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Thursday, May 15, 2014

First time writers....


Not too long ago a friend of a friend of a friend asked me how to become a writer. Not a published writer (although that was the final goal), but a writer.

Simple question- right? How do you become a writer? Well, you just start writing! My first response wasn't really all that helpful. Akin to telling someone to learn how to ride a bike by just riding ;).

However my reaction was valid- like bike riding, once you’ve been writing for a while (and let's face it, for many of us this has been a VERY long term disorder) it’s automatic. We can’t think of that vague, distant time when we didn’t write.

For example- right this moment, without stopping to ponder- describe how to tie a shoelace. Unless you’ve got a small child you are currently teaching how to do that, chances are you’re going to have a hard time explaining it quickly. It’s something we do all the time and it’s become automatic. But we don't think about the process.

So, how does one become a writer?

I thought it might be interesting to toss this question out to the lurking masses on this blog. If you were talking to someone who had never written, they had the longing, but hadn’t put pen to paper yet, what advice would you give them? To that lost, long ago self who first decided they needed to start creating their own worlds to play in? When I first started writing there was no Internet, writers didn’t have the same resources they do now. But they still need help ;).

My comments to that friend of a friend of a friend (once I got the idea settled anyway ;)) would be:

1)Write. Seems simple really, but there are still folks out there who think that they can come up with ideas and work with someone else who will write them down. I once had a boyfriend who seriously thought they hardest part of writing was coming up with the idea, “anyone can just write”. Needless to say he’d never actually written anything- and we broke up a LONG time ago. Lots of folks will give you writing “rules”- the only one that really matters is that you have to write.

2)Read. Ah- the flip side. Read in your genre. Read out of your genre. Read about writing, with the caveat that you take “rules” with a grain of salt. You’re going to get conflicting information. You can’t let it make you quit or give you self doubts. Just bring in as much legit writing info that you can- eventually you’ll start to realize what feels true for you. NEVER stop reading or learning- EVER.

3)Be realistic. You aren’t going to get rich. Seriously. Your odds are akin to winning a lottery big enough to quit work. DO NOT look at the exceptions and think they are the norm. You write because you love it, or just don’t even start.

4)Build your craft. Go to conferences, join groups, pick up writing mags, books, webinars, whatever- but constantly improve your craft!

5)Don’t give up. This is a brutal field equal to acting in terms of rejection. You are going to get the emotional crap beaten out of you- that is a promise. BUT you can survive. Don’t quit your day job, but don’t give up either. A screenwriter friend once told me “You can’t fail, you can only quit.” In other words, as long as you keep up the fight- you’re never a failure.

So now it's out to you fine folks- what would you tell a new writer?

10 comments:

  1. Nothing to add to this great advice except submit your work to publishers. I have a friend who has a closet full of manuscripts. Such a waste. There's no success without risk There's always room for a new author on the bookshelf.

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    1. Wow, Leigh, hopefully you can get your friend to start sending them out! And very true- it's a brutal business, but you have to try!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  2. I think I would advise new writers to focus on improving one aspect of their writing at a time. When you start to learn the craft of writing it can be daunting to try and think about plot, characters, POV, dialogue, editing, conflict, ... all at the same time. Get a writer you know and trust to read your work and advise you on what you need to improve and then stay focused. I have seen too many give up because they try to master everything at once.

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    1. That is excellent advice, Cyndi! Baby steps are key, and don't get overwhelmed. New writer's are going to get some much conflicting "help" they need to know when to step back and focus on one thing.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  3. I would suggest starting small to the new writer, even though small is sometimes harder than large. Short stories are a way to get your foot into the published world. While short these are complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They employ all of the techniques of a novel in a condensed version. The added bonus is that you don't have to write 80,000 words to get to the climax.

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    1. Very true! I am an example of someone who has a much harder time with short stories- but I have a friend who met Ray Bradbury years ago. She asked for writing advice and he said to write one short story a week for a year. She did and points to that as what help build her writing skills! (and she is now a multiple published author, built her blog by posting those stories every week, and even did a self-pubbed book of some of them ;))

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  4. This is all good advice. I would also suggest looking at your writing goals from a professional/business aspect. Create goals, identify financial needs, start building a professional network, and think ahead about branding/marketing.

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  5. Excellent additions, Maria! I think it would help new writers to keep the idea of this is a business in the back of their minds. That way as they grow as writers that becomes just part of what that means :).

    Thanks for coming by and commenting

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  6. Great advice! If we're talking about advice on becoming a writer (vs. a published author), then my advice would be to put down the smart phone in public and look around. Listen to people's voices, their tone, how they construct their sentences, their body language, Imagine their life stories or where they live. Imagine what they're afraid of and how they cope with stress. Build a database in your mind about humanity.

    Writing is about creating and embodying a truth that isn't your own, and to do that, you must become a master of details by becoming a student of the world.

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    1. Excellent advice, Melissa! The person was asking for someone new to writing in general- so that helps a lot :)

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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