In this interview, Wendy Burt-Thomas, author of The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters, shares her tips for writers groups, writer’s block, and what it takes to be a successful freelancer. Her perspective will help you become a better writer – whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie…
Before her tips, here’s one of her favorite writing quips:
“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” – Peter De Vries.
I’m not surprised that a writer who is as accomplished as Burt-Thomas likes this quotation! No waiting around for the muse for her…just straight writing, fellow scribes. Burt-Thomas’ newest book, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters – click on the book cover for a direct connection to Amazon. Her other books are Oh Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One and Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick.
And now for Burt-Thomas’ practical and inspiring writing tips…
Interview With the Author of Query Letters
What would surprise people to know about the writing process or your writing habits?
Being a successful freelance writer isn’t just about writing. In fact, I would guess that only about one-third of my time is spent writing. Another third is spent marketing (selling my articles, promoting my books, teaching/speaking) and the last third is managing (invoicing, working with designers, answering emails, interviewing sources, calling clients, etc.)
What question do you think all writers should be asked? ie, what’s the most important thing readers need to know about writers or writing?
I actually start Chapter 2 of The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters with this: Writers need to decide if they’re “WANNA-BEs” or “WANNA-WRITEs.” Too many people want to be writers, but they don’t want to put in the work to write, edit, sell or promote their work.
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Is there anything that you have published that you wish you could take back or re-do?
The first piece I ever had published was a super-sappy Christian poem I wrote when I was 16. (My dad, who is a UCC minister, sent it in on my behalf.) I cringe when I think about it. It’s SO not me as an adult.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Besides “Buy my book”? (Just kidding. Sort of.) I have TWO pieces of advice that I always give when asked:
1) Don’t fall in love with your writing. Be willing to rewrite if necessary.
2) Remember that your job isn’t done just because you finished writing. You’ve got to market yourself and your work.
What prior writing experience did you have, before getting published for the first time?
After college, I started a writer’s group in Burlington, Vermont and my dad, who has 12 books and thousands of published pieces, spoke to us one night. I was immediately hooked on the idea of making money as a writer so I started submitting (mostly poems and articles) to magazines. I got my first “real” check for $50 for a poem I sold to “True Romance”.
Have you taken writing courses or attended workshops? Were they helpful?
I actually haven’t taken that many writing classes but since I taught “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” for many years, I’ve been able to attend some writers’ conferences for free in exchange for being a presenter. I LOVE the energy at writers’ conferences.
Are you a member of a writers group?
I’m not now – no time for it – but have been in a few. I actually started an accountability group for writers (in which we discuss goals and struggles instead of critiquing) and found it much more helpful. I think writers groups are fabulous if you get the right people that are there for the right reasons.
Do you keep a journal?
Nope. With full-time clients, a new book to promote and two kids under 3, I barely have time to read a magazine.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes and no. I always loved writing but I never really imagined it as a career until my mid-20s. I guess I assumed it would be a hobby. I incorrectly assumed there was no money to be made in writing. The movies are always about alcoholic, depressed poets – not successful freelance writers.
How has your writing style changed during your writing career?
I write much, much faster and much cleaner. I wrote half of this recent book on writing in about 25 days. I think I’ve just learned to organize my thoughts better.
What qualities make you successful as a writer?
I’m greedy. I don’t write for free – or even for cheap – anymore. I’m also very focused and have learned that being successful is as much about marketing as it is writing.
What are some of the best things about writing as a career? What’s the downside?
My husband gave me five sweatsuits for Christmas. He said, “I know it’s probably a major faux pas, but I swear it’s not about you needing to work out. I just know you live in sweat. And pajamas.” So there’s my answer. That, and no commute.
The downside is that none of my friends think I work. They call me all the time, ask me to do stuff during the day, and then get mad when I say I can’t. I’ve lived in my house for four years and my neighbor just asked me if I got laid off because I’m home all the time. And I’ve told her multiple times that I am a full-time freelance writer.
Do you have a particular writing routine?
I start with coffee and emails. Then I go through my list of to-dos for my 3 or 4 clients and try to figure out the least I can do to not get fired.
When do you get your best ideas?
I love brainstorming sessions. I do freelance for a greeting card company and I love when we sit in a group (about twice a year) and bounce ridiculous ideas off each other. It’s the only time I miss working with other people on a daily basis.
Do you write entirely on computer or do you do any by hand?
Always on my computer. I like to be keep things to one draft if possible. If I started on paper I’d automatically be doing everything twice.
Do you experience writers’ block?
Never. I do experience procrastination when I have boring assignments though.
Do you consider yourself primarily a writer or do you have another career, as well?
I describe myself as a writer, editor, copywriter and PR consultant since I do all three on a very regular basis. I am also a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, chauffer, maid, cook, accountant and dog-smoocher.
How do the skills you’ve developed in one field (eg, your current career, or a former job, or volunteer work, etc) help in your writing career?
A huge part of being a successful freelance writer is about developing relationships. You need to have a high EQ even more than a high IQ. Any job that forces you to interact with other people, brainstorm, show empathy, stay organized, stay sane, etc. will help you as a writer.
What is your educational background? Work experience?
I have a degree in Psychology. Before I quit to be a full-time freelance writer I was a waitress, secretary and editor at a small business newspaper.
Do you feel that your main type of writing allows you to express your creativity?
Out of my 1,000+ published pieces and three books, the Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters best represents my creativity. I absolutely loved writing this book. It was waiting to be birthed and I feel like I couldn’t do it any better if I had another chance. It was the most fun I’ve had writing since I started freelance writing.
Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her credentials include more than 1,000 published articles, essays, reviews, short stories and greeting cards and three books. Visit her websites: GuideToQueryLetters, WendyBurt-Thomas and askWendy.