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We've heard the stories: Abraham Lincoln lost every election up to becoming a senator. Thomas Edison "found 10,000 ways that didn't work." Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times and Michael Jordan missed 26 game-winning shots.
So what separated these men from those who eventually gave up? They had an unshakable vision for themselves. They didn't dwell on their failures. Rather, they learned from them, using these setbacks to motivate them to push forward.
Sweat and faith—they're the ingredients that separate writers from readers. Talent only takes you so far. So if you're serious about making a name for yourself, take the following advice to heart:
Actually write. There's never a "perfect time" to write, and those bursts of inspiration are few-and-far between. To get published, you must make a commitment. Start by setting a schedule. Block off time each week and remove all distractions.
Similarly, set goals for yourself so time doesn't slip away. Establish deadlines for gathering your thoughts, writing a first draft, and making subsequent revisions. Evaluate your progress.
And don't let yourself get stuck. There's no rule requiring you to write from beginning-to-end…or even finish one article before starting another. Be reasonable: No one churns out perfect copy on their first (or second) drafts. Don't fret over every word or constantly self-edit. Just let your ideas pour out, or you'll lose your rhythm.
Most important, don't procrastinate or make excuses. All writers have their doubtsȂand they'll start up whenever you're struggling. They're the same for everyone: "I don't know where to start." "I'm not good enough." "I have nothing new to say." "This is just too hard."
Resist giving into your doubts and push forward. That way, your article is more than just a monument to your experience; it becomes a testament to your resolve.
Develop a relationship with an editor. Editors can make or break a fledgling writer. Luckily, they're always looking for new content. So how can you differentiate yourself from an editor's pets?
It starts with selling yourself on a call or proposal. First, editors want someone credible. Review your professional credentials and experience. Ask yourself: How do yours position you as the right person to produce this piece?
Second, come prepared. Anyone can cook up an idea, but editors want to see something concrete. Can you share an outline or draft? Can you articulate why your angle is so unique, and why it'll appeal to their readership?
Remember, editors aren't created equally. Some are supportive; they'll share their time and expertise and even open doors for you. Others are busy, inconsiderate, or simply struggle to manage their time, resources, and priorities…no different from the rest of us.
Eventually, you'll run into that editor who takes pity and gives you a shot. Be sure to pay it forward when a struggling writer comes to you someday.
Study. You have abilities, no doubt. So does every other writer on your editor's stack. Again, talent only takes you so far. Sooner or later you'll need to consciously improve. And that means reading for more than enjoyment or absorbing wisdom.
Look at other writers' techniques, whether it's organization or sentence structure. Use these tricks to augment the voice and style you've work so hard to develop.
Have a goal. You've poured hours into mining your experience and chiseling your message. Now, what are you going to do once your piece is published? Though your article should never overtly tout your services, it is an advertisement‖a reflection of your capabilities. How are you going to leverage it?
Will you make laminated copies to hand out to prospective clients? Tout your publishing prowess on your resume or local paper? Share it with your peers and superiors, and identify all potential outlets where your writing can build your personal brand.
As part of establishing your credibility, pay special attention to your byline. In 50 or fewer words, highlight your key differentiators, such as title, experience, accomplishments, and awards, along with providing a means for readers to contact you.
Most important, don't hold unrealistic expectations for your article. It won't be added to Wharton's curriculum, nor will any job offers come pouring in. It may be featured somewhere for a day, then buried. If you're lucky, a reader will send you a kind e-mail. And despite your notoriety, your mother will still say, "You can give advice, but you can't take it (or follow your own)."
No, an article may be passed around some office or discussed at a meeting, but it'll rarely change anyone's life. Your article is a way to live on—to connect with someone, however briefly.
It is your ticket into that fraternity stretching from Greek dramatists to newspaper columnists. It is your opportunity to take those experiences we all have…and make them more clear and moving.
Rejection happens. Let's be blunt: Your work will be rejected. At best, you'll receive some recommendations. Most likely, you'll never hear back (despite your calls and e-mails). Don't get discouraged. It's rarely personal, but you'll need a thick skin, regardless.
There are many reasons why a piece is rejected. The writing may require more polish. Your angle may have already been beaten to death. It may not fit or simply doesn't say anything particularly original or memorable. Or, it may simply lack the urgency, energy, or attitude to differentiate it from the stack.
Don't quit. Accept any criticism as a blessing. Every writer thinks their piece was a disappointment and failed to capture the spirit of what inspired them in the first place.
As a first-time writer, you'll get better with each article. Above all else, keep at it: you'll eventually get published.
On a personal note, I'd like to thank Tim Parry, Stacy Straczynski, and Patricia O'Connell for giving me my shot.
SMM columnist Jeff Schmitt works in publishing in Dubuque, IA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter at jefflschmitt.