Katrina Byrd: In your experience, what is one thing that is vital to managing a successful writing business?
Steve: Whether it’s writing something for a client or a publication or creating a piece of art that reflects your own deeply held interests, I think one of the most important qualities for a writer to develop is consistency. Far too many writers fall into the trap of using the idea that they are an artist to excuse the kind of behavior that just doesn’t fly in the workplace.
You need to set yourself a set of achievable goals that you then meet; a novel doesn’t get written in a weekend, a novel gets written by putting down a few hundred words at a time, day after day. The same thing goes for working as a writer in the corporate environment, or for a business client. You meet your deadlines and produce high quality work, and the jobs will come. One of the things I always emphasized during my time teaching at Millsaps is that it’s easier to teach someone who writes well how to do the technical aspects of a different job, like say accounting, than it is to teach an accountant how to write well. Having a standard level of professionalism as a writer will open many doors for a young writer.
Katrina: How do you prepare students for the business side of writing?
Steve: I think the most important thing for a student to learn about the business of writing is the ways and means of being a professional. This is a broad term, but to me, it means understanding how businesses work. For example, if you’re writing something for a corporate client on a freelance basis, you’ll be given a deadline and a scope of the work you’re expected to produce. Failing to meet those parameters closes the door on future opportunity.
On the artistic side, I always try to build information about the professional side of writing into my teaching and mentoring. I bring writers in all stages of their careers to my students, and I invite them to hear presentations from editors, agents, and publishers. Writing, if you choose to pursue it, is a career, just as IT or business to business sales or accounting is, and you should treat it as a career. That means meeting people, saying yes and please and thank you, networking, being a genuine voice of support for other writers, trying to avoid the pitfalls of career jealousy, and most of all, it means being someone who reliably produces high quality work. It also means learning to ask for help.
So many writers don’t read the directions, so to speak. A few years ago I guest-edited a magazine, and I was looking for nonfiction on a very specific subject. When I went to review the almost 200 submissions, nearly 100 of them could be easily rejected because the writer did not read the magazine guidelines, which were widely available and went out with the call for submissions. When an editor is looking for nonfiction, your poetry or artwork isn’t going to fit the bill, regardless of how well it’s done.
Katrina Byrd is a student in the Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at the Mississippi University for Women. Katrina is a writer and playwright who has received four Artist Minigrants from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Several of her short plays have been performed locally and several of her short stories have appeared in Inflight Literary Magazine, Black Magnolias Literary Magazine and Monkeycyle Literary Magazine.