1. Write poems? Post a poem or two on the Net at www.poemhunter.com. Sure, there are lots of poems on there. Sure, many are junk. But not all of them are. And yours certainly are better than most.
2. Have you published a book? Is it still in print? Every library system has an "acquisitions" librarian. Find the acquisitions page on the library's website and suggest the library acquire your book. You can suggest books for any library system you belong to. Ask your friends in other counties and states to suggest your book to their local and university libraries.
3. Have you written a book? Do you own the electronic rights to it? Can you turn the computer file into a pdf file? If so, you may upload and publish it as an eBook, for free, at www.lulu.com. People can then visit lulu.com, and find and download your eBook. You can also download others' books for free. eBooks are the way of the future. Get on the wagon now.
4. Help a young writer, a child or a teen. Just encourage them, no matter what they are writing, to keep on writing things. You know from your own experience that writers of any age can get a lot of mileage out of a few kind words.
Here one can download, for a 30-day trial, a subliminal messages software program. It flashes messages on the computer screen for two milliseconds -- and these messages are positive, and you can select from pre-loaded messages, or create your own.
Subliminal messages, although you can't really read them, are supposed to be a painless way to imprint the mind, to change thought patterns and behavior. I said, I will try it.
The pre-loaded categories include losing weight, quitting smoking, winning athletic contests, making friends, and so on. I loaded the messages for Self-Esteem, Prosperity, and Success, and also made up my own category, Writing. Each of these categories is stocked with affirmations, which are nothing but wishes put into words. Some affirmations I put in my Writing category are "People tell me my writing is wonderful," "I am well paid for what I write," "I write poems easily and abundantly." Then I started the program. This was five days ago. Honestly, I think it's working.
For example, I was asked to quote a price on an editing job. I asked for the amount I wanted, the going rate: $75 an hour. Normally I lowball it, because it seems like a great deal of money to me, I certainly couldn't afford it, and because one person acted shocked when I had the nerve to ask for that much on a previous occasion. Where did I learn that writers and money don't mix? And what's more, why did I believe that?
I haven't heard the answer yet, but I have this odd sensation of "I'm going to stand firm on this." It's a good sensation!
I do notice when the affirmations flash on the screen -- but can't read them, except very occasionally and from my peripheral vision.
If you stare at your computer screen a lot, and think you could benefit, try it free for 30 days. I have noticed no harmful effects. And if I don't get the editing job -- I can use that time for my own writing. Win-win!
Where did I get those numbers? From editors who run writing contests for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, first books, and chapbooks.
Confident writers don't need to enter contests to prove themselves or impress other people. Save your time for improving your writing, maybe trying something new. Save your money for something you know you can get, like a better computer. Even if you did win, there are so many contests that no individual prize is worth much. The only prizes really worth having are those people nominate you for, and they nominate on the basis of good writing.
But, if you must discourage and hurt yourself by entering a "contest," here's some inside information if you want to almost win:
Poems: For local and regional contests, send poems about trees and flowers, and the seasons; if you have a "snow globe"poem or a patriotic poem, you might place. For a contest run by a literary journal, send a poem that berates yourself for living in North America while the rest of the world suffers.
Short fiction: Send stories about the lives of middle-class white professionals, particularly writers, editors, or teachers, and their relationships and sexual problems; be sure to mention their yoga class.
Flash fiction: The overall message of your flash fiction should be that "life is degrading" and the tone should be rueful. A little girl should appear as a character.
Essays: Use an exotic locale. Africa and Asia are preferred.
The above tips may double your chances, to about 1 in 300 and 1 in 600. Sound like odds you can handle?
For writers who believe they are above the odds, and entitled to win a prize because they have published or have an M.F.A.:
Things that Contest Judges Hate Right Now: Anything Midwestern; humorous or satirical poetry; work with a feminist outlook; fiction or essays about the blue-collar world or working women; anything that hints that digital technology is good; lesbians.
JUST AS YOU ARE ABOUT TO FINISH.
I am finishing two book manuscripts and the software is working right now. I sure don't want to arrange the book (chronological order? thematic? other?) or write up that table of contents and acknowledgements page. I think it'll take up too much paper to print out the manuscript for proofreading. I'm not thinking, "How great it is I've finished a book, or nearly." I'm thinking, "What awful things will people say about me when I publish this book?"
The software kicks in just as you are about to succeed. In fact it signals that success is near. But suddenly you're exhausted or depressed. The world doesn't need another writer. In fact, you need to train for a triathlon. (Note: The world doesn't need another triathlete, either.) You quit your writing group, thinking they don't respect you, they never did. . . It's not writer's block. You can write just fine; you just can't finish.
Don't try to pep-talk or bribe yourself. It won't work. Get help. Ask a friend to help you scout a bookstore for names of likely publishers. Ask a fellow writer for encouragement or to set a deadline. Pay someone to write three query letters for you. Talk to a businessperson about business; this can help you lose your fear of it. Tell a therapist, if you can afford one, that you have written a book you just can't bring yourself to finish.
Now I see that it was always a matter of growing up. And asking for what I want, and not settling for less. I had to step out of my comfort zone. My old comfort zone was about half the going rate. Isn't that pathetic? But now I am a grownup. A professional who finally asks for and gets paid a professional rate. It's a wildly new feeling. The air I breathe feels different. I have more energy. I have more confidence!
Don't know what to charge for your writing-related services? Consult the chapter "How Much Should I Charge?" that appears in the front matter of every annual Writer's Market. In the 2006 Writer's Market, that chapter begins on page 68.
Whatever your comfort zone is, whether financial or artistic, I urge you to try stepping out of it.
Writer says: I am booked.
Relative says: I've tried for an hour and I just can't get the inkjet cartridge out or the new one in. And I've got to get this thing printed by tomorrow. You're into computers, right? You can come over tonight, can't you?
Writer says: I am booked.
Dear Writer: You're working on a book, aren't you? (Who isn't?) Then you can confidently say -- when someone tries to railroad you into doing something you didn't promise to do, aren't obliged to do, never agreed to do: "I'm booked."
Your score doubles if you use that time to work on your book for real.
I didn't want to wait for "eventually". I mean, Tess published her first book at about age 30, the age I was then. And I didn't want to take a chance that somebody who was somehow incapable of appreciating my work now would find it to be good -- "eventually."
I hate to be patient or advise any other writer to be patient, because they won't be. So I'll say "Have confidence," and "Keep writing."
You believe what you write is good, don't you? That it's literature? If it's good, it's like any other good literature, like Twain or Dickens or Dickinson or Cather or what have you: It'll keep! Have faith that one day you'll know exactly where to send it, or what to do with it, or that someone will ask for it. Keep writing because "eventually" will come. It will surely bring with it requests for other things you've written. "We'd like to see more of your stories -- do you have any?" "I heard you read your poems at ____. Want to do a reading for us?" (And at that reading is an editor, or someone who knows someone who publishes chapbooks, and if your poems are truly good. . .)
If what you write is good, "eventually" will come. So stock up now!
I once was in conference with a famous writer. (It was E. L. Doctorow.) The first thing he asked me was, "Do you write every day?"
I said, "No. I have to work."
His manner changed. I understood that my answer had disqualified me in some fashion; that it proved I was not truly committed, and had no future in the big leagues. The rest of the conference was perfunctory.
I didn't think it was a rude question at the time. I had read, over and over, that some writers were "too lazy" or "not disciplined" if they did not get up two hours earlier in the morning or use their after-work time to write. I tried those things, for about three days each, and couldn't see straight, much less think straight.
"Do you write every day?" E. L. Doctorow is a fine writer. But that question proved he was not a teacher.
Maybe writers who do nothing else can and should write every day, but writers with responsibilities other than writing can get too burnt-out. Tired. Depleted. And if you feel that way -- you are exactly what you feel like!
The following coping idea came from a writer with a full-time job. She tried writing in the evenings, but at best put in a spotty half-hour. The results were not worth her efforts. Weekends had to be spent on housework and errands. So she told herself:
Okay, no writing Monday through Friday. Period. You are not to go near pen and paper on those days. Writing is permitted on the weekends only -- and then only if you feel like it.
The first week she rejoiced in her freedom from the mental burden of "writing every day."
By Friday night of the second week she could hardly wait to get to her computer. She did her housework and schlepping on weeknights, didn't short herself on sleep, and on Saturday and Sunday, rested, she got good chunks of time to sit down and write. She's a real writer.
"I can't get an agent" "Writers never make money" "Nobody wants the kind of stuff I write" "Artists are doomed to be outsiders" "I wish I'd been born with another talent"
Gently, shine the green light on these thoughts. You have a green light to write -- whatever you want -- and be great.
Having trouble picturing a green light? Draw a traffic light. Draw rays coming out of the green lamp.
Every time you see a green light, no matter where you are, tell yourself, "That's the green light for my writing."
True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.
Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.
This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from Creativecommons.org.
Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!
Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.