The importance of staying proactive as a writer

Trying to build a career as a writer when you have a life, other commitments and a whole other job can seem a daunting task and there’s no doubt that it takes hard work, discipline and patience.

I wanted to jot down some thoughts I’ve had recently about why it’s so important to also be proactive as an aspiring writer. This comes from my own experiences, and something of a revelation I had in recent months. More on that below!

Somebody has to read your work for it to get anywhere

Does a text exist simply through the act of being written? Or does it need to be consumed by a reader in order to become whole? I won’t go into the detail about the questions posed by Roland Barthes in his seminal essay The Death of the Author (I did a whole presentation on this during my Creative Writing MA!), but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot as a writer.

Whether you get your fulfilment from the act of writing itself, or you think of it as unfinished until read by a reader, the fact is as an aspiring writer you have to send your work out in order for it to get anywhere in the literary world.

I know this sounds obvious, but sometimes we can get bogged down in the act of creation, of playing around with short stories, poems or a novel – can spend months or even years working on it – without ever having given it to another pair of eyes, much less a pair of eyes that can help you get it shared, or published.

This very thought came to me a few months ago after a rejection from a literary agent for my novel. I was feeling downhearted about the whole thing, felt like I was going nowhere, and while licking my wounds realised that it was up to me to be proactive and send my work out. If I wanted to get my novel published, I needed to send it to more agents. If I wanted my short stories out there in the world, I needed to submit them to competitions or journals. I know – it sounds so obvious, but it was something of an epiphany.

While this doesn’t mean firing out your work into the world without ensuring that it’s the best it can be, it might mean juggling a few balls in order to maximise your chances of success.

Which is where my next point comes in…

Diversifying your submissions

If you have just one thing that you’re working on, I get it. There are plenty of writers who have sole focus on a project, and quite frankly I envy anyone who can concentrate on a single piece of writing for any period of time.

But what I’ve come to realise is that the larger the variety of things I do, the higher my chances of someone liking my work. Of course, I’m not going to be simultaneously working on a sci-fi trilogy alongside a mythical short story collection and a book of experimental poetry, but it does mean that I like to keep my options open. So, if I hit a brick wall with my novel, I can go back to my short stories and start sending them out. If one short story frustrates me, I go back to another. When I can’t face actually writing, I research programmes and awards to apply to. Sometimes the admin of being a writer is a good distraction from the work itself.

This technique worked for me recently as, while waiting for feedback from an agent, I found out my short story had been accepted into New Writing Scotland magazine which will be published next month. Truth be told, I had kind of forgotten I’d even submitted to the magazine, so it was a really pleasant surprise and a lovely boost to get the news. I could then add this achievement to my writing resume and drop it into my conversations with agents to let them know that somebody else had enjoyed my writing enough to publish it. See, I’m not a one trick pony!

This tactic of juggling a few different things really works for me and I’ve found that spreading my time and submissions between different writing projects keeps me motivated and flexes my creative writing muscles. Plus, I love working to a deadline in order to get something done, and I really enjoy challenging myself to write something completely different every now and again.

Finding opportunities

I think I’ll write a separate post on staying organised as a writer, but as I’ve upped my game in terms of sending my work out over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed how important it is to keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities as I go.

This means researching competitions and awards and where overwhelmed, finding the lovely people and websites who put together lists of all the upcoming opportunities in different genres and practices. The one place I’ve discovered a lot of places to send my work recently is Twitter – whether that’s an agent tweeting their wish list, an agency opening for submissions, competitions or magazine journals. I screenshot everything I see of interest (you could also bookmark on Twitter) and then once a week go through and work out which ones I want to submit to.

There are A LOT of opportunities out there for writers at the moment (particularly for writers from underrepresented backgrounds if this applies to you!) so keep researching and being proactive in your submissions – you never know what will happen.

Writing about writing

My final point is that writing about writing counts as writing… I hope! Over the years I’ve found great comfort in discussing both the writing process and my journey to becoming published here on my blog, and I do believe that this kind of journaling is part of being a proactive writer. I intend to continue blogging here on Forever on a Lilo (hopefully a little more regularly moving forward!), and use this as a space to share my thoughts and experiences. I hope it will be read by interested eyes, and that it could one day lead to more building blocks in my career but, in any case, it’s good practice in diversifying my creative content. And, as ever, I really enjoy the process of blogging.

Check out my previous blog post for what I’ve learnt about querying literary agents so far.

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