Young people graduate high school or college, apply for positions, and get stuck: no one will hire them because they have no experience, but they can’t get experience because no one will hire them. So they get a job at Starbucks to pay bills, gaining experience with cleaning espresso machines, still unable to land the job they really want and still unable to gain relevant experience because no one hired them in their preferred field.
If only they could gain experience, they would be marketable, successful, confident…
If only we could gain experience…
People often want to write—to become writers—but they lack experience. Regardless of their age, they feel like that young graduate stepping out into the world eager to work but lacking what they need to do the work. As a result, those writers end up stuck, sometimes paralyzed.
Without experience, can they even enter the ring? They hold back, doubting themselves or fearing the door’s going to shut in her face. “Is there room in the market for the newbie, the rookie?” they wonder. “Should inexperienced writers even bother trying when so many more experienced writers have established themselves online and in print?” Some writers even worry they’ve passed some invisible point in time and it’s too late. They’ll never be an experienced writer.
We Can Get Experience Now
Every minute we sit around wondering if there’s room for us at the table, wishing we were more experienced, is a minute we could have been doing something meaningful and productive that contributes to our growth as a writer. It is not too late. And don’t waste any more time thinking it’s too late.
We writers have an advantage over the graduate on a job search—we can actually gain experience in our field every single day. We can write right now and grow in knowledge and skill. We may not be ready to write for top-tier publishers, but we can always be improving, moving closer to our goals.
While writers with very little experience might go a bit slower in the pursuit of landing a book deal, let’s say, there’s no reason to delay for another moment your growth as a writing professional.
In What Ways Do You Feel Inexperienced?
- Writing Skills?
- Navigating the publishing industry?
- How to approach marketing, publicity, social media?
Figure out where you feel you lack and you can fill that gap.
For example, you might feel inexperienced in everything, but in reality you’re a talented writer—maybe you studied creative writing! Now you’re feeling the draw (or the push) to write online, but your lack of confidence with technology causes you to suddenly question everything about your abilities.
Or maybe you are technologically savvy and jumped into blogging with exuberance, but never received training in writing, so you lack writing skills and confidence with conventions like grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.
Identify the areas where you are or you feel inexperienced, and make a plan to address each of those areas.
Develop a Personalized Course
If you feel lacking in writing skills, for example, you can create your own course of study based on the things you feel you don’t understand:
- Practice marginalia and copywork to introduce you to techniques.
- Read books about the art and craft of writing.
- Track down college writing handbooks and work through the lessons.
- Sign up for courses online.
- Hire an editor to review some of your work—ask him to mark the issues and explain why they’re a problem so you can literally learn from your own mistakes.
- Address specific areas of weakness: if you write fiction but your dialogue seems stilted, study authors who handle it well; if you write poetry but resist form, give yourself the assignment to write a sonnet or sestina.
Learn the Lingo
A simple thing to feel more experienced with the industry, whether it’s the world of literary journals or book publishing, is to learn the lingo—to pick up the jargon. Every industry has terminology particular to the work they do, the steps in their process, the items you have to turn in. Learn those, and you’ll feel much more confident and experienced.
You can do this by reading articles about the industry, listening to podcasts, joining discussions online in places like Facebook groups. You’ll learn about ARCs and acquisition boards, point of view and permissions, queries and clips. Gain familiarity with how things work and how people talk in the areas you want to be submitting your work to feel and sound more experienced to others and to yourself.
When it comes to all the marketing, publicity, and platform conversation associated with writers and writing, it’s the same thing—learn what people are talking about and gain familiarity with terms and recommendations.
All of this knowledge and skill-building forms a foundation of confidence. You really will feel like you know how it works.
You must take action, too.
You’ll need to actually start doing things. That’s how you truly gain experience. Practice what you learn.
You can do this in low-risk settings at first. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to submit to literary magazines. Great! Read some articles to learn more, sign up for a Submittable account, and find a journal that seems like a good fit for your style. Maybe hold off on submitting to Paris Review and Tin House. For now you’re gaining experience in the submission process and, quite possibly, how to deal with rejection.
Maybe you want to practice some ideas on craft you’ve been reading about and observing in essays and books you’ve been reading. Do that on a blog for now. I remember my desire to include more metaphors in my work, but my early efforts were awkward and clunky. My first concerted attempts at metaphor were not included in the articles I sent off to a magazine editor; I practiced in less trafficked places.
And yet it does help to practice in public. Seth Godin said in a podcast interview about writing books: “Write a book people can’t forget, a book that changes people—that people can’t stop talking about…To get that good, you have to write every day. You have to write freely and often and share it and share it and share it for free…Blog every day even if you have to do it under another name.”
Blogging every day means your work is out there regularly. Regardless of whether or not people are responding to it, you’re gaining experience.
Get Started Writing
Write something today and every day in your genre to move toward your publishing goals and outside your genre to stretch yourself.
You’ll supercharge your growth by learning about writing and practicing writing on a regular basis.
Take the next step. Write with the knowledge you have right now. Then gain more knowledge and write more.
Because the next step leads to the next one, and the next, and pretty soon, you’ll look back and say, “Hey, look how far I’ve come!” And the writer who felt inexperienced is a thing of the past.
You’ll have entered the ring; you’ll be sitting at the table.
Go on, now. Do it.
- Submittable (system often used to submit to literary journals)
- Seth Godin’s interview on Beautiful Writers Podcast
- Ep 11: Learn the Lingo
- Ep 88: How to Develop Your Own Self-Study Writing Course
- Ep 99: Submissions: To Get a Yes, You Risk a No
- Ep 100: Submissions: How to Bounce Back after an Editor Turns You Down
- Ep 107: Learn from the Best: Copywork for Grownups
- Ep 106: Learn from the Best: Imitate But Don’t Plagiarize (on marginalia and annotation)
- All podcast episodes
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You can subscribe with iTunes, where I’d love to have you subscribe, rate, and leave a review.
The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.