Thursday, October 09, 2008

Do Your Homework

Posted by Lynne Griffin

If you have kids, then you know that homework can be a headache for everyone. Few have children who skip up the driveway after school, eager to pull up a chair to begin research for a term paper. And I don't know any parent who likes policing the activity. What does this have to do with living a writer's life? You too must do your homework. And other writers don't want to supervise you doing it.

In the last few months, I've been approached by a number of writers who, like most, wish to be published. Some have clearly done their homework, studying agents' lists and learning everything they can about the industry. I'm all too happy to share my lessons learned so far, having published a nonfiction parenting book and with my soon-to-be-released novel in production. It's the writer who hasn't done a lick of research, one who expects me to do the homework for him or her, that believe it or not, brings out the teacher in me.

I've taught elementary age children and now I teach graduate level students, and regardless of age, both groups have something in common. Some students are self-directed learners; they're well aware of what they know, what they don't know, and they have a strong sense of how to get the information they need. And some students need study guides.

"Can you give me the name of an agent who represents memoirs?" "I'm sending you some of my short stories, and I'd like you to tell me how I can organize them into a themed collection."

Stop your printer! These examples of real requests I've received just in the last two weeks are not examples of networking, nor are they reasonable expectations to have of a fellow writer. Would you ask a friend who works for a bank to balance your checkbook?

You've got to do your own homework. And with the Internet, lots of published books about writing, and blogs like ours and others available, your study guide is right in front of you. Take a look at our list of links. We've collated the best and brightest industry sites, author pages, and books on craft. Make friends with Google, folks. Search key words, mixing them up like a salad until you find what appeals to your palate. Take classes. Go to conferences. Join a writers' group. You'll find what your looking for if you're persistent enough. And speaking of persistence. Doing your homework is perfect practice for learning to cope with the ins and outs, the ups and downs of traveling the road to publication. Not to mention staying on the road after you're published.

So here's this week's homework assignment: Whether you've read it or not, read Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. Take notes if that's your style. Trust me, there's a test and you're the only one who can take it.

No comments: