Be a Writing Diva

...and never sell again.  

Being a writing diva is really rather easy. Just throw a tantrum at every comma an editor moves, every sentence that's reworked, every grammatical adjustment that's made to your story-your baby-just before publication. When a rejection letter sails in, scream at the cat: "What-my writing isn't good enough?" Then toss the offending notice in the waste bin. Go shopping to dull the pain.

Be a Writing Diva and Never Sell Again by Barbara Neal Varma

     Sound crazy? Obnoxious? Familiar?

     As an editor and freelance writer, I've been on both sides of diva-dom. I've felt the thrill of editing an article down to its golden core, and the sting of seeing my own work bloodied by an editor's red pen. Both experiences have taught me that succeeding as a writer has nothing to do with making demands. If you want to be a successful writer, ditch the diva act and start doing things the writer's way.

Handling rejection

     Divas believe the world revolves around them and perhaps if you're Paris Hilton, it does. Writing divas take rejection personally, interpreting the "thank you, but no" as an attack on their good names, their good intentions, their "hot" writing.

     I work as a communications specialist for a federal agency and edit a variety of publications, including employee newsletters. Often I have to turn down a submission for reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing or to how much I like the writer. Perhaps the topic didn't fit that month's theme or a lengthy essay came in when I needed a how-to article. You'd think this insight would have better prepared me when I began to freelance. But when that first rejection slip arrived in the mail, I was overcome with disappointment and disbelief. Stuck in my stupor, I missed blatant clues that could have told me why my work was rejected or given me contacts for future submissions. I failed to see the potential "yes" behind the "no."

     Since then I've learned that even the most curt and canned rejection slip contains useful information, if only that my submission and this publication, this time, were not a match. So I found out why.

     Does the letter contain a specific reason or even a list of reasons for the rejection? Often, an editor will scribble a note in the margin to explain what he saw or didn't see in a submission. Consider this as gospel. Rarely will an editor take time to write something unless he sees some potential. Rally back with a thank you note and mention you'll be trying again in the near future.

     Then recheck the publication and compare your article to others that made it to print. Modify your article and resubmit (if requested), or send a second query with a more tempting topic for the editor's tastes. The best antidote for the sting of rejection is the joy of getting back in the game. 


Sharing Ideas

     Some writing divas can't even spell the word "collaboration." They hoard their ideas and stow their stories, letting them out to breathe only when submitting them to an editor's casting desk. I was so fearful that my first few stories would be stolen and published without my consent that I wouldn't give away the ending even in a query. Instead, I did the diva tease: "Want to know how it ends? Call me!" If feeling particularly coquettish, I'd add a smiley face for effect. After all, who could resist such charm?

     Editors, that's who.

     And besides that, my stories got stale and my ideas dried up without the creative input of other writers. Even reading favorite authors and studying their mastery of the craft is quality time shared with other writers. Feedback, fellowships, jokes in a coffee shop-all would have inspired me more than quietly sipping tea and writing by myself. Divas tend to crave the spotlight and shun the very reader audience they hope to inspire, they forget how to share.

     Stories are meant to be shared; ideas meant to be expressed. Perhaps you've had an idea bouncing around in your head-maybe even on paper-but the development never quite happened. Dust it off and show it to other writers when they mention they've been struggling with finding new topics. You've got one-why not let them use it? Then the next time you're facing the pallor of a blank page, speak up and ask for some creative assistance. Those same writing friends will be happy to return the favor.

     Sharing the magic doesn't diminish the energy but enlivens it, instead. Even the act of writing alongside another writer can inject energy into your work. Make writing dates with one of your friends and see how many pages you can fill between lattes. Then read aloud to each other. When your pen pal leans forward and says with wide-eyed eagerness, "And then what happens?" you'll be glad you're not alone.

Getting published

     When I first started freelancing, I had the expectation that my work would be published in the same grocery store magazines I'd read since puberty. After all (I thought with all the confidence of an only child), my writing was just as good as any others in print. But even a diva's best-laid plans are spun by reality. My submissions reaped a stack of rejection letters from the kingdom of women's magazines, one queen-bee editor even deigning to explain that she accepted articles only from established writers. Well, I never!

     And I never would, until I realized that I like everyone else with a dream, I had to earn it. Learning that neighborhood publications often favor local writers, I started collecting copies of my local newspapers, searching their pages for a corner I could fill. I found their acceptance rate a bit more gratifying.

     Another way successful writers increase publishing opportunities is by joining a writer's group. You'll not only receive excellent feedback on your writing, but you'll get leads for where to submit your work. Then when one of your articles is published, keep a few copies for your friends, family and your file of clips. But under no circumstances should you make 500 copies and push them on everyone you've known since grade school. (Save that strategy for when you write your book.)

Working with editors

     Writing divas believe they know everything there is to know about their craft and don't need help from others, thank you very much. The first time I received a manuscript back with the editor's changes, I blanched. My just-right words were "out of order" on the page. I grabbed my husband and recited my version then the edited version, interjecting "Are they high?" every three or four sentences. At the end of my tirade I whined, "Don't you think mine was better?"

     When I saw the hesitation in his eyes, the panic at having to decide between speaking the truth or sleeping on the couch, I knew I'd hit bottom. My job as an editor had taught me there's always room for improvement in even the most perfect prose, yet that insight was lost on my own work.

     Instead of feeling the sting of the edits, I should have looked at the editor's intent. What was missing from my text? What was too wordy that needed to be tucked in? I should have stepped back and seen the edited version for what it was: an improvement.

     If an editor is sending you a preview copy prior to print, she is giving you an opportunity to rework the article and make it better. Divas are possessive of their work and consider change the enemy. Successful writers take advantage of constructive feedback to instill their writing with additional energy and perspective.

   Funny thing-I'm getting more assignments these days and fewer rejections. That plus chocolate helps curb the diva urge that still creeps up now and then.

     I admit it was fun while it lasted: reaping all the attention, indulging in pity parties and high caloric food while living in the sweet state of denial. Fun, yes, but not productive. In the end I decided instead of being a writing diva, I'd rather be a successful writer.

Favorite Quotes:

Writing is telepathy.”
– Stephen King

Serious art is born from serious play.”
– Julia Cameron

Barbara Neal Varma is my favorite author.”
– Mom


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