So, You Want to Be a Writer – The Fundamentals

So, You Want to Be a Writer – The Fundamentals

You’ve landed here on the Cresting Wave website because you’re interested in writing and getting your work published. What do you want to write about? How do you want to write it?

Those may seem inane questions but they are fundamental to your project. Do you want to tell the story of how your great-great-great-grandmother crossed the prairie in a covered wagon? Or how a neighbor made a fortune as an inventor in his basement? Everything in the vast universe is a potential subject for observation and elucidation—and I do mean everything. All of it can be commented upon entertainingly and informatively—or tediously and boringly. The difference is all in how you choose to tell your tale.

Many beginning writers struggle to find a voice. They may feel that their work lacks substance or feels inauthentic. The solution to this is simple: write more, and read voraciously. Imitate writers whose work you admire, without plagiarizing. Your real voice—or several real voices—will emerge from all the imitation.

Many singers learn their craft by performing with recordings. They sing along with favorite recordings until they feel confident enough to go it alone. This was the route taken by 16-year-old Danielle Bradbury, winner of the popular NBC talent show “The Voice.” A small-town girl who had never performed in public prior to auditioning for the show, Bradbury perfected her technique singing in her bedroom, using a hairbrush as a make-believe microphone. Her passion and persistence landed her not only a first-place win but a recording contract with a major label.

Chances are that you’re not going to be offered a staff position at The New Yorker with the publication of your first piece, but getting anything published anywhere for the first time—especially if you’re also getting paid—is an incredibly exhilarating validation and proof that you’re on the right path. Once you’ve got that first one under your belt, follow it immediately with another. Editors love reliable consistent writers.

Many aspiring writers feel that they need the validation of credentials—a master’s degree in English Literature at minimum; summer vacations squandered at writers’ retreats. The counter to this is that many successful and well-regarded writers have no formal training or pursued fields of study far removed from the study of literature.

There’s a corresponding belief among academics that the publishing world is some sort of pyramid with small-circulation literary quarterlies at the bottom and intellectual juggernauts like The Atlantic and The Economist at the top.The fact is that publications of all kinds—especially periodicals—are hungry monsters that must be fed continually, like old-fashioned steam locomotives that had to be stoked constantly with coal in order to keep moving. And despite the received wisdom that print is dead, a visit to any bookstore will prove the opposite. There are more print publications in production now than ever before, and they all need material.

Inquiries to publishers aren’t likely to yield results, but penetrating the apparent editorial barrier may be as simple as sending in a piece unbidden. Pieces that arrive fully developed—concise, solidly structured, competently edited, and ready to publish—are like gifts from heaven to overworked editors. Our goal with this series is to help you develop your work, whatever form it may take, into compelling pieces that will gain you a following among readers and editors alike.