ARTICLE: Beginning Modestly

It never ceases to surprise me the number of beginning writers who want to leap straight into the Big Time! I suppose their reasoning is that one cannot make a living by selling one’s efforts for £1 per 100 words. But this is faulty logic.

Take acting.  No doubt some people burst upon the poor unsuspecting public with super nova-like suddenness, but not the majority.  Most struggle, happy to make the horizon.  They start as scene shifters, or carpenters.  They progress to a non-speaking, two-second walk-on part, and consider themselves lucky.  That is how you should start.

First, make sure you know the nuts and bolts of your craft: spelling, punctuation, basic grammar!  It is amazing how many beginners think that the editors will deal with such things for them.  They won’t.  No more than a director will play the actor’s role for him; he will simply find someone more competent for the part.  So learn your English language.

No doubt, also, the quickest way to make writing your livelihood is to become a novelist.  But, if self-discipline is in short supply (as it is with me), it is also the quickest way to failure.  Far better to begin modestly.  Concentrate on just getting published first.  Don’t worry about payment.  Try out several types of writing, to see which comes easiest.  Articles: how to’s, personal experience, local interest.  Poetry: check the specialist mags.  Short stories: plenty of market for romance, but check the children’s mags, the confessions mags, men’s magazines, and the teenage market.

But remember, practices first.  Practice, practice, practice!  Then target the humbler markets.  Progress towards the biggies.  Then, maybe, you will be ready for that novel, or non-fiction book — even make yourself a millionaire.

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Copyright John Steele, 1989(?), 2011
Published in Writing magazine, Edited by Barbara Horsfall (ISSN 0308 2024), in 1988/89(?). This wasn’t the first article I had accepted by a small press magazine (if memory serves, that dubious honour goes to Writing Today magazine), but I think the first to pay me (a modest £2) because I believe they paid on acceptance rather than publication. I believe the last sentence has been tweaked too, to make it fit the space available (the word limit was just 200 words – once again, if memory serves). I think I set out to write articles on the ‘how to’ of writing because my Writers’ Workshop tutor had had such an article published and I have a competitive streak.

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