Getting Started in a Writing Career

In the past couple of years and several hundred entries into this blog, I have talked about how to come up with ideas, how to organize those ideas, how to write stories and novels, and how to get them published. But for me, writing is much more than a one-time thing. I am in it for the duration, which means they will probably need to bury my laptop with me when I die, preferably with wi-fi service. If you have one book in you, then it is simply a matter of getting the courage together to write that book and find a publisher for it. But if you plan on writing more than one project, it’s a little bit different–and then, it really isn’t.

I say it really isn’t, because every writing career starts with one idea, just as a portfolio full of book titles is a collection of individual ideas. Writers are challenged to either (1) come up with an idea that inspires them, write it, then try to find a publisher who is equally inspired; (2) ask a publisher or editor what they are looking for, and then write that; or (3) find something that get you as a writer and your publisher equally excited. The serendipity of (3) is wonderful, but unfortunately is the exception rather than the rule.

31ZNP6T2ImL._SL500_AA300_My first big idea came back in the late 70s when I was the managing editor of the Pacific Union Recorder, a weekly newspaper for Seventh-day Adventists in the western U.S. I had a couple of little ones at home, and thought of the idea of listing spiritual, yet fun, activities for the family to do on our seventh-day Sabbath. At that time there were three Adventist publishing houses in North America, and I wrote a query letter to each of them. All three said they were interested. But I had never gotten anything published before this, at least that I wasn’t the editor of, and so my apprehension got the better of me. As I put the idea on the back burner, two of the publishing houses forgot about me, but Richard Coffen, senior editor at Southern Publishing Association in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote me a couple of letters over the next two years, wondering what had happened to my idea. That gave me enough courage to try and put something together. And with my wife’s blessing, I spent a Memorial Day Weekend writing the bulk of my first book, 52 Things to Do on Sabbath.

As I have mentioned here before, the challenges weren’t over when I finished writing the manuscript. Because I printed it off, put it in an envelope, addressed it, stamped it, and promptly left it on my desk for the next two weeks. Finally I got the courage to mail it, and the rest is history. When I got the news that they were printing it, I said, “Now I can die in peace.” I was 28.

Since that time, 52 Things has not gone out of print, and has sold more than 30,000 copies. But it almost didn’t happen.

The challenges of starting a writing career are these: (1) find an idea that you can get behind and that has at least a reasonable chance of being published; (2) commit yourself to turning that idea to an actual manuscript (it’s amazing how many fall down at this point, including me!); (3) find the courage to market your masterpiece either through conventional or non-conventional (independent) means.

The key to success is a writing career is tenacity. You need a modicum of talent, a willingness to pay your dues until you learn what you need to learn, and a desire so strong that it won’t let you say no.

Don’t expect fame or fortune, but if you love writing, it won’t matter.

And it all starts with that first idea….