One of the most persistent questions I have been asked over my career is how to get published. My persistent answer has been- write. This is why.
Magazines publish most of their photos as part of articles. While a photo essay used to be a fairly common magazine piece, photo essays (images without words) are increasingly uncommon to increasingly unheard of. So you have two choices to combine your images with words. One is to submit your pictures to a magazine’s cattle call for images and hope that your image is the one selected out of the thousand or more submitted. The other is to include words with your images. This is called a story. This gives you just about a 100% chance of getting your images published assuming the magazine likes your words. Therein lies the rub.
Setting aside the submission process I will concentrate on the writing process, perhaps the most intimidating part of getting published and becoming a complete professional photographer. I have been doing it for so long that writing has become second nature to me but I realize this is not the case for most people. So let me break it down to the most effective, most unintimidating technique I can.
Writing is the process of clearly and simply communicating with words. It is something we do everyday when we talk to our family or friends or colleagues. And yet when we try to put these words down on paper our brains go hair wire and clearly and simply become gobbledygook. This is because we get in our own way trying to make more out of something that usually needs less.
So here is what to do- talk yourself a paragraph. Pretend you are having a conversation with a friend or family member and, with tape recorder in hand, describe your subject to them. Don’t get high and mighty, don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use and don’t get overly complicated. Just tell the person what you are doing as if you were on the phone with them. When you are done with the first paragraph, write down what you have taped. Then do the next paragraph into the tape recorder and so on. Soon enough you will have ‘written’ your piece.
You are not done yet though. The real art and process of writing is the act of rewriting.
Reread what you have written and clarify and simplify as needed. Then do it again. After a few times give it to someone else to read and see what he or she think. Is it clear? Do you get your points across simply? Is it easy to read? Does it say everything you want or need to say? I have rewritten this short piece four times so far and I expect I will go over it more yet.
This is what usually happens at this point- people become overly critical of what they have written and become hyper sensitive to the point of either paralysis or nausea. This, of course, kills the entire process.
I always find it interesting that we all acknowledge that practice is necessary to become good at almost everything except writing. We get a few paragraphs down, look at it once, realize it is not perfect and toss the sucker away like a Congressman tosses compromise into the trashcan. We must practice everything else we do in life but with writing it apparently should be just about perfect the first time.
Well here is the news. It will be God-awful the first time, bad the next time through, simply dull on the third pass and actually not so horrible on the fourth. If you persist to the fifth time through you actually may like it. Oh, times two through four are also known as work, often hard, frustrating work and sometimes uncomfortable work. But if you persist your work will be rewarded. Remember- writing is the process of rewriting.
Eventually, you won’t need a tape recorder to write you will just listen to your head and write down what you hear. And eventually, eventually what you hear you will really like. You will still need to rework the words and shuffle things around but it will become a joyful experience and not a dreaded one. This is called skill and with skill comes confidence.
So for practice write a short how-to article on something you do well or do everyday. It could be how you cook an omelet or how you photograph bees. Or it might be how you suggest photographing at a local place you know well. Keep it simple, keep it clear and keep at it. Pretend you are describing it to me. I won’t bite, I won’t yell at you but if you are yourself and I get what you are trying to say I will look forward to what you write next. And isn’t that the point?
Craig L. HoweAugust 25, 2012
Great advice. I have always said there is no such thing as great writing; only great editing. If you are a critical editor, you will spare yourself the heartache of rejection.
Bob WildmanSeptember 2, 2012
In my other life as a psychotherapist I saw clients extremely frustrated after doing something different to improve their well-being. I point out to them that in one of the best children’s (and therefore adult) books, Charolette’s Web, the first sentence was rewritten 37 times. And E.B. White was one of the century’s best writers.