Back in the day, I had the joy of teaching an introductory writing course. My classes were primarily filled with young adults who were brand new to college. And it wasn’t unusual for a student to tell me he was the first in his family to extend his education beyond high school. Knowing this, I felt a particular obligation to make sure my students had a strong start to their academic careers. And so, I would begin the semester by revealing my secrets for scholarly success (aside from the obvious–stellar study and organizational skills, and an ample snack stockpile).
Recently, it occurred to me these secrets may be applicable to you as well, my writing friends. (Shazam!) Since you’re the bees knees and the cat’s pajamas, I want to pass along these secrets, which I guess, won’t exactly make them secrets any more. Let’s call them my Top Two Tips of All Time. Catchy, huh?
Here we go . . .
1. Show up. Sounds obvious, but you’d be gobsmacked how many otherwise capable people stumble on this very step.
2. Ask questions. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but I see the ability to speak up and ask questions as a sign of self-respect. By asking for the information you need, you’re saying, I matter.
Let’s break this down a bit. How would a writer apply these two simple tips? Let me suggest the ways . . .
Show up . . .
For writing time.
For your writing friends.
For your agent and editor.
For conferences and workshops.
Ask questions . . .
For me, that’s how most writing projects begin. I start with a character or concept and begin asking questions. Then, I draft character sketches and ask my characters questions.
When an opportunity presents itself, grill yourself with questions–Is this right for me? Is now the right time? What is motivating me to say yes? (desperation?) or no? (fear?) What do I need to ask before I can make an intelligent decision? What will this opportunity require of me? What will I gain? What will I have to give up? How will it benefit me or others?
Sometimes, this includes asking for help–I’m feeling stuck. Would you read my manuscript and give me your honest feedback? I’m feeling lonely and/or depressed, can we talk? I’m thinking of taking a class, what would you recommend? Can you tell me how to do school visits? Could you tell me where you keep your emergency supply of chocolate?
Other times, this may include asking if you can help someone else–Would you like to join our critique group? Would you like a beta reader? You seem a little down. How can I encourage you today? Who said you could break into my emergency supply of chocolate?
Thinking about your writing path–what should my next step be? Is this manuscript ready to send out? How can I know for sure? Should I query agents? How do I know who’s a good fit for me? Is it time to try a new genre? Why haven’t I won the Newbery yet?
There you have it!
Did I forget any? (See what I did there? Of course you did.)
Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers. ~ Robert Half