You may be a writer who has his/her hands full already. Or you may be a writer who has great aspirations but isn’t sure how to get started on your many ideas.
We’ve talked about the importance of finding a writers’ group and also readers. What can be equally important is finding places where you can further hone your skills, develop your audience, and establish your specialties. If you’re in the second category, read on. (If you’re in the first, get off the internet and get back to work.)
Guest blogging, writing for magazines, or reviewing the work of others, is a great way to cultivate the writing discipline you’ll need to carry you through a book length project. What people rarely mention in those “overnight” bestsellers is that few people actually accomplish anything in that short a time span. Sometimes it takes years and several shelved novels – someone once said nineteen years of nights – to break into the market. Just as marathon runners don’t get up one morning and run the entire race, writers rarely sit down in 24 hours or four weeks, and churn out a complete manuscript. So what are people doing during those unseen times?
They’re writing. For anyone and everyone who will have them. Often you may trade payment for exposure if you go this route but the goal is to eventually get to where you can focus on your writing.
Guest blogging, i.e. sharing your content on someone else’s blog (like I’m doing here), is a great way to expand your audience. Through the use of social media, and your other networks, you’ll find out that someone is looking for content on exercise horror stories, for example, and you wrote about this last year when throwing your back out attempting the Insanity workout videos. You’ll send in your piece, and if the host likes it, you’ll be scheduled in. Now be prepared to wait, as the most popular bloggers, including Miss Minimalist, can schedule 6 weeks in advance. Readers who like what you have to say will follow you over to your blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter (hopefully you’ve integrated all of these into one space). And now you have new readers. Hopefully you’re generating content to keep them coming back.
Also along this vein are websites looking for content whether in your community, ethnic group, or hobby. Usually this includes posting your photo, a bio, and updates on a particular topic. Go for it; the more regularly you are required to post, the more content you will have. Be sure to find out what the rules are for contributors. In most cases you’ll retain the rights to your work. If not, consider carefully what kind of material you want to share there, knowing you can’t reuse.
Writing for local or smaller magazines is another way to make yourself produce on demand. These gigs may be far from The New Yorker, but they can pay for a nice dinner once a month, as well as integrate you into an energetic community. Recently I became the Associate Editor of a lifestyle magazine and began working with a score of writers of various levels. I’ve seen them all progress through our issues, and having regular writing deadlines has helped but also the creativity of other brains to generate themes, debate titles, and bounce ideas off, are essentials to refining your individual genius.
For five years, I’ve served as an audiobook reviewer. I also do article annotations for an academic publisher. Neither of these focuses on my work but they achieve another important goal: staying current within the publishing industry. As I review books and articles, I see what other people are writing, talking, and thinking about. Perhaps even more significantly, I can see the style, diction, and voice through which they are telling these various stories without impinging on my reading for pleasure.
Guest blogging, magazine writing, and reviewing the work of others all boil down to the same principle: you can’t create on demand if you aren’t used to doing it often and well. Make it a goal to contribute somewhere monthly. Slowly but surely, your list of writing clips will not also grow, but your audience, and eventually your other opportunities as well. This will eventually lead to a moment when someone (finally) asks you that question: “have you thought about writing a book?”
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a writer and educator who has lived in Qatar since 2005. A scholar of literature, she has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her work has been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer.