So this summer, I read an article in the New York Times about how an unknown writer can break into the publishing world. I scrolled down a bit and loved the featured writer’s inviting and warm photoshot—plus she’s Asian 🔥💪🏽! Of course she had me at Hello. You know I was gonna gulp up this story!
I think it ran under a great click-bait title too, like How To Get Published.
Anyway, there I am reading about how this writer got her MFA from Columbia (only like, you know, one of 2 top writing schools in NY 👀🙈). How her agent is an industry badass who just happens to be married to arguably one of the most powerful agents in the game. And how “a friend” introduced this writer to her said industry badass agent. Listen. I’m all about working with what you got. GOOD FOR HER! All day, I’m cheering this writer on and rooting for her success.
But real talk? A Columbia MFA & Friends who can connect you to top literary agents is not the typical profile of most “unknown” “no brand” “woman of color” “mom” aspiring writers.
With that kindda profile, you’re not some “unknown” breaking in from the hinterlands. (Go ahead – insert my small shade and eye-roll here, pointing out why East Coast elitism gets people’s goats!)
And I should know. I’ve become that writer with a super agent. I’ve got that fancy MFA. And I’m shameless playing these cards to make room for more of us in publishing—the fc you think I sweated to get those connections for? 🙋🏾♀️🤣
But. I did not start out as a writer with that profile.
As a nerdy kid in Soweto and then an immigrant worrying about my papers, I was so far outside the orbit of publishing, it barely occured to me that the thing I loved to do could sustain me beyond acing high school English. Journalism was the only writing career I knew about. And the journalism of my early youth was a dangerous enterprise that could land you in the poorhouse or hanging out of a torture cell. Sometimes both.
I just couldn’t imagine a life of writing—cause I’d never seen such an animal. And let’s not even talk about TV writing. Legit—it only clicked in my brain that writing scripts was something humans just like me did, that it was a viable path for me, while sitting in writing school sweating that fancy MFA and listening to aTV industry dude who came to speak!
So how did I go from not the foggiest idea about publishing to “breaking in”?
Long before writing school or an agent, I did the smallest thing which launched me forward: I started a writing circle.
I was turning 30 and hungry to celebrate in a meaningful way. So I created something of a BDay Retreat. Right here in my living room. We camped on the floor and chugged prosecco. We went from bathing suits to PJs and closed the weekend with a give/get circle. Turns out, two of my friends were also aspiring writers. They also wanted to take their work more seriously.
We started as an accountability group—with zero fancy craft language and no lofty publishing goals beyond, that would be nice.
Fast forward to today. One woman’s already published. Another’s currently earning her MFA. And you’ve already got a front row seat to my ride.
My point? If you’re closer to where I was 10 years ago, The New York Times telling you,”Hey! You too can break into publishing. Just show me your fancy MFA and a few connected friends.” That shit may smack of an aloof gobbledygook. Akin to the all-inclusive, drive through American Dream that everyone can have, just as long as you’re white, straight and the inheritor of unceded land and slave labor. What? Too soon 🥴…Feel totally free to roll your eyes here. And consider this:
Your Writing Starter Pack:
- Accountability Circle: This is totally DYI. It just takes 2-3 friends willing to hold each other accountable and meet regularly to offer each other feedback. And guess what? That’s what you call a workshop, folks. Waaaay Fancy, right? 🤪
- Writing Conference: Great deep dives for a handful days to connect with like-minded writers and schmooze with industry folk. If you’re grown and quitting your life to follow an MFA is out of the question, these getaways can be a lifeline. Excellent database here
- Writing Residencies: Unlike conferences, most residencies expect you to work pretty independently on your writing. I love residencies and have the whole low-down on my How-To’s coming your way.
- Research: One of my fav creative manuals is The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. She advocates Creatives pick a day to play and to recharge their well. Wise woman. I’ve never stuck to a weekly play-date. BUT. I do know about the magic of plugging into other art forms to fuel your creativity. You can 💯 commit to one Research Play Date a month to help fuel your writing.
And for the love of flaming hot cheetos 🌶💅🏾 and good books, Write!
If you do nothing else to get started, do this. Pour your butt into a seat, a pen and paper in hand or your laptop bleeping that blue light. And write! Funny how much sweating goes into, But how do I get started? When writing remains a bizarrely simple and largely accessible art (I didn’t say democratic cause don’t get me started on inquity around literacy + education).
If you’re reading this, you already have all the tools you need to get going. Your butt’s alive. You have a screen to record your sentences and you can read. So sit your ass down and write.
That’s all she wrote folks.