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Telling a writer how it is.

by Dear Jon
January 27, 2004

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Sort 252_Dear Jon-Telling a Writer How it Is ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

What do you think is the best way to release stress, generally?

Sincerely,
Stressed Out


Dear Stressed,

One of my favorite stress-relievers is to tell other people what they should be doing. Here is what you should be doing: go outdoors, walk two miles, greet cheerfully all people you meet on the street, come back in, change into your pajamas, make some cocoa and read a magazine.


ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon
HELP. I am an aspiring writer and cannot get started any advise?


Dear Blank,

First of all, before submitting your next piece of writing, it is a good idea to check your grammar and spelling. This is always good to do whether you are sending e-mail, faxing a cover letter with a job application, handing in a research paper, or mailing your manuscript. If you were to look again at the letter you submitted, you might notice some problems. In your letter you communicate quite a lot: some of what you communicated is intentional, and some is not. Let me show you how your letter would look had you checked yourself before submitting:
Dear Jon,

Help! I am an aspiring writer and cannot get started. Any advice?

Sincerely,
A Blocked Writer.
Look again at the example you submitted, and the revised example. If you notice a qualitative difference, you are well on your way to professionalism. The next step is to practice professionalism in all the writing you do. If you do not notice the difference in quality, or, if you do not know why this is such a big deal, then you will never really get started as a writer.

Some will argue that I performed the job of an editor. That is incorrect. I performed the job of a writer who is correcting a first draft. Professionalism in writing begins by acknowledging that the first draft is always, by definition, completely worthless. If you think your writing project is fit to print on your first attempt, your hubris will keep you frustrated forever. Now, this is where a writer might take a second draft:
Dear Jon,

I aspire to write subjective essays for on-line journals but I do not know how to begin. Do you have any advice for me?

Sincerely,
A Blocked Writer.
This piece of writing is now ready for submission. The editor gets involved on receiving the submission. An editor normally enters the writing project at three stages. Stage one is the rejection letter, which reads as follows: “Dear Contributor, Thank you for submitting your manuscript to our publication. It does not meet our needs at this time. Sincerely, The Editor.”

The second stage, which happens in one case out of every ten zillion, is the acceptance letter, which reads as follows: “Dear Blocked Writer, We have accepted your submission and we expect to publish it in the June issue. Here is your check. Please consider us in the future as you continue your writing career. Sincerely, Ned Finnicky, Editor-in-Chief.

When you get any money at all for your writing, and you have accounted for your expenses, the compensation usually works out to about fifty-five cents an hour.

The third stage is when the editor has to make the submission fit in the space allotted. Thus the writer is surprised, on receiving the June issue, to find the article published as follows:
Dear Jon, I want to write. Can you help? Sincerely, Block
There is a fourth stage which happens to about three writers in every lifetime. At the moment these “fourth stage” writers are Stephen King and John Grisham. At this stage the editor will agree to publish anything ever written by the writer, including grocery lists. You can tell a “fourth stage” writer when you pick up a respected magazine and read an original piece like the following:
EXCLUSIVE! BEST-SELLING “BLOCKED WRITER” ASKS FOR ADVICE!
Dear Jon,
HELP. I am an aspiring writer and cannot get started any advise?
The point is, you cannot get to the point of submitting first draft hack jobs until you have paid your dues.

Your other first step, taken simultaneously with the practice of good grammar, is to read. Read, read, read. Reading should be one of your favorite past-times. Television, movies, and video games do not count as substitutes to reading. There are no substitutes to reading.

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