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I knew at 18 that I wanted to be a professional writer. The problem was I didn’t know any professional writers. I also didn’t know any editors, agents, or publishers. So, I made a terrible mistake. I tried to make it alone.
I majored in English, but my teachers knew nothing about copyright laws, marketing, book proposals, or movie options. As a result, I sent out manuscripts—and spent years getting rejections.
Finally, in a chance meeting with an agent who took pity on me, I learned why.
The man was vicious with his red pen. “No! Never type your titles in all capital letters. Never leave a margin that isn’t at least one inch wide. Never have two speakers use dialogue in the same paragraph.” On and on he bloodied my pages.
That was the saddest, yet happiest, day of my writing career. It was devastating because I saw that for years no one had looked at anything I’d written and considered it professional. But, it was joyful because now I knew what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.
Becoming a professional
I joined a writers club to learn from people in the game. I attended writers conferences to network with editors and agents. In time, I became a newspaper columnist, then a successful magazine freelance writer, then a contributing editor to five magazines, and finally the author of six novels and 46 nonfiction books.
The writing business is not that different from other businesses. To succeed:
- Establish a network of people already successful in the field
- Find mentors to offer advice, critique your work, and guide you
- Seek guidance through books, training tapes, and educational DVDs
Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Don’t go it alone.
React: What is the biggest benefit you’ve gained from being in a critique group or from being involved with a group of writers?
Among Dennis E. Hensley’s many books is The Power of Positive Productivity (Possibility Press, 2005). He is a contributing author to Writers on Writing (Wesleyan Press, 2005). Hensley is director of the professional writing major at Taylor University and has spoken at more CWG conferences than anyone. Visit him online.