Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My (new) Life as A (new) Writer

By Kristin Owens

Twenty years in university administration, a marriage, and successive military moves, necessitated a new way of using my brain. So, I selected an easier career, one that I could make a ton of cash, work normal hours, while being completely validated – writing. Ha! Hello daily rejections, a learning curve so steep my nose bleeds and the eternal mystery of commas. I couldn’t have picked a more challenging field.

In my first year as a professional writer - which I define as a fortunate soul who gets paid to write – my goal was to publish three articles. By December 31, 2016, I had 40 articles and personal essays published and made about $1,500. My hair cost more.

Yet, I consider it an absolute success that someone (anyone) paid me to write over 18,000 words. I never approached writing as a hobby – but thankfully, my CPA does for at least two more years. I took my writing seriously, and consequently others did too.

So, here are my Top 10 Take-a-ways from the past year. All start with “Be” because writing is not only a state of mind. You are either doing it or not.

Be smart.
Conferences, Classes, And Books, Oh My!

Take classes, workshops, read craft books, and attend conferences. Admit you know nothing. Leave your ego at the door and be ready to learn. Some of this education costs money, so choose wisely what you need and when.

Be ready.

Keep a notebook in the car, next to the bed or yoga mat. Great ideas, words or phrases can arrive unscheduled. Once you reach the keyboard, they may be gone forever, resulting in sleepless nights full of missing dialog and plot holes.

Be out there.

Reach out to other writers, who (surprise) are mostly introverts. Attend both coffees and beer nights, because you’ll meet different writers at each. Ask questions and build a small network of people who have answers.

Be critical and be critiqued.

Join a critique group. Be prepared to give the kind of feedback you’d like to receive. Listen to what others say about your work. They are probably right. Be willing to make changes.

More Reading Equals Better Writing. The Wine Is Just A Bonus.

Be well read.

What does a good book or article look like? New writers begin to read differently. It can be annoying, but oh-so revealing. Re-introduce some classics, which are classics for a reason.

Be original.

Yes, there are many rules and best practices. Good writing follows accepted standards and software packages and editors can help. But don’t let rules and structure get in the way of creativity. You, and you alone, own your voice. Do it and say it your way.

Be resilient.

Rejection sucks. Get used to it and quickly. Your printed words allow everyone else to voice feedback. Sometimes it’s not positive. Or worse, there is no response at all. Experience equates with confidence. Keep writing and learning.

Be supportive.

Of other writers and their work. No one else understands this crazy business – parents, friends, spouses – like other writers. Buy their books and attend their events. Post positive feedback on their sites. Hey, it could be you someday.

Be Professional. Even in The Basement.

Be professional.

Treat writing as work. Find yourself a dedicated space and call it an office – even if it’s the basement. Take all assignments, no matter how small. They lead to bigger ones. Be a good employee and more work comes your way.


Writers have both good days (words flow like a fine wine) and bad (there, their or they’re?). Whether writing for magazines, newspapers, a blog or a book, creative ideas may stall. Give yourself permission to take a time-out before marching bravely on. You have valuable things to say, otherwise you wouldn’t be a writer.  

Kristin Owens is a Fort Collins writer and thankful year one is over. Year two promises even more excitement – her first novel officially reached Shitty First Draft stage and is now moving towards Crappy Second Rewrite. This should provide even more valuable learning experiences. In the meantime, check out her published works at


David Sharp said...

Great thoughts! I'm glad it's been such a productive year. Thanks for sharing.

Ronda Simmons said...

Well done, Kristin! I like the way you said "Be," not "Try to Be."

Patricia Stoltey said...

Lots of great advice here, Kristin! I will add, hang in there. No career requires as much patience and perseverance as writing, especially fiction writing.

Laura Mahal said...

1.) Your hair looks fantastic. I predict that in 2017, your career will have taken off to the degree that your income as a writer will more than offset the cost of having excellent hair. :-) Seriously, I am floored by how many articles and personal essays you wrote and published. Those are astonishing numbers. So the salary isn't yet at the same level of awesomeness as your output, but have faith that those will equalize, given your indomitable spirit and infectious positivity. (That's the only thing I want to catch this winter. I think I might have caught a tad of your sunny wisdom already.)

2.) You do have valuable things to say! I really like that you trust in that and run with it.

3.) I've met one of your fellow critique-group mates and she had quite positive things to say about you. It does take a village (and the village has a voice...) I could not agree more that we need to be here for one another--for the bad writing days, and even the bad hair days. (Hopefully, they don't both occur on the same day. That would by too much.)

4.) So glad that you are smart, ready, out there, well-read, original, resilient, supportive, professional, and more. Also willing to share your gifts and talents with the rest of us.

Best of luck, Kristin!

John Garvey said...

Worthwhile and entertaining essay, Kristin. Thanks for sharing! Perhaps I'll get 40 articles published this year...

Richard Gutkowski said...

Excellent and a boon to motivation. First we think, then we write, then we read it, next we put it out and lastly somebody reads it. The journey to the last can be the longest and deflating. I fall back on the joys of thinking and writing it. That's the fun part, the rest is the arduous road. So be it.

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