Monday, August 11, 2014

Student Dreams Of Being A Successful Writer; Asks Tazi How

Dear Tazi:

I am a senior in high school, and I love to write. It doesn't matter what kind of writing it is (creative or non-fiction, poetry, journalism, short-stories), I just enjoy the creative process and emotional release it offers. I would like to be a professional writer one day; but the problem is, I think I might not be that good of a writer.

My parents have never allowed me to take writing classes as electives, preferring I take extra science and math courses so I have never had any formal training. My school has a literary magazine that is published twice yearly, but my stuff has never been chosen for publication. It is a blind process (the selection committee does not see who wrote what), so I know it is not a popularity contest, with the most popular kids getting their stuff published...I just feel like maybe I am chasing a dream that will never be realized. I could self-publish, but that stuff is done on consignment and I do not want to invest my college money into something that may flop big time.

I will be going to college next year, and I know that the school I will be attending has a required freshman writing class where I can learn what I am doing wrong, but I would like to major in writing and I am just not certain if I am good enough to do it. I love your column, Tazi; it is so creative and is always fun to read. You have mentioned in the past that you sometimes have to re-work the letters for structure, to make them easier to read, and it is obviously working - I have seen your page view map and people from all over the world read your column! Do you have any tips on how I can be a better writer? I have enclosed a few samples of my stuff for you to review, if you don't mind.

Future Rowling, Collins, Or Meyer...I Hope!

Dear Future Rowling, Collins, Or Meyer:

Oh, my! You do seem to have an appreciation for current popular fiction! Have you discovered any classic authors yet? My favorite is T.S. Eliot, who wrote about cats. Lloyd Alexander did the same, although his work was geared more towards children. I also enjoy Stephen King - my favorite is Pet Semetary, which features a zombie cat. I am somewhat obsessed with my own kind, as all cats tend to be obsessed with themselves; at least us male cats. Female cats tend to be more nurturing. Speaking of nurturing versus self-centered, my lady friend came by to visit tonight; but I was too busy napping to pay her any mind...but I digress, which happens often when I am writing. I was supposed to address your question, wasn't I?

The above paragraph is an example of my unedited work. Did you notice how I started to ramble off topic? Did you lose interest, because my writing was turning into a self-absorbed soliloquy? I left the above paragraph unedited to show the importance of editing, which is the greater part of successful writing. So often, when we write, we cannot see past our own point-of-view. We fall in love with what we have written and cannot see the need to edit it - we assume that it will be of such great interest to others, too, and declare our first draft to be perfection! So why mess with it, right? Because - to be quite honest - a first draft is something nobody but the writer (and possibly the writer's Grandma) will find fascinating. Most people find a first draft of something confusing or downright uninteresting - both of which can be hard to follow.

Successful writing is like successful cooking - you can't just throw all of your ingredients in one pot, stir, and serve. You have to add the right elements at the proper time, taste-test to make sure you have the right blend, and then walk away to allow the flavors to blend and marinate in their own juices. When you write, you take an idea and work on developing it, adding background to the story-line and deciding on where the plot is going by creating an outline of the story.

As your idea develops, you add the plot points in at the proper time to ensure continuity. Then, when you think you have everything in place, you write a rough draft and then walk away from it, to let it sit and allow your excitement over your creation to dissipate. Return when you feel you can view your work with a critical - but not overly judgmental - eye. You will notice changes that need to be made to make things flow better and to make for a more interesting experience for the reader. Once you finish your second draft, put it aside and then lather, rinse, repeat! If you feel additional changes are not needed, run your work by someone in your potential audience who would be willing to evaluate it and give you constructive criticism; make further edits based upon the comments you receive. As you can see, several drafts may be needed before you reach a final, finished product.

Once you reach your end-point with a particular piece, compare the completed work with the first draft and make notes on what was changed, what was kept, and what was completely eliminated. Over time, you will see a pattern developing and you will be able to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, building towards the success you seek.

Do not feel discouraged by the process, or by those who make the process look easy - writers who declare their work to be perfect on the first try and/or who pump out stuff overnight very rarely receive wide, sustained, commercial success for their work. For more tips on commercially successful writing, visit People I Want To Punch In The Throat: My Blogging Advice. By pure chance, her blog today happens to be on how she has managed to successfully (read: go viral and get paid) work as a professional freelance writer.


P.S. with regard to your writing samples: Vampires have been overdone. Try not to stand on the shoulders of giants, but to build your own ladder to reach the stars. The full narratives are somewhat disjointed - especially the two poems you included to start and end of the story. They are obviously quite personal; perhaps a little too personal, as one would have to be able to crawl inside your mind to fully understand their meaning.

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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