Writing Advice

Brett Rubin wrote me a note a while back and asked me some excellent questions about becoming a published writer. I thought some of you might be interested in the answers, so I’ve posted the bulk of the conversation here.

Brett: I think “how to get published” is probably my biggest question along with where to and not to try and get published.

Matt: One of the best sources for this is the Writer’s Market, which is updated and published every year. You can find a copy of it in most bookstores, and they have a website at www.writersmarket.com.

The thing to watch out for are outfits that charge you to either be edited or published. Mostly, these are scams. The general rule is that money flows toward the author. If someone bills you to be published, then they’re likely not a publisher but a vanity press, despite what they might claim.

Brett: I’m also curious to know how often you write and what can you share with me about your process.

Matt: I try to write every day, although it’s not always possible. I keep roughly the same hours as my wife—minus various trips shuffling the kids around town—just so I can see the most of her. Of course, I’m doing this full time, so your available time will likely differ.

Brett: Is there anything that I should read?

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style is a great place to start for stylistic points. Not only does it offer a solid grounding in grammar and the like, it’s also short and easy to digest. Other than that, try to read widely in your chosen genre. This can help ensure that you’re not telling the same stories others have covered dozens of times before.

Brett: How do you research and how seriously should researching be taken?

Matt: You need to make sure that what you write sounds like it would be real. Of course, in science fiction, that’s not always possible, but you must establish an internal consistency to make your stories stand on firm ground. Unless you’re writing historical fiction, though, don’t let research get in the way of telling a story. You can always go back and research certain points later, then revise the story to fit.

Brett: Do you collaborate with others on idea or try to keep the work all from your own head?

Matt: I almost always work alone, especially with fiction. There’s nothing wrong with collaborating, but I prefer to wrestle with the work myself. If you do collaborate, make sure you agree with your partner just how the relationship will work, including who will do what, how to split payment, whose name goes first in the credits, etc. Getting that arranged ahead of time may save you headaches later.

Brett: What drives your desire to write?

Matt: I love the process of forming plots and characters and then stringing words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters together to create a story. However, I write not for myself but for an audience. I write to sell the work so I can feed my family. You should decide what motivates you too, as those choices can help determine the course of your career.

Brett: Where does your talent come from?

I’ve always loved to write, and that probably comes from a strong love of reading. It’s different for everyone, of course, but I recommend reading as widely as you can, in your chosen genre and out. Also get out and experience life so that you have something to say about it when the time comes.