Be flexible in what you write, advises Dawn Copeman, the editor of two writers’ websites. The only way to be a writer is to write. Now, you don’t necessarily need to write every day, but you do need to write regularly and to strive to constantly improve upon your writing style — to make it tighter, more concise, to make it flow more easily. That is how Dawn Copeman would advice a person suffering from a writer’s block.
But what if you’re finding it hard to find topics to write about? What if every time you sit down to write, your mind goes blank? What if you’ve developed the dreaded Writers’ Block? Copeman has the definitive answer to that as well: “Do as it says on my screensaver – ‘just write something!’ It really doesn’t matter what you write; the important thing is to start writing something and not to feel discouraged. All of us, at some time, find it difficult to get started.”
Copeman is a freelance writer based in England. She is the editor of http://www.writing-world.com and also http://www.newbie-writers.com, a site for new and aspiring writers. The author of over 100 articles, she is also a contributing editor and columnist for http://www.timetravel-britain.com. In a freewheeling chat, she had much to say on the writing scene today.
Here are excerpts from the interview that’s packed with ‘how to’ information that any writer would love to go through. Without further ado, here’s the dope…
What has been your experience with most contributors to your websites?
This is a very hard and subjective question to answer and in some ways, it depends upon the website. I’ve been blown away by the talent of several contributors to Newbie-Writers; they are amazing. Unsurprisingly many of them are now regularly being published and I’m hoping one of them gets a book deal soon – he is a very talented writer. I must admit that at Newbie-Writers, I am a more sympathetic and patient kind of editor; the whole point of this site is to gently guide newbies into the writing world. At Writing-World, however, I am more critical. For this website I expect professional submissions and will not spend time correcting grammar and spellings. Writing-World is a resource for writers of all levels of experience, complete beginners to seasoned freelancers, and as such we only publish the best writing for our subscribers.
Agreed, so what is the best way to get published, both online and offline?
Be as professional as you can. Do your research; check if the magazine/e-zine/newspaper actually publishes what you want to write. Also, make sure it’s not been written about recently. Make sure you take time to write a powerful query letter, and then deliver exactly what you promised. Ensure you meet or preferably beat your deadlines. Meet the word-count and check that the finished article is as polished as it can be. No-one should be able to tell that this is the first article you’ve ever written.
What are the most common writers’ guidelines and submission guidelines violated these days and the ones that writers should be particularly aware of?
I can only speak from my recent experience; I’ve only been editing Writing-World for a few months. However, I’ve rapidly become aware of a group of writers who never seem to read submission guidelines. We do not accept fiction or poetry; we state so in our guidelines, yet I’ve received around fifty such submissions. Each time I receive such a submission, it just makes me think that the person submitting it is an amateur. Anyone who wants to get on would surely read the guidelines first! Also be aware that word limits exist for a reason; they are not negotiable. Neither is submission format; if it says ‘paste it in the body of an email’, that is what you need to do.
Is writing an art or craft or both?
Writing can be both; I guess it depends on the writer and the style of writing. I tend to think of writing as more of a craft, as crafts can be learnt. We can all learn how to craft a better article, a more compelling short-story. It’s not easy – far from it – but it can be done. But every now and then, a true artist comes along and blows everyone away with their skills. One who immediately springs to my mind is Graham Greene. Each of his novels is unique in style and genre.
So writing can be taught, eh?
Yes. If people have an aptitude for it, they learn more easily than others. But if people are prepared to work at it, take criticism and learn from it, then they can learn to write. Unfortunately, too many people either give up too early or are too precious about their work and refuse to accept criticism.
How important is reading for a writer?
Reading is vital for writers. How else are you going to learn how sentences flow? How articles work or how writers can create characters with only a few words. A writer who does not read will never progress.
If you could give us little known things of writing and getting published that our readers could use in their daily lives…
Be as professional as you can. There is no secret. Keep delivering what the editor wants and you’ll always get work. Also, keep on trying. Thousands of people say they want to be a writer, how many of them are actively writing and submitting? If you’re doing the latter, then you will get published.
Can someone make a living out of writing by working from home?
Yes, I know several writers who do so. You have to be flexible in what you write. You can’t just sit back and say, “I will only write books or short stories, or articles about cats.” You need to do all the writing that you can: copy writing, press releases, trade articles, web articles, articles on whatever topics are currently being sought and you must never, never rest on your laurels. If you hand in just one sloppy piece of work, then your job goes to a promising newcomer.
What are the pluses and minuses of being a freelance writer?
The job is varied and interesting and never boring. I enjoy learning about new things – such as flexible plastic packaging for a new job I’ve picked up and I really enjoy telling other people about them. The big plus is that I can work around my family and take time off when I want to as long as I meet my deadlines. The only minus I can think of is that it can be a lonely profession; sitting there in front of your keyboard all day, but there are forums out there now to combat this.
And what are the pluses and minuses of being the editor of writers’ websites?
Pluses – I get to read some great writing at both sites. I really enjoy helping the newbies at Newbie-Writers and I enjoy the correspondence with the subscribers at Writing-World, especially the responses and questions to the Inquiring Writer column.
Minuses – the amount of writing time that can get eaten up dealing with the technical side of running two writers’ sites, particularly when things go wrong.
As editor, what are the primary things you look for in writers and their writing?
A clear sense of the focus of the piece; I need to be shown that a writer knows exactly what they are setting out to achieve with a piece. I also look for concise, clear writing and advise that our subscribers will find useful in taking their writing careers forward.
If you were to suggest names of people whose writing should be recommended reading?
Terry Pratchett – just look how much research he crams into his enjoyable fantasy romps and see how he creates believable characters and plots. Graham Greene – for his versatility. Agatha Christie – her plots are great. I’ve read all of her books at least three times. Moira Allen’s books on freelancing (founder of writing-world.com). Okay, I’m biased but I learnt lots from her books.
Could you recommend some of the best online resources for a writer?
1. http://www.writethismoment.com – a subscription jobs board. I’ve got most of my writing jobs through this site.
2. http://www.writer2writer.com – Cheryl Wright’s site. Lots of useful advice.
3. http://www.mywriterscircle.com – An online writing circle, good for advice and jobs.
Lastly, if you were to write a five-step ‘How to’ guide on writing, what would that be?
1. Do your research – both on the article you want to write and the market you are targeting.
2. Write a great query – learn how to from writing sites and then practice until you get it right.
3. Write an article that meets the editor’s needs – length, style, sidebars, and covers everything you promised in the query.
4. Sit on it and then read it again – check it and edit it at least twice before submitting it.
5. Be professional at all times – when waiting for responses, when you get responses. Never fire off an angry email to an editor, believe me, we won’t work with you ever.