Marcia Meier has been writing professionally since she graduated from college. She worked for daily newspapers for nearly twenty years, first as a reporter, then as a copy editor and assistant city editor, and finally as editorial page editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press. She left daily journalism in 1995, but wrote a Women and Business column for an Orange County magazine, penned a coffee-table book on Santa Barbara and has continued to write for newspapers and magazines ever since. She also taught journalism and writing for four colleges for more than ten years, and continues to work with other writers as a coach today.
She writes poetry and short stories, and had her first poem and her first short story accepted for publication in 2008. She also is at work on a novel and a memoir, but says,"They are going much slower than I would like. The journalism and nonfiction books come first."
I met Marcia four years ago when she was Director of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and brought me in to lead the Young Writers Program. Not only is she a writing and publishing guru, she is also an incredibly warm and generous person. I greatly admire her and feel fortunate to call her my friend. She was kind enough to answer some questions about her new book, Navigating the Rough Waters of Today's Publishing World.
Tell us a bit about the book.
The subtitle is Critical Advice for Writers from Industry Insiders, and that is the focus: It's a book about the upheaval in the publishing world and how writers can best take advantage of the changes. I interviewed more than two dozen experts – agents, editors, publishers and authors – to get their thinking on what's happening in publishing. The book identifies four major trends and then offers advice for using those trends to further your career as a writer.
Sounds like a very important read for every writer! So how did you discover your love for writing?
I was in junior high school when I began to write in a journal every day. It was a way to sort out my teen-aged angst and try to discover who I was and who I wanted to become. Writing and my horse got me through adolescence. But I always found writing came easily to me. I liked English and loved to read. It all seemed to go hand in hand. When I was a senior in high school I worked on the yearbook, but didn't write seriously again until I discovered journalism toward the end of my sophomore year in college. I took a reporting class and was hooked. I changed my major to journalism in my junior year, did two internships the following summer and fall, and got my first newspaper reporting job two weeks after I graduated. I have been in love with writing ever since.
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
Yes, I do write every day. I begin every morning early with at least a half-hour of journaling. I’m a big fan of Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones) who recommends some form of what she calls "morning pages." Then I write a poem. (I made a commitment to myself last December to write a poem a day. I haven't quite made that, but I'd guess I write at least four to five poems a week.) Then, depending on what freelance deadlines I face, I will either conduct interviews or write for most of the morning. Afternoons are a little more scattered. I spend a lot of time answering emails, and I also have regular meetings – weekly or biweekly – with the writers I coach. When it comes to short stories and longer works, I tend to pack up my computer or notebook on a Saturday and go off to a coffee shop at least half an hour away from my home.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self about the writing life? What advice do you have for beginning writers?
I wish I had known/understood the importance of sticking to a writing routine. When I left the newspaper business my daughter was three. I found all kinds of excuses not to write, and got pulled in a number of directions (teaching, volunteering at school) that seemed important at the time. I don't regret those experiences, but I think I might have been further toward what I say are my highest goals for writing if I had stayed focused on them. Today, I'm rededicated to my personal writing. (It's also a little easier since my daughter is just graduating from high school and will be heading off to college soon.)
As for advice, stay true to yourself. Commit yourself to whatever time you think you can devote to writing and do it. But don't beat yourself up if you fall short of a writing goal. Forgive yourself, revise if need be, and begin again. Life happens.
What is the editing process like for you?
Initially, arduous. With my own work, I have to force myself to get started. But once I'm in the moment with it, it comes easily. I typically begin at the beginning and read everything through, editing as I go. If I am working on someone else's manuscript, I read it with an eye toward line editing but also structure, content, characterization, plot, etc. I will read a ms. two or three times if necessary to get a really good sense of what it needs overall.
What "life lessons" have you learned through writing?
Lord! Think of every parable and saying you can imagine and I've probably learned it through writing. I love this Teddy Roosevelt quote: "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
That's so true and well-put. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that as writers we need to believe in ourselves and our work. We aren't typically going to get support from our families or friends (unless they are also writers). I once had a friend ask me when I was going to get a "real job." Geez! Who needs friends like that? It's not easy, but you are the only person who will always believe in your dreams, 100 percent. So seek out people who understand and support you, and ignore the rest. And be persistent. If you don't send out that poem, or that short story, or that novel, there is only one certain end: It will never be published. So give your work a chance – release it to the world.
Thank you so much, Marcia!
Order your own copy of Navigating the Rough Waters of Today's Publishing World at http://www.navigatingpublishing.com/
Learn more about Marcia at http://www.marciameier.com/ and http://www.redroom.com/author/marcia-meier