month, in response to a stack of mail I received from readers who are
also writers—or hope to become published authors—we touched on a few of
the so-called writing basics. This month, we’ll answer a few more
Q: I write in
my bedroom, on a desk I share with my husband. When he isn’t
complaining about the glare from the screen, he’s whining about the
click-clack of the keys. Any suggestions? (Eileen B., Des Moines, IA)
You really, really, really
need your own space. A desk shared with your husband, a corner of your
kitchen counter, or the end of the dining room table is not conducive
to productivity. Why? Because it invites numerous distractions and
disruptions, and things—your things, your writing
things—tend to get lost or misplaced. Besides (harkening back to last
month’s tax discussion), how would you describe that so-called writer’s
space when preparing to deduct a percentage of the square footage of
Name two accountants, lawyers,
doctors, or chefs who share their work space with spouses. Would any of
those bona fide pros allow their kids use their business equipment to
play video games? I think not. So why should you?
Doesn’t matter if you’re a full-
or part-time writer or dog walker, hair stylist, shrink, or Wal-Mart
greeter, the place where you work is as important
as the work, itself. If you don’t think of yourself
as a professional . . . I don’t need to finish that sentence, do I?
So find a spot in your house.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a repurposed guest room or that closet under the
stairs, if your desk is a sheet of plywood supported by two Wal-Mart
filing cabinets (you’ll need those, anyway, to store your records), you
need desk space in a place that’s off limits to everybody. Paying the
household bills in this space is not allowed. Sharing of recipes is
forbidden, and so are watercolor or crayon creations. Playing cards,
bingo, and Monopoly? Uh-uh-uh.
Q: Should I
belong to a critique group? (Jillian P., Joliet, IL)
I hate to be vague, but that
Do you have time for this?
Do you have the stomach for “tough assessments” of your work?
Do you know how to give as good as you get?
Do you understand the difference between offering your opinion
and submitting advice?
I belonged to several critique
groups over the years, where I met some terrific people—some who became
lasting friends—and some real wackos. These days, I stay in touch with
the sane ones by phone and e-mail, because deadlines make it impossible
to attend the meetings.
Q: What about
contests? Should I enter? (Irma G., Nashville, TN)
First things first: They can be
pricy, so don’t let that alone guide you. Some writers feel contests
shorten the road to publication, and others think they’re a waste of
time. Some editors give “winning entries” serious consideration when
making decisions about issuing contracts, while others say the results
make no difference whatsoever. So you’ll have to be the judge (pardon
the pun) of whether or not you can afford the time, money, and angst.
Q: What’s the
point of attending writers’ conferences? (Ed N.,
Conferences provide great
opportunities to network with your peers and meet
editors and agents. If you’re already published, it’s a chance to get
some one-on-one face time with your editors and agent. But be warned:
Like contests, these can be expensive, especially when you add to the
registration fee the cost of travel, accommodations, meals, cab fare,
and the like. Yes, a portion of these expenses are deductable, but
you’re the only one who can determine if the time away from the office
and the cost of being there is worth the drain of your energy and
Q: Then what
about enrolling in writing courses, or signing up for local seminars
and workshops? (Paula H., Indianapolis, IN)
Even those closer to home aren’t
free, so you’ll still
need to weigh the pros against the cons. Do you have time for the hour,
half-day, all-day, or weekend get-together?
In all cases, do your homework
to check into who will be teaching the material! I know dozens of
instructors with no credible experience. Need proof what might be
lurking behind what looks like the perfect course? One such instructor
(and I use the term loosely) used my serious illness as an excuse to
visit and, knowing I couldn’t oversee the use of my copy machine, used
those minutes in my office—while the machine clicked and whirred—to
steal handouts, class lectures, and lesson plans . . . and later used
them to teach a writers’ course.
Most instructors are what they
say they are and can teach you plenty about the craft, the industry,
and the business of writing. The wanna-be teachers? They’re good
salesmen and little more. They managed to convince a writers’ group or
community college of their abilities to turn students into writers.
Blowhards by nature, they aren’t afraid to speak in front of a crowd.
If I had a dollar for every student who came to me after one of those
phonies were through with them, upset and confused because they wasted
time and money and got nothing in return, I could register for a
conference myself! You owe it to yourself to check out what the
material will do to advance your career. No self-respecting pro will
have a problem if you dig around for proof of credentials.
Here’s a great question to end
Q: I’ve heard
my published author friends say things like “Don’t quit your day job!”
and “I don’t do this for the money.” Considering this, how am I
supposed to know what I need versus what I think I need? (Brittainy S.,
Peggy’s Cove, NS)
You need a computer. A printer.
Enough light (from a lamp or a window) to see the keyboard. A place to
store stuff. And enough privacy so that you can work. Most of us have
all of that long before we acknowledged our fiction addiction.
Everything else? Personal
decisions and judgment calls, some that are easy to live with, others
that are painful.
So happy writing. I mean it!