Carla sent this: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY I want to become a published author?”
A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically want to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.
Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and praise their words, but most successful authors discover that fame is not only fleeting, it doesn’t make us better people or better writers. And that, I think, is why so many successful writers I know spend considerable time attempting to improve their craft.
If that’s true (and it might be too much of a leap for some readers to accept), then the one thing a beginning writer ought to do is to devote himself or herself to improving their craft of writing. As an agent, I see hundreds of manuscripts every year that I reject for representation. Nearly all of these are rejected for one basic reason: the writer simply isn’t good enough. The ideas may be interesting, and the marketing may be slick, but the authors simply aren’t good enough to publish. That’s a message I’ve tried to get into the heads of beginning writers everywhere: Don’t try seeking “the secret” of writing. Improve as a writer. I’ve yet to meet a great writer who is not published.
And how does one go about doing that? I don’t think it’s all that complicated – write regularly and expose yourself to great writing. A beginning writer should read widely, and should focus on great, not just popular, writing. A beginning writer should set aside time to write regularly, and should make writing a habit in his or her life. A beginning writer should find someone who can help him or her improve – a writing instructor, a writing mentor, an experienced editor, even a writing critique group, so long as the members can bring some wisdom to bear on the issue of craft.
This post first appeared August 11, 2010 on Chip MacGregor’s blog. Used by kind permission. On Thursday, NCWA will post Part Two of Chip’s answer.
Chip MacGregor created MacGregor Literary and has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both CBA and ABA. Chip has written more than two-dozen titles, including two books that hit #1 on the bestseller lists in their category. During his tenure as a publisher at Time Warner, he helped the company grow into one of the world’s biggest providers of Christian books to the general market.