In my new life as a writer, I have two challenges that I am not sure how to meet. These are my next big obstacles to overcome.
- I don’t know how to figure out what a market wants
- I don’t have a writing group
For the first one, the general pattern for a writer is to 1) read several issues of a publication; 2) assess what type of writing the editors prefer; 3) submit work if and only if there is a match between the work and what the editors are publishing.
For me, this breaks down on step three, almost every time.
I do, in fact, read the publication, and almost every time, I think, “Hey! This is something I could write!” and then I merrily submit my own work. Turns out, I am not a very good judge of writer/publication chemistry. I sort publications and my writing the same way I sort my socks: randomly. Except, I think they match – it’s just everyone else who disagrees.
While “I do what I want” works when it comes to fashion, my opinion is, in fact, the least important one when it comes to getting published. To illustrate: I recently received a very helpful rejection letter which said, “[T]he stories I accept need to be told from the child’s point of view and I look for stories where dialog tells the story instead of the author preaching the lesson. Look at some of the stories that are posted on the web site. It will give you a better idea of what that means.”
The crazy thing is, I did look at the stories on the website, and I never once noticed they were all from the kid’s perspective, or that they used more dialogue than my story did. How could I not have noticed this?
I know I will develop this skill over time, and I am intensely grateful to every editor who takes time to teach me – instead of being annoyed that I am not doing my research first. I’m trying, babe, I’m trying.
As for the second piece, I know I need a writing group. After fifteen years teaching writing, where I would sacrifice content for time spent in feedback groups, I cannot overstate the value of this for any serious writer. In fact, this is why I am so excited to work with editors. A friend of mine asked me how I feel when an editor asks me to make changes to my piece.
I clapped my hands. I skipped joyfully in a circle. “I feel encouraged! I feel a sense of clarity and purpose! I love it!” I shouted. Or, something to that effect.
Most recently, editors Julianne Palumbo from Mothers Always Write and Kim Winternheimer from The Masters Review have given me such helpful feedback that I watched my writing transform from something good to something with an edge – an edge I couldn’t hone by myself. I needed their insight, from things like, “Please strengthen the opinion here,” to “Give the reader access to your emotions” – these comments helped me see places where my writing moved too quickly over something the reader needed in order to be drawn into the piece.
But now, of course, I am hungry for more. I have built a webpage, established a presence on LinkedIn and Facebook, have a Duotrope account; I know how to write a query and how to submit an essay, poem, or story; I write a lot and work hard to revise my work so it feels “finished”.
Now, I need the help that only a feedback group can give. It is time for me to venture outside myself – stay tuned for this next part of my journey.
 If you are a writer yourself and have overcome this obstacle, I’d love to hear how.