut my own throat doesn’t change the fact that this is a great project. My goof doesn’t change that at all.”

He was impressed. And while he didn’t offer to make up the difference, he gave me first shot at a lot of freelance work.

Be Curious

My dog sniffs anything and everything. And thanks to the dog door in the dining room, she shares a lot of things with us: leaves; sticks; small branches; half-buried tennis balls; unidentifiable, dirt-encrusted, metal doohickeys; a dried-up squirrel’s tail (I don’t even want to know . . .); and other things that caught her attention.

All three dogs were curious about everything in the house and in the yard: in short, everything in their world.

How about you? Are you curious? Do you want to know what makes the world tick? Do you want to know why one sentence sounds so much better than another one yet they both convey the same information? Do you want to know why there are gourmet dog foods, but no rump-flavored dog food?

Writers are curious beasts. They sniff everything in their world and drag some of it back into the house to examine at their leisure. There's a lesson in that for the rest of us.

Well that’s about it for this time. I have to go now. It’s almost 9 p.m. and Chloe is waiting for me to come downstairs so she can go to sleep in my lap.


Soemthing Stirs