INTRO - QUICK WRITING GUIDE24 August 2010
So you want to be a writer? You’d like a few tips to help you along? You want to know what life is like in the literary trenches? You’ve come to the right place!! Over the last few years, through my blog, I’ve been dispensing as much wisdom as I can on the subject of writing. I’ve collected most of my thoughts on the subject over the coming pages. There’s a LOT to work your through and digest—I deal with as many of the elements of the business as I can, from starting with your original ideas, to developing them, to putting a finished draft together, to dealing with your editor, to life on the road if you succeed.
Be warned—writing is a serious business and I take it very seriously. I have no time for people who are looking for short-cuts. As you’ll soon find out if you read on, I believe that hard work and dedication is the only way to advance as a writer. This is not the place to come if you are looking for a quick fix, for someone to “show you the way” or reveal all the secrets of the trade. There ARE no secrets except for this one—if you work hard, you learn and evolve. What I want to do most with these pages is stress the fact that I got to where I am today through a lot of hard work. I think one of the hardest things for young writers is that they look at established authors and think that writing comes easily to them, that they didn’t have to struggle to succeed. That’s not the case! Writing has always been a trial for me—I love it, but it took a lot of time, effort and focus for me to get to the stage where I could write something that readers would enjoy—and it still takes a lot of time, effort and focus for me to stay where I am!
Having said that, I’m going to kick off this how-to manual (which is basically what all the entries amount to) with a short, concise list of what you need to do if you want to become a published author. If you just want the basics, everything crucial that I have to say on the subject can be found in the following few lines. The rest is really nothing more than an expansion of the points listed below. So if you want to stop with this page, you can!!
1 - WRITE!!! It sounds too obvious to be worth mentioning, but you’d be astonished by how many wannabe writers just sit around thinking about what they would write, rather than sit down and test themselves by actually writing! Writing is hard work, which requires a lot of time and effort. There’s no point making elaborate plans for your career if you’re not prepared to put in the hard graft. The more you write, the more you learn and the better you get.
2 - Good advance plotting is usefully helpful. If you write up a fairly detailed plan before you start writing, it will help guide you along.
3 - Finish what you start. Writing is a learning process. You need to experience every angle of the story-telling process in order to develop. If you stop writing after a few pages or chapters every time you begin a story, you will never learn how to write anything better than a very good opening—which is useless without a very good middle and end!! Set achievable goals for yourself. Start with short stories. When you’ve finished a good few of those, try longer stories, then maybe a short novel. Don’t be too discouraged if the story doesn’t work as well as you would like. Every writer struggles in the beginning. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep developing.
4 - Have fun! It will probably take you a long time to get to the stage where you’re good enough to be published, so don’t worry if you don’t get an early break. Enjoy the creative process. Write stories that you would like to read and which you can have fun writing. Writing can be hard, lonely work, but you CAN have fun doing it, especially in the early years when you don’t have to worry abouyt showing your work to an audience.
5 - Don’t stop! Many people who could succeed in the writing business lose heart when they realise how hard it is, and they quit. EVERY writer finds it hard. It usually takes a lot of time and hard work for any writer to develop and produce a really good story. Don’t be worried if you don’t make gigantic leaps overnight. Writing is a long-term career. Keep the faith!
6 - Be patient. Like I said above, you need to look at the long-term. I think every writer likes to think that they’re buck the trend and make a swift breakthrough, and some do—but most take years, even a decade or two, before they really hit their stride. I started earlier than most writers, and developed quicker than most because I put more time in than most would-be writers my age (mainly because I didn’t do much socialising!). I began seriously working on my craft about the age of 14 or 15. But I was 26 before I got my first book published. Most writers are in their 30s before their first book sees print.
7 - Listen to the advice of others. Your teachers DO know what they’re talking about! (Well, MOST of them do!!!) Pay attention when your English teacher is talking about grammar and structure and all the rest. No writing exercise is ever a totally futile one, even if it might seem like it at the time. Read interviews with published writers. Believe them when they talk about having to work hard. Don’t be afraid to learn from the mistakes of others—it saves you time if you don’t have to make those mistakes yourself!
8 - Feedback can be helpful, but it isn’t essential. If you want to show your stories to your friends and family, do so. If you’d rather not share your work with them, don’t—and don’t pay any attention if they criticise you for not letting them see what you’re writing! If you want to join a writing group, I’m sure there are lots of very good groups out there—do some online research. Or if you’d rather do it all yourself, that’s fine too.
9 - When you feel ready to present your work to a professional, read a book which explains how you should go about doing this. In the UK and Ireland, I would recommend The Writers And Artists Yearbook. In the USA, I hear that The Writer’s Market offers much the same insightful and helpful information. These books present you with useful tips about presenting and submitting your work. Study their advice carefully. Listen to what they say. Follow the protocols they recommend, e.g. if they tell you to send your work to agents rather than publishing houses, pay attention! If they tell you to submit just a few chapters of your book, rather than your entire book, pay attention! These books are written by people who know what they’re talking about—ignore their pearls of wisdom at your peril!!!
10 - Don’t be afraid of rejection. Virtually every writer gets turned down when they’re starting out. Rejection is normal. You don’t have to like it, but you’ll need to deal with it, so develop a thick skin and don’t take it personally when an agent or publisher turns you down or ignores you completely! Listen to their advice if they offer any, then carry on writing and fine-tuning your craft and submitting. If you hang on in there, and keep going, and don’t let rejection dampen your spirits, you WILL succeed!!!!
There we go—that pretty much covers everything!! But for those of you who want to learn a bit more, feel free to read on!!!