Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wearing Two Writing Hats: Creative and Business

Wearing Two Writing Hats: Creative and Business
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

Writing is a form of creative expression that allows us to explore our ideas and imagination through words. Writing for publication means creating a product that has value to others. For some writers, the merging of the creative aspect and the marketing process seem like an impossible task, but if the writer wants to be successful and see his writing published, he must learn to make the imaginative artist work with the logical businessman.

The Creative Hat

Every story, every poem, every article, starts with that rush of inspiration, that instant when we know we have a great idea. But inspiration alone is not enough to bring the idea to completion. We need also need to be willing to research (if the subject requires it) and to revise (everything requires this). This, too, should be viewed as part of the creative process, for some of the best writing comes from rewriting. How, then, do we nurture the creative spirit? What are some things every writer should do to stay inspired for this writing project, the revisions of this project, and the beginning of the next project?

• Practice. As a violinist, I know that it’s essential for me to practice scales and etudes. The scales may be dull stuff, but when I encounter a difficult passage in a concerto, the repetition pays off, and I can play the music with facility and grace. My fingers have memorized the movements, allowing me to find the notes without thinking. The same concept is true for writing. If you write every day, you strengthen your writing muscles and flex your imagination.

• Read Critically. What should you read? Read the classics. Read works in your genre, including prize-winning examples. Analyze the text of good writing to learn more about the craft. Do you have trouble with dialogue? Then find some passages of dialogue that dazzle you and examine how the author uses such things as dialogue tags, beats, or double entendre. Spend time in a library or bookstore and develop a specialized reading list for your study of the writing craft. Take time to read something from that list every day.

• Educate Yourself. Take a class or a writing workshop at your local community college or adult ed program where you can practice working in new genres or experiment with form and craft. If you write short fiction, think about taking a poetry class. Each experience informs the other. Attend a writer’s conference where you can participate in small workshops, attend lectures, listen to readings, and network with writers, agents, and editors. The experience of networking with others in the field creates a wonderful synergy for everyone involved.

• Get Feedback. Every writer needs readers, and the best readers for your work are your peers—not your family and friends. Look for a local or online critique group where you can submit your writing for comments and critique. The critiques you receive should be balanced with honest criticism that points out both the strengths and weaknesses of the work and makes solid suggestions for improvement.

The Business Hat

Those who are writing for publication need to recognize their work is a product. You are asking someone to invest time and/or money in your creation. A good businessperson knows that her first job is to please the customer; the second job is to be a professional at every level. Some basic principles to follow:

• Study the Markets. Before you submit to an editor or an agent, know what they want. Read the guidelines. If the agent asks to see novels between 85,000 and 110,000 words, don’t send her your 200,000-word opus. Read the magazines before you submit your poetry, essays, or short fiction to determine if your writing is appropriate for that market. Most magazines have websites with archives of previously published material and access is usually free.

• Keep Good Records. Keep track of your correspondence, your submissions, and your acceptances. Some smaller markets use an email as their informal contract for shorter pieces. If so, keep a copy of these in case there are questions later. Know where you sent your writing, whom you sent it to, when you sent it, and exactly what you sent. The rejection you received two years ago for an article could lead to a sale next month—if you still have the editor’s name and contact information.

• Network. Participate in online writing forums and critique groups. Go to local readings at your bookstore. Get to know other writers on the social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. Mike’s Writing Workshop is a wonderful resource for opportunities and information. Create a website or a blog so people can find you on the Net. Some of the best writing opportunities come from the most unexpected places.

• Create A Resource List. Whenever someone posts a link about a resource online, I visit that site to see if it is something I will find helpful. I have a large list of writing-related resources that I’ve saved in a personal database. I can turn to that list to find links for writing the query letter, markets for essays, or even agent blogs. Tailor your resource list to your writing expertise and interests.

• Manage Your Time. Make time to write every day. Set goals for yourself that you can meet and/or exceed. Screen phone calls so that you don’t get bogged down with interruptions. Create a workspace that is just for your writing. Treat your work and your time with respect and others will too. Answer business correspondence in a timely manner, and set aside a few hours each week to research new markets and send out submissions.

I have talked about wearing two writing hats, but I like to think of myself as wearing one large, grand chapeau. The right side of my hat (the creative side) has a floppy brim adorned with sequins and fluttering peacock feathers. The left side (the analytical side) is dark black bowler trimmed in grosgrain ribbon. With my hat planted squarely on my head, I venture into creating new work to submit for publication.

Happy writing!

Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning writer whose fiction and nonfiction has been published in numerous magazines, newsletters, and anthologies. The recipient of artistic grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Creative Capital Foundation, she is currently studying for her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Phoenix and teaches writing workshops and classes in the metro area.

Visit Ms. Gassman at her website:

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