What I Used to Think: First and foremost, writers should listen to their inner muse.
- What I Now Realize: There are two types of writers who work to please their inner muse, those with tons of clout and unserious beginners. If you’re anywhere in between then you have to work to please an audience. Your inner muse is way too self-satisfied. Only an audience will reliably tell you know if you’re on the right track and doing good work.
- What I Now Realize: Professional writing is more akin to alchemy than prospecting. You either have to create gold from scratch or from the hunks of lead that other people give you. And you have to be able to do it on cue, everyday, so you have no time to wait for inspiration to come flowing by. The only way to be a working writer is to be able to create new stories on a moment’s notice according to pre-determined specifications.
- What I Now Realize: You can write anything you want, if you only want to please yourself. But if you expect others to want to read it, you have to be willing to write what your audience is willing to read and you have to write it according to their standards of what makes a good story.
- What I Now Realize: At first, you should share your work with your peers and enter it into contests, if they aren’t too expensive. Only after outside peers (non-friend, non-family, non-paid-instructor) tell you that they are impressed with your work (or you win one of those contests), then you should try to get it seen. Even then, you should try to make sure that you get it into the hands of a specific gatekeeper who will be impressed by that specific story.
- What I Now Realize: The person judging your story will not want to read it at all, and will read it with a strong presumption that it will suck. This person has been forced to read twenty submissions in a row, and the first nineteen were all insultingly bad, so why should yours be any different? Picture a traveling salesman on an airplane, who desperately needs to take a nap, but the person next to him insists on telling him a long, rambling story instead. How good does that story have to be to make the salesman overcome his annoyance, forget all about his nap and listen with rapt attention? That’s how good you have to be.