The beginning writer asks, "What shall I write about?" The established writer asks, "What shall I write about today?" The two questions, though structurally similar, reveal a largely unrecognized fact. The two writers necessarily approach the task of composing content — whether fiction or fact — from positions fundamentally worlds apart. The ultimate success of the neophyte author may depend on his or her ability to persist in the chosen field to a time when the first question can give way to the second. With some helpful guidance, the time lag hopefully will not prove overlong.

What Do You Know?

Many beginners in the field of writing overlook the most obvious source of material around which to formulate the first trial balloon articles or stories to submit to discerning editors and publishers. This holds true even in the face of the pervasive, almost universal, admonitions from writing instructors and successful writers alike that the beginner start by writing about subjects or topics for which he or she has an intimate familiarity.

This extremely sound advice works to the would-be writer's advantage whether the contemplated work will develop into a short story, a long and detailed article or an epic novel. A piece of writing based on the first-hand knowledge of the author will present the reader with factual material the reader can rely on or a realistic fictional background the reader can enjoy.

Asimov On WritingCredit: Lane Olinghouse

Whatever a person's background or field of endeavor, when written about with honesty and passion, the details cannot help but spark resonance with readers who have experienced a similar lifestyle or situation as well as with those who would like to learn about an unfamiliar way of life, as told by one who has lived it. So, for starters, any writer can delve into actual, distinctly personal circumstances to create interesting and meaningful content. The topics lie there, near at hand, waiting exploitation.

What Can You Know?

With a bit of reflection, the beginning writer should eventually come to the conclusion that familiarity with a subject or topic does not necessarily have to end with those of personal knowledge or involvement. The writer's background knowledge almost invariably will touch upon other aspects of life about which he or she can learn enough to address with a certain level of authority. There exists numerous ways one can branch out into many different areas of expertise.

For instance, most writers probably begin an interest in the craft by acquiring early in life the habit of reading. A love of reading invariably leads to contemplation, especially by those with an aptitude for writing, of the work that goes into stories, articles and books. Reading and putting words on paper or into a word processor invariably become a dual pursuit. It can in fact become a two-edged sword. Many established writers complain that a love to read often gets in the way of their writing efforts and vice versa.

Steinem On WritingCredit: Lane Olinghouse

Nevertheless, the beginning writer can become knowledgeable, even well-informed, about any topic or subject that exists. A writer willing to plunge into and become saturated with information about a given topic definitely will become familiar enough with it to write about it. The writer can add to the already written work on the topic by acquiring up-to-date information and by inserting a personal perspective into a new article or book about the matter.

Once a writer steeps him- or herself into the ramifications of an interesting subject, the question of what to write about will no longer apply. The new information acquired will point to numerous themes and plots. The new knowledge also will enable the writer to discuss a topic without including errors of commission or omission that discerning readers will recognize as the writings of an obviously ill-informed person.

What Should You Know?

It's a crowded field. The beginning writer should realize that he or she has entered a field congested with competition. This means that magazine editors and book publishers have many offerings from which to choose. A substantial number of the submissions will come from well-known authors. The beginner nevertheless should not let this fact prove overly daunting. None of the established writers began at the top; all started out at some time in the past as rank amateurs. Each of them, however, had one important trait in common: persistence.

Persistence pays. The writer who adopts this motto as a guiding principle of all literary endeavors will discover the path to success, while many wannabes fall by the wayside. Persistence can mean many things in constructing a story or an article and offering it to a publisher. It can mean consistently self-editing content as to structure, grammar and spelling. It can mean verifying sources for accuracy. It can mean resubmitting the work as often as necessary to realize a sale.

Browse the publications. The beginning writer should become familiar with the publication for which he or she proposes to submit manuscripts. It does little good to mail off a 10-page epic poem to a magazine devoted to computer technology. Reading the articles appearing in two or three issues of a magazine gives one a sense, not only of the content desired, but of the preferred style as well as the average length of accepted pieces of work. Toward the front of the magazine an address should show where to send a request for the publication's style sheet or writer's guidelines.

Submit error-free manuscripts. The days when editors would take the time to edit and correct submitted articles or stories went away with high-button shoes. The would-be author needs to self-edit every written piece before consigning it to the U.S. Postal Service. With access to the Internet, one can present content to an online spell-checker. Otherwise, it becomes vital to read and re-read the material both for typographical errors and for incorrect grammar and poor sentence structure.

Ray Bradbury On WritingCredit: Lane Olinghouse

Exercise patience. Finally, the writer needs to realize that publication offices often run short on staff and long on work. To expect an early response, of any kind, is to invite worry, frustration and aggravation. These negative emotions serve only to rob one of productive motivation. Instead, become involved in the next article or story immediately after sending off the first; likewise, with the second and third works in progress. Forming the habit of composing each day a comfortable number of paragraphs of usable content diverts mental and psychic energies into creative avenues.

What Will You Know?

The new writer who searches both inward and  outward for story themes and relevant ideas for articles will find that the business of writing becomes increasingly less difficult and far more enjoyable. Very soon, the novice scribe will become an old hand at the craft who can regard the calendar with equanimity and ask, "What shall I write about today?"