life: super powers not included

On Being a Writer

Writer's Blockphoto by okaycitynate
Yes, this is how you write. Sit in front of the computer like this long enough and suddenly there will be 1,000 words on your screen. I swear.

There’s one question I get asked more than any other, and it’s this: How do you have such gorgeous hair?

Kidding. I actually have pretty sucky hair. I got my mom’s thin locks while my sister stole my dad’s thick hair. I spend hours a day trying to coax body into this mane while my sister takes her thick, Pantene hair and throws it up into a messy bun. Go figure.

So the real question I get asked all the time is: How can I become a writer? There are more answers to that question than I’ll give mainly because if I’m going to reveal the secrets to the universe I’m going to do it in book form. Or, you know, I might just feel like I’m not one to advise on the subject.

To set things straight, I’m a writer. I have been since 2002. Well, I’ve been a published writer since then; I think I always considered myself a writer. I’m a journalist, but I’m not a writing rock star. I don’t write for the New Yorker or The Atlantic, and there aren’t Pulitzer’s hanging around my house. (But if there were, they’d be locked away in a safe that was hidden beneath my bullet-proof floor boards.) That’s my disclaimer.

After eight years—sheesh, I didn’t realize I was so old—I’ve come to realize there are four main steps to being a writer.

1. Read. As kids, we learn grammar and vocabulary by reading. But it’s also the way we learn how to structure sentences and how to tell stories. As adults, it’s still the best way to improve your writing. Read sucky stuff and learn what you don’t like. Read the good stuff and mark up what you love.

2. Write. Aside from the fact that’s it’s physically impossible to be a writer without actually writing, it’s one of the best ways to improve your ability. Look back to something you wrote five years ago. Do you see mistakes or faults? I do, and that’s because I’m constantly learning, constantly writing, and always improving. Practice is how I get there.

3. Pitch. The only way someone is ever going to find out about your awesometastic writing is if you show them. So if you want to be a journalist, query online magazines, big sites, or your local newspaper. By doing small work first you can bypass journalism’s catch-22: “We only publish writers who have published clips.” Start small and build clips, then pitch to larger pubs.

4. Grow thick skin. Writing is as much about rejection as it is about words, and that goes for newspaper and magazine journalism as well as book publishing. You’re going to get rejected. Period. So move on and don’t think it’s about you. It’s not; it’s just the way things are.

That’s it. Sure, there are a gazillion other tips I could give you about researching the newspapers and magazines you’d like to write for, or about reading about journalism to learn the industry. Or interviewing, or researching, or finding the best details. I could talk about pacing and suspense. Or why understanding format (say, the inverted pyramid for hard news) and style (is it internet or Internet?*) are so important. But it all boils down to this: Read, write, and get your work out there. Then push through rejection until you hit success.

Any questions?

*It’s Internet, by the way.

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17 comments

1 Joanna Sutter (Fitness & Spice) { 06.10.10 at 7:40 am }

I hear the AP Style Guide changed Web site to website a few months ago. Looks like it’s time for this girl to buy the new guide!

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Tracey Reply:

Yup. That was much needed, huh?

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2 theemptynutjar { 06.10.10 at 8:22 am }

I have hopes in this area. Unfortunately, I find that when my life is unstable with living/money, its hard to focus or feel safe enuf to try to sit and write (or even THINK about what i might want to write)….if I ever achieve stability in life…I might be more productive or at least figure out what it is in life I might really like.

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3 FoodFitnessFreshair { 06.10.10 at 8:38 am }

Thanks for the tips. I’ve done a few pitches while finishing out college, but I have the problem of starting big. I’ve wrote for a few small publications, but I’d love to see my work on some glossy pages! One day!

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Tracey Reply:

Well, I didn’t get into too much detail here, but since you majored in journalism an internship would be a good idea. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

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4 Wei-Wei { 06.10.10 at 8:48 am }

These are great tips. Thank you so much. I would love to be a writer, and this definitely helps and is so encouraging! :) You’re a wonderful writer. Apart from this blog, what do you write??

Wei-Wei

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Tracey Reply:

I write health (food, wellness, fitness) articles for a consumer magazine. :)

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5 Nichole { 06.10.10 at 9:10 am }

Definitely love your writing style, but glad to know your def a pro. Writing is tough business but just like everything else, put yourself out there and be proud. That’s why I love this site:) I like your style, lady!

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6 Kelly @ Healthy Living With Kelly { 06.10.10 at 9:11 am }

I love number 4! Thick skin is a MUST!!

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7 Katie @ Health for the Whole Self { 06.10.10 at 9:23 am }

These are great suggetions! It’s so true about all the rejection. It can be really difficult, but if you go into it being realistic then you’re better able to push through it.

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8 Lauren @ She's a Runner { 06.10.10 at 9:30 am }

I have always been “a writer” even though no one actually reads the things I write. Well, some people read my blog, so I guess that isn’t exactly true anymore. Regardless, I have anything but a thick skin, but I’m working on that because my ultimate goal is to publish a book…hopefully before I’m 80. Thanks for all the great tips from a seasoned expert :)

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9 Ameena { 06.10.10 at 12:22 pm }

Thank you for this post Tracey…as you know I am a writer and I actually want to make something of it now. So this information is great for me.

I think I have most of this down but I do not have a thick skin. That is certainly something I need to develop!

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10 Mary (A Merry Life) { 06.10.10 at 12:41 pm }

Oh, thank you for this so much! I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’ve interned at newspapers and obviously I blog, but I really want to get into writing professionally. I think my problem is that I don’t have a thick skin so I’m scared of both pitching and getting rejected. I know that even the best writers get rejected sometimes, so I need to get over that fear. Any tips for that? Any encouragment?

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11 Sagan { 06.10.10 at 1:47 pm }

Yes yes yes and YES! It’s all so important. This is really great advice.

For me when it comes to rejection, I’m really excited that the people took the time to SEND me a rejection letter (”yay they didn’t ignore me!”).

And it’s funny when people say they want to be a writer but they don’t write. We won’t become published writers if we aren’t truly writers at heart, methinks.

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12 Joy Manning { 06.10.10 at 2:27 pm }

There is an alternative to having thick skin which this thin-skinned mucho sensitive professional writer has mastered over the years: unashamed crying. So I would say you either need to have thick skin or get comfortable with frequent crying, in situations public and private.

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13 Courtney (Pancakes & Postcards) { 06.11.10 at 4:08 am }

Great advice. I want to be a writer as a career (someday, when I get there) and am trying to do what I can to improve my chances! It is great to see these kind of proven, no-nonsense tips from real-world experience. Thanks!

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14 Nicole { 06.11.10 at 8:05 am }

Thanks for the tips! I went to school for English and was writing freelance for a newspaper… before the economy kind of made writing work scarce. I need to start trying again, because I loved it… and miss it!

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