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Writing Tips from an Old Novel - Big Oaks from Little Acorns Grow

by Amy O'Quinn


Years ago, I bought a discarded book at a library sale with the low-key title—Joan: Free Lance Writer by Alice Ross Colver.


The copyright was 1948, which explained the two-word styling of the term ‘freelance.’


It was the story of a young female college graduate who desired to be a published writer, but she did not know how to go about becoming one. However, with help from a mentor and tons of determination, she learned the ropes and became successful.


Yes, this was probably formula fiction of the times, intended to encourage young women to go beyond society’s expectations and explore career options.


No, it would never be in the running for bestseller status. Yet, the story interested and entertained me, and the book is still on my shelf. And in fact, there were a few takeaways that I’ve found helpful on my own path to publication.


An Honest Mentor is Helpful


Joan, the girl in the story, bumbles her way along, making many mistakes at the beginning of her writing journey.


She believes she can ‘break in’ with major magazines such as The Atlantic, and she more or less disdains local markets.


But through a temporary job as a teacher’s helper and an even greater circumstance of chance, she meets and is able to stay in the home of a very successful author.


The author, Mrs. Merrill, kindly offers her opinions, suggestions, and advice to Joan.


She doesn’t pull punches, and she is very honest.


She doesn’t tell Joan only what she wants to hear, nor does she say that path to publication is easy or fast.


Nevertheless, the practical help she gives as a mentor makes a huge difference in Joan’s journey, especially when Joan takes the advice to heart and puts what she learns into practice.


Lesson #1: Look for a mentor who is willing to give you guidance, honesty, and a kick in the pants as needed! Be appreciative, and later you can pay it forward to someone else.


Never Despise Small Beginnings


Mrs. Merrill also gives Joan a nugget of writing wisdom. “Big oaks from little acorns grow.”


More or less, she explains that Joan should not scorn small markets, but use them to help her gain more writing experience and build her portfolio.


As her list of publication credits multiplies, so will her opportunities and chances for landing higher paying assignments with more prestigious publications. Acorns to oaks!


Personally, I learned early on that I had a better chance to be published in local, regional, or smaller magazines.


But the time I spent honing my skills, working with editors, and learning to meet deadlines was beneficial for me.


Plus, the number of clips I collected was proof that I could do the work and meet editorial expectations.


And to be honest, the thrill of my first publication was motivation to keep going.


Lesson #2: It’s good to dream big and not sell one’s self short, but never despise small beginnings in the world of writing and publishing. They can lead to bigger and better things!


Be Willing to Put in the Hours


As Joan pursues smaller markets, she finds success.


She also eventually gets published in bigger magazines and sells a book.


But there is an obstacle she must first overcome.


Because she is tied up with her temporary job and also helps take care of her family, she has trouble finding a convenient time to write.


So what does she do?


She MAKES time.


She determines to get up at 5:00 am every morning and write before she goes to work.


She also works in the evening before she goes to bed.


She sets her schedule and sticks to it, willing to do what it takes.


She doesn’t experience overnight success, but her determination, well-defined goals, and specific weekly plan do eventually lead her to success.


Lesson #3: Set a schedule and be willing to put in the hours, even when it’s not an ideal arrangement. Just remember—acorns to oaks! Keep plugging away, and growth and success will happen!



*Article originally appeared on The Work Writer's Club website HERE.




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