Donna Fawcett is a Creative Writing Instructor for Fanshawe College in Ontario. She writes for magazines such as Small Farms Canada, American Paint Horse Journal, Guideposts and Canadian Homes and Cottages. Donna, writing as Donna Dawson, is the author of four suspense novels: Vengeance, (Winner of Two Categories in Canada’s national The Word Guild Awards) The Adam & Eve Project, Redeemed and Fires of Fury. She is co-writing an apocalyptic novel, and has contributed to three anthologies; Hot Apple Cider, Christmas Miracles and A Whodunit Halloween. Donna offers writing workshops in schools in hopes of rekindling a love of reading in students. She will shortly release her first CD of her own gospel songs entitled Donna—Searching for the Son. Donna is a member of The Word Guild, the Professional Writers’ Association of Canada, and Inscribe Writers’ Guild. Visit Donna at www.authordonnadawson.com
Donna was also my student, and worked very very hard at breaking in. With predictable results!
-- Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor
By Donna Fawcett
It never ceases to amaze me, the perception my college level students have when they come into my creative writing class. I hear things like: “I can’t wait to get this manuscript off to the publishing company. Then I can sit back and rake in the dough.” It’s difficult to burst their bubbles but it must be done. The reality is that writing is a lot of work and only the truly dedicated survive the process long enough to achieve a level where they see any kind of remuneration.
My own writing journey began in the distant past of my high school years. I had always enjoyed reading and writing but it wasn’t until my final high school year that I had an inkling that I had writing abilities. My English teacher assigned us the task of writing a short story and I wrote my first real murder mystery. I’ll never forget the A+ I got on that paper nor will I forget the comments the teacher wrote. If you do nothing else, you must write.
When I finally got to the place in my life where I took her words seriously I wrote my first non-fiction article for Angels on Earth and was shocked when they published it. I was even more shocked when they paid me. Over the next few years I played at writing and then began my first three novels. No one told me to write one book at a time so I did it the way I felt most comfortable.
And then along came Long Ridge Writers’ Group. Something in me knew that I needed to learn more about the craft of writing. I enrolled in the course and never looked back. That triggered ambition in me and I began to write with a fury. Several small magazine columns. A newspaper column. And these grew into freelance articles for more national and even international magazines. And then those manuscripts found their way into print. I was thrilled when The Adam & Eve Project made it to number eight on the publishing company’s top ten list. Because of Long Ridge’s credentials, I was hired by the local college to teach creative writing.
My fourth novel, Vengeance, arrived on the scene and with it two national book awards. 2010 has brought more surprises including the winning of a spot in an international anthology and a finalist position in a national award with an article from a 2009 anthology. Here are the nine most valuable lessons I have learned in my journeys from unpublished to award-winning writing.
Believe in Yourself
I am shocked at how many talented writers feel awkward when referring to themselves as writers. One of the first things I do in my class is tell the students to stand, face someone and say, “I am a writer.” This is the first step toward becoming a professional in the industry. If you have ever written a poem on a napkin, if you’ve ever doodled an idea on a phone bill, if you’ve ever had one person say “hey, that’s really good” then you are a writer. And until you believe it you will never move forward in your writing career.
Learn! Learn! Learn!
Any writers who wish to take the craft seriously absolutely must educate themselves. Many facets of the writing industry tend to be held close to the chest unless we are willing to hunt them down. It was the reason I researched and chose Long Ridge. They seemed to have the best bang for my buck. Writing websites, conferences, blogs—you name it—if it is about writing you can probably learn something.
Go Where the Writers Are
Conferences, critique groups, e-groups—they are all valuable places to learn from writers who have been in the industry for some time. We writers tend to be a reclusive lot but the one thing I’ve learned is that we can’t know everything. These groups and organizations give us an opportunity to rub shoulders with those who know what we don’t. I make it a must to be at Write!Canada every year because I know I will meet speakers who can teach me something. But I will also meet editors, publishers, screenwriters, poets and many others in the industry.
Write Till You Drop—also known as practice
I believe in critiques! They are the roadmap that leads a novice writer onto the path of a more refined writer. And with those writing critiques comes practice. Every month, I attend a writing group and part of our meeting includes a critique on two chosen members’ pieces. When my turn comes I return home with twelve opinions on the piece I have written. I take the time to go through each critique and try to apply their advice to my piece. If it works, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I don’t keep it but I am still grateful for the opportunity to try it out. I write every day. Sometimes it’s a paragraph. Sometimes it’s a chapter. My spare time is spent in plotting and forming descriptive, playing with point of view, working with scene and sequel—whatever I need to work on at the time. Like any career choice, practice is a necessary part of learning.
Don’t be Afraid of Contests
Too often, I hear other writers say, “I don’t enter contests. They’re biased. It’s just a person’s opinion. And besides, I don’t really need them anyway.” Really? Those writers don’t understand the purpose of a contest then. We talk about this in class too. I point out to my students that contests have a two-fold purpose. One is to teach us more about what the general public wants. These contests are judged by people—true—but most often, those people are top in the industry and have a pretty good idea of what holds true to the technique of writing. I always ask for a critique. Think about it. I am getting advice about my writing from professionals who I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And you can believe that I pay attention to their words. Some have been sarcastic and biting—cruel even—but most are not. Those who criticize instead of critique simply teach me to continue to believe in myself in spite of their words. Those who critique usually have really good advice. The second value to a contest is the marketing credentials it gives the writer. You can believe that my novel Vengeance sold a lot more books after the awards then it did before. Contests, in no way, are a gauge for measuring your worth. They are not personal assaults. The more you enter, the more you learn. The more you learn, the greater your chances for winning. The more you win, the more books you sell.
Reach for the Sky
Fear is the number one hindrance to a writer. “But I couldn’t possibly submit to that magazine.” Well, why not? When I first began writing seriously I didn’t know to whom I should or should not submit. So I chose Angels on Earth. It’s an international magazine. And here I was with absolutely no writing credits to my name. They bought the piece and I learned a valuable lesson. We only fail when we don’t try.
Find that brand
I struggled for sometime to find a catchy brand. I had three novels and one nonfiction book published and they were doing ok. I was teaching creative writing and writing freelance. But I wasn’t happy with my lack of brand. It was in an online, all day interview that I found my brand. The interviewer asked, “What are you doing right now?” I threw out some cute answer about sitting at my desk eating an egg sandwich while my neighbour’s Chihuahua was groveling at my feet in hopes of a stray crumb. The interviewer and followers fell in love with Duke and my writing blog was born. Once every week or so, Duke the Chihuahua joins me at www.authordonnadawson.com to share writing tips on the blog there. Branding is so important for a writer. It takes us out of the ordinary in a world where so many are vying for the reader’s attention. Duke’s intervention made my blog grow quickly.
Spread the Word
In order to rise in the ranks we need to be willing to share what we know. Part of the college course includes a tiny bit of psychology. I tell my students, “No one can write like you. You have your own style, your own phrasing, your own ideas. You will never have to worry about being cloned.” I tell them this because I don’t want them to get into the habit of hoarding what works. Writing is hard work and we need to help one another in order to become successful at it.
Never Stop Trying
One of my biggest pet peeves is the belief that we should write for free. Would you go and work on a factory line for free? Would a doctor perform surgery for free? And yet, consistently there are those publications out there that feel they are doing writers a service by publishing their work for no payment. When I started out, I was shocked at how many times I was told that because I didn’t have much experience I couldn’t expect payment. Baloney! I kept trying, kept seeking out the publications that pay. And I found them. It isn’t the credentials that matter. It’s the quality of work that we present and that is where we go back to learning. If we can’t do that excellent query letter then we should find out how to do so. If we don’t know where to find research sources then we should track down someone who does.
Enjoy the Rewards
A time will come when that piece is accepted and it is perfectly alright to shout, dance and otherwise make a fool of oneself. It’s also appropriate to stare in awe at that cheque before cashing it. You have worked hard, done your due diligence and you deserve to enjoy the fruits of those labors. And once you have celebrated fire up your laptop and do it all again.
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