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With determination, anyone can write

With determination, anyone can write

Written By Carolyne O'Connor
Statesman Journal September 23, 2012.

How does a pilot become a writer? My sister went to a great aeronautical university, taught computer accuracy as coordinator in one of the top-winning national flight teams, and, in general, made Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun look like a softie. So, when we were sitting in a coffee shop a year and half ago, I was a bit surprised when she suddenly announced she wanted to become a writer.

I had no idea what to tell her. I spent my teenage years bumming around the theater scene and then I went to an ultra liberal arts college. And yet, most of the writers I knew mostly just read their stories in poetry slams or for class. She didn’t want to go back to school or spend money on fancy writing workshops. Was that what you had to do to write?

We dragged out a laptop and read an endless amount of professional writers’ blogs. We came across two pieces of sound advice. First, read the important books and magazines in the type of genre you want to write in. Our mother had read to us every night alternating between such greats as the Pevensie children’s trials in Narnia, Anne McCaffrey’s dragon riding feminists on Pern, and Orson Scott Cards’ commanding genius children. Both my sister and I had loved speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) and had continued to read it. The simple fact that we grew up with a mother who read to us allowed us to have a great base to start writing. Luckily, many great magazines are free or low-cost subscriptions, so we subscribed online while in the shop.

The second bit of advice was deceivingly simple. Sit down and write a short story. Submit it. Get a rejection letter. Re-submit it to another market and write a new story. Keep going until you get acceptances. Most submissions can be done via email and there are great market resources online. Rejections are hard and fun. Someone doesn’t want to buy your work, but frequently they add tips or tricks or just say they want to see more. Before I knew it, I started writing as well, getting caught up in the fun! Writing became family time: swapping stories, submitting, and laughing about rejection letters became the new version of girl’s night. My sister and I celebrated our first sales at the same coffee shop we figured out how it was done.

People always ask: what is the secret to becoming a writer? If you’re a parent, read to your children and help them write stories. If you’re a writer, don’t keep all your stories locked up in your hard drive because you’re afraid of rejections. Rejections will come in the hundreds, but eventually so will the acceptances. Writing is not a solitary art. You build relationships with your family and friends by making them read your stories, with editors through the funny rejections from editors in a series of almost-but-not-quite story submissions, and the people who will want to talk to you about how your story touched them. With time, determination, and fun, anyone can write.

Carolyne O’Connor is an Americorp Intern with the Marion County Health Department and a Reading for All Volunteer.  You can reach Ms. O'Coonor by email at mcarolyn.oconnor@gmail.com.