Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Everything I Learned about Writing I Learned in Kindergarten

by T. Jensen Lacey

When I read Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, I got to thinking how so much of what he said could be applied to the writer’s life.

Everything you need to know about the basics of writing as both an art and a profession is right there in your kindergarten rules. As a freelance journalist and author, I keep coming back to the grassroots of what makes or breaks success as a writer. That said, here are some of the rules I use that my kindergarten teacher taught me:

Stay Together. As a kindergartner, you learned about safety in numbers. For writers, that means staying connected--to other writers, editors, publishers and booksellers. Even if you don’t have time or money to attend conferences, you can stay connected to others via the Internet. There are also writers’ groups in even the smallest towns. If one doesn’t exist where you are--start one yourself. Having a support network will help you stay on track.

Be Polite. We learned the importance of manners in kindergarten, and it’s just as important now you’re a writer. Whether you’re dealing with administrative assistants or editors-in-chief, politeness is the mark of the professional. I even thank publishers who have rejected my work, especially if they’ve included helpful comments. Editors remember writers who are polite.Writing is a journey, and a sure way to end it is to be demanding toward editors who sometimes may say things you don’t want to hear. Editors want to discover new talent. Seeing your relationship as a team effort will help your attitude and result in improved relationships--and writing assignments.

Stop, Look, And Listen. Before you submit something you think is great, stop. Put it down for a while. Then read it aloud, listening to the flow and cadence of the words. If there are any areas that sound sluggish or make your writing lose focus, rewrite them.

Everyone Loves Their Own Name. Remember in kindergarten, how you were so proud of having your name on your desk? Well, editors love their names, too. Remember editors’ names (how they are pronounced and spelled) and you just might find yourself getting some work.

Practice Makes Perfect. In kindergarten we learned the value of practicing our alphabet and times tables. Now, writing every day perfects your craft. If you have to get up fifteen minutes earlier, it will make a difference in the excellent writer you are becoming. Effort and practice pay off.

Look Both Ways. When submitting something to one publication, is there another publication that might pay more--or is better suited? Take a few minutes to research the markets. Sometimes it’s the smaller publication that will pay better attention to your work than a big house who might ignore it. Choosing houses that accept simultaneous submissions is another consideration. In short, make your work as widely available as possible and remember to submit previously published articles for reprint rights. If there’s anything sweeter than a check for getting your work published, it’s getting another check from something you’ve gotten published again.

Share. In kindergarten we learned to share. Now, sharing your work with others will help you hone your skills. It’s great to get a different perspective on your work and will also help you feel affirmed and empowered, even if publishers are rejecting you.

Never Give Up. Remember the story about "The Little Engine That Could"? We learned to believe in ourselves and keep trying, and success would eventually come. For writers, this is important, too. When one of my book contracts fell through, I was devastated. After a couple of days, however, I gave myself some positive self-talk. I knew the manuscript was saleable, and this was only a temporary setback. I started marketing the manuscript again right away and later the next year, that book was in the bookstores.

Remember Your ABCs. For kindergartners, this refers to the alphabet. As a writer, I see it also as an acronym: Always Be Creative. Don’t try to copy something that’s already out there. Try to find newer, fresher approaches. For writers, it’s still the ABCs, but now your job is to put together the alphabet, creating words and stringing them together in a way no one else ever has before.

The writing profession is simple, really. You learned it all in kindergarten.

Theresa Jensen Lacey is author of the Amazing America series, including her latest release Amazing Texas (Jefferson Press, 2008). Visit her online at www.tjensenlacey.com.

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