So you want to be a writer…

by Melissa Walker

You can totally be a writer… here’s how.

Everyone has a different path to publication. Mine went something like this: high school yearbook staff, college newspaper staff, summer magazine internship, post-graduation magazine job… book deal! See how it all makes sense? Of course, in between were stints working at my local movie theater, waiting tables, scribbling story ideas on napkins, staying up late to type away at something I figured no one would ever read, like the just-barely fictionalized account of a bad college break (that one is still in a drawer). But the point is I learned to write by doing school activities (yearbook, newspaper) and then jobs (internship, staff job) that demanded a lot of writing. Not to mention the 1001 English classes I took.

And that whole practicing thing? It works. And the best news for young writers today is this: the world is listening to you. The media is trying to track your generation’s habits, figure out what you think, what you like, what you eat, what you dream about… you get the idea. You are interesting. So if you want to be published, follow the old adage and write what you know. Here are some ideas for how to get your work “out there,” starting right now.

Fiction. Write your book. There is no reason not to start a book this week, today, this minute. If you love to read, keep books around you. Notice how they’re paced, how scenes start, what you love about the characters. Watch how your favorite authors use plot, setting, as well as quirky or intricate details. And keep writing! The real measure of success will be in finishing a book. You may start five books before you find one you want to see through to the end, but it’s the one you finish that has a real chance of being published. Share your work with trusted friends and advisers. Learn to accept feedback and revise (again and again). When you’re finally satisfied with what you’ve done, then it’s agent time. Don’t be afraid to send it out. Rejection is part of the process, and it only takes one YES to open the door.

Nonfiction. If you’re considering journalism, check out the local publications in your area—hometown newspapers, regional magazines, town newsletters—and see what kind of stories they publish. Keep in mind that these publications need content! They also want to include youthful voices and ideas. Here’s how to start: Sign up for your school’s newspaper or yearbook—or any activity where you can get some writing experience (yes, a blog counts!). Get a few posts or assignments under your belt and think about what you’re most passionate about. A food column? Movie reviews? Local-color profiles? Chronicling the fashion choices in your high school hallways? Write a bit and find your style. Then contact the editors (their info is always handily listed online), show them what you’ve written, and explain how you might contribute to their publications.

Don’t know what type of writing you’re into? No problem! Start a blog that is just YOU. I’m not talking about spilling your deepest secrets—this is a public spot for you to share the things that interest and inspire you. Post you-tube videos with comedic one-liners under them, create headlines for photos you find intriguing, interview people you like (authors, other bloggers, your best friend… whoever.) Don’t stress about visitors or comments, just be creative and find your style.

If you’re already way into books, magazines, blogs and all kinds of content, you’re halfway there. Great writers read, read, and read some more.

Melissa Walker is the author of four young-adult novels, including the “Violet trilogy” and “Lovestruck Summer.” She is co-creator of the popular teen newsletter I Heart Daily and the new awkward-stage blog Before You Were Hot. Melissa lives in Brooklyn and has a BA in English from Vassar College. She would tell you her SAT scores too, but, you know, the math part was hard. She loves meeting teenagers, and is game to speak at your library or school about writing, books, fashion, magazines or pop culture (but, you know, in a smart way).

11 thoughts on “So you want to be a writer…

  1. I know you just launched, so I thought I’d tell you you have a large gray bar on the right covering up a chunk of your blog. Good luck! I’m going to mention this new website to my kids (I’m a teen librarian) and coworkers.

  2. Hi Melissa I am so happy to see you on here! I was reading a NY Times article mentioning Figment and I decided to take a look. Great website and fun article written by you 🙂 See you in chat on Wednesday, Nairobi time!

  3. Your website was mentioned in a NY Times article, which brought me to it. Have always been wanting to have a forum where I can share my poems without necessarily calling it a blog. I have already signed up to your website and hope to start posting soon. I hope that we get more male participants as well, to get a different angle.
    Wish you success with your new website! Congrats!

  4. Melissa,

    I’m so happy you were able to break into the publication world! I’m still working on it, myself. I couldn’t help but laugh at the description of yourself at the end about your SAT scores: “She would tell you her SAT scores too, but, you know, the math part was hard.” Sounds about right! I can write a 10-page paper in one sitting but ask me to add, subtract, multiply or divide in my head (depending on the equation) and I’ll be there all night! 🙂

    I wish you the best of luck in your writing career!


  5. I love writting, so this article helped me alot! When start writting a different story Ill come back and get some advice! Thanks!

  6. Thanks, everyone! G, I actually talked to an editor before I had an agent. I was a magazine editor, so I knew some book editors. Once an editor had offered a deal on my idea and a few sample chapters, I then set about trying to find an agent. I found one who’d edited a couple of my FAVORITE young adult authors (you can usually find a book’s agent in the acknowledgments), and got in touch. He read my pages and the idea, we met for a drink and hit it off, and that was that.

    The more traditional way may involve or scouring Publisher’s Marketplace for deals on books that sound up your alley. What agent is repping those types of books? Maybe they’ll be the one for you.

  7. I love what you just said because there are a lot of people (myself included) that have big dreams of being a writer but doubt their abilties, but I think if they read this it will give them the strenght and motiviation they need to pursue their dreams. I like to write about things that people can relate to such as broken romances, there are times in my life when something don’t go the way that I think it should, so I write and write what I think should happen. I like writing because it gives me the opportunity to create a world where the characters do what I want. There are times when I get stumped as I write, but I keep myself going. I want to try and get a book published by the end of 2011.

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