How Do You Get Started?

Question:

I am a fan, inspired by your story at http://www.phyllisnaylor.com  I am writing to tell you I use you for my role model. Writing has been a dormant passion of mine. I am finally able to give my time to writing. I used to sneak it in small increments of time when I was working full time. Now, I am not working, and this is my new life, I wondered how someone like yourself started off. Did you have the money to hire editors? Did you have the resources that allowed you to be able to self publish? Can you advise somebody like me who has 0 to spend on those type of luxury’s? Or do you where or who to direct me towards? Thanks!I don’t mean to sound whiney! I am just trying all my avenues to get valuable information from an expert!

Phyllis replied:

You don’t sound whiney, but you do sort of imply that it takes financial resources to succeed, and I started with zero too.  I would say that the two main factors for succeeding as a writer are talent, of course, and persistance.  There is such a wide difference of time between when I got my start and when you are starting out; I had advantages then that aren’t available now, but you have advantages I didn’t have.

First, I wrote short stories–about 2000 of them, to be exact–for fifteen years before I ever tried writing a novel.  At the time, most church denominations had story papers or magazines for both children and teenagers, and they were constantly looking for really good stories that were character-building without moralizing.  As my writing improved, I began picking themes that no one else was writing about for children–how it feels to be a teen, and knowing your dad is having an affair; a teenager who commits suicide when the crowd below taunts him to jump…. But I also loved to write comedy, and for 25…or was it 35 years…I wrote a column for teens called “First  Person Singular” under the pseudonym, P.R. Tedesco.  I subscribed to The Writer magazine, and when I saw an ad about a contest for a first novel for children, I submitted a manuscript.  I did not win the prize.  In fact, it was rejected, but with a note telling me that if I would completely rewrite the manuscript from the viewpoint of one of the characters instead of the whole family, they would give the manuscript a second look.  I did, and my first novel, “What the Gulls were Singing,” was published.  From there, one at a time, very slowly, I began writing books.  I did not get an agent until I began writing novels for adults, and I never paid anyone to critique my manuscripts.  The editors at the publishing company taught me the rest.

Today, there probably aren’t magazines for children and teens published inexpensively by church denominations.  But there are still contests if you look for them.  And all sorts of ways to promote oneself and one’s work online.  Yes, there is probably way more competition.  Paying for a website is not cheap.  But there are also organizations that are extremely helpful to the beginning writer, such as Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, if you are at all interested in writing for children, teens, or young adults.  Write, write, write.  Read, read, read.  Push yourself.  Learn from rejections.  Best wishes and best of luck!

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