I recently received an email from a new writer asking for some tips for beginners. I thought, What a great idea for a post! (Thanks Ally!)
- Write. This is the most important part of being a writer. Anyone who is writing regularly is a writer. Anyone who is riding a bicycle instead of writing is a cyclist, not a writer. If you want to be a writer, write.
- Figure out what you want to write. Fiction or non-fiction? What do you like to read? Mystery? Romance? Aviation Disaster Mysteries? (I have two friends who will get that joke and only one may actually read my blog.) Go ahead and be bold with a new genre about trolls (which is not that new, apparently it's a thing now) but recognize that you may have a steeper road than most to sell your work if it's really, really new.
- Read in your genre, especially if you haven't sold there yet. It seems self-evident that this would be a good idea, but you'd be surprised how many people think, "I'll start out in erotica, even though I haven't read any, because it sounds easy and this is my 'starter' book."
- Recognize that there is a difference between being an writer and being an author. This is kind of my own distinction, but I like to make it because I spent decades afraid to call myself a writer because I wasn't selling. If you write, you're a writer. If you have a book on the shelf, you are the author of said book. I am now Dani Collins, Romance Author. I am and always was a writer.
- Recognize the difference between being a writer and a publisher. In today's world you can be both by indie-publishing your manuscript as a book. As few as five years ago, this was called vanity publishing and it was looked down upon because, it was thought, those who wrote well enough would sell to a 'real' publisher. Today a handful of people have made scads of money publishing their own work, so now self-publishing makes you a bad-ass. It also makes you a publisher. You need a lot of ancillary skills to be a publisher that go beyond the ability to write a good story. For instance, you need to know how to copy edit words like 'ancillary' and know that it's being used correctly, otherwise you look like a cheap-ass publisher who doesn't care about the quality of their product.
- Take pride in the quality of your product. Write down your own expectations of a book. What do you like in the stories you read? Humour? Angst? Proper punctuation? Do everything on your list when you write your own book.
- Learn. Learn from reading, from online blogs and articles, from craft books, from conferences and workshops... If you have never taken any How To Write courses, start looking for whatever is affordable for your situation. I wish I could teach you in thirteen steps how to write, but it's actually a lifelong study that I too am still learning.
- Tools, Not Rules. This should be up around No.2. While you're absorbing everything about grammar and structure and character development and setting and motif, you will hear a lot of You Musts. You must Show, Never Tell. You must get the hero and heroine together on Page 1. You must vary the beginning of your sentences. I have just broken that rule for two reasons: to demonstrate my point and for humorous effect. If you read about how to write jokes, you'll learn the power of three. I repeated something three times and mocked myself on the third one. According to some, that's funny. By the same token, I do not write out the GMC structure of my manuscripts prior to sitting down to write them, but for a few years I did and now I kind of do that in my head, especially if I get stuck. It is a tool I pull out when I'm wondering why my romantic conflict withered on the vine. Tools, not rules.
- Be selective about who you show your work to. I love my husband. Based on early, marriage-threatening experiences, I do not show him my works-in-process. I gave him a signed author copy of my first book, but I don't care if he reads it and I don't want to know what he thinks. I don't like anyone to see my computer screen while I'm writing. I don't like strangers to read my grocery list and use code if I need feminine supplies... Okay, this has become more of a confession of my neuroses than actual advice, but seriously, having the wrong people read your words can be damaging to your process. It's super exciting to poop out your first manuscript and very natural to want everyone to love it as much as you do. Your mother might wax poetic, but that might be a biased opinion which can be as damaging to your progress as someone who is too critical. Proceed with caution, find some writers on your level, ask around about some contests that offer anonymous, constructive feedback, and always keep writing because that's how you develop confidence in your own voice and content.
- Expect rejection. I have over a hundred, well over, from agents and editors. I still get revision letters that feel kind of like rejections because you send your work in believing it's perfect and get back a list of ways to improve. Sometimes your book genuinely doesn't fit what they print. Sometimes they're leaving for vacation and didn't even crack the first page. You have no control over this, it will happen, do not feel singled out, personally attacked, or alone. It sucks, but you're in good company. Keep writing.
- Write because you love it. If you want to write to make a million dollars, you can do that, but it will take a lot of work. Exactly as much work and educational investment as it would be for you to become a doctor or an accountant or an astronaut. You can do anything you want to if you are willing to put the time and effort in. Even at that, see No.10. There will still be some slap-downs and disappointments. Publishing will make you crazy. You cannot control your progress up that ladder. Writing, however, is yours. If you love it, then do it. If you want to publish, do that too, but don't let it ruin the writing side for you.
- Cultivate a good balance between your writing life and your real life. I'm currently so drowning in writing commitments it's not even a joke anymore, but I know I'll be righting things by the end of the year. My family knows this and therefore I am still married, otherwise I think I'd be asked to leave, even by the cat who just looks at me with those eyes. Really? No time to admire this dead bird I brought you? Where are your priorities? But I digress. From a physical standpoint (sitting, actually) writing can be very hard on you. Walk. It's generally an interior pursuit. Go outside. It's a lonely pursuit. Network with other writers. Writing is also a draining process. You need to fill the creativity well with other experiences so you can come back and know exactly what curry smells like or how that guy laughs or what the heck these smart watches are that are going to be turning up in books from now on.
- Evoke emotion. You'll notice none of my points so far have been about craft. There are far smarter people out there who can teach you the mechanics of writing. I am an expert on staying sane through twenty-five years of rejection. However, one craft tip I will impart involves the importance of evoking emotion. Now, I'm no brain surgeon so I can't give you exact terminology, but I recently learned that the part of the brain that holds longterm memory is stimulated by deep emotion. Incidentally, it's also the part that processes scent and does so most keenly during pre-adolescence. That's an aside. The take-away here is that if you want your stories to be memorable, they should stimulate emotion in your reader.
I should now do my best to evoke some emotion in you, Dear Reader, so you will remember this fabulously interesting blog. However, my creative well is dry and, more importantly, my stomach is empty. Yes, I am alone and hungry.
That bird on the deck is looking promising, actually...