Friday, April 4, 2008

For the Newbie: How To Be a Writer

This isn't a Writing 101 post. It's a bare-bones, how-do-I-get-started post for folks who wonder how they're actually going to do this thing.

Actually, I'm about to impart Common Sense to you.

I can't tell you how many folks have written to me, "Do you think I should go back to school to be a writer?" Or, "Should I take some writing courses first?"

"School" and "Writing Courses" and "Sundry Investments of Time and Money Loosely Related to the Art of Writing" aren't going to guarantee anyone publication. Yes, there are times when a good brush-up course on English Grammar is a good idea. Especially if you don't know when to use "lie" and "lay," or if you can't tell me what a gerund is.

But really, the best advice is to write -- a lot. And to read -- a lot. Read good writers. Read a variety of writers.

Now for the Common Sense part:

1. Make writing a priority. Do you have an idea for a novel? An outline scribbled on a few sheets of notebook paper? If you don't act on it, it will never happen. Write.

2. Your "personal computer time" is probably limited. So don't sit there for an hour reading your favorite blogs, answering email, and dancing around on Myspace before cracking open your latest Word document. Sure, there's a lot of good stuff out there. I've linked to a bunch of it, and I'll be adding more. But don't let the "good stuff" take the place of actually writing. Write.

3. Don't even think about agents and publishers and the Best Seller list while you're writing your first draft. Or your second, or your third, or however many drafts you're going to end up with. You're going to need a polished, edited, re-edited, re-re-edited manuscript before you move on to the next big step. Focus. Write.

4. Don't hand your story to your parents, your spouse, your neighbors, your Bunko buddies, your mailman, your fifth grade English teacher, or your barber, and take their reactions as Gospel. If you think for a moment that anyone is going to say something like, "Well, this is a great start, but you have some work ahead of you," you are mistaken. Instead, you're going to hear praises unlike anything heard before. "You are so talented!" "This is fabulous! Simply fabulous!" "Oh my gosh, you mean this isn't published yet?" "Wow! This is Best Seller material!" Right. They'll say it, and you'll believe it. And it won't be true. Especially if it's your first novel. So keep friends and relatives away from your work. Just write.

5. The real input is going to come from like-minded writers who are willing to swap work with you, or from a critique group that you trust. (Disclaimer: Not all crit groups are created equal. A group of poor writers is going to give out poor advice. Choose wisely.) Be willing to rip your work to bits. Be willing to delete, delete, and delete some more. Don't fall in love with your words. Be fickle. Be flexible. And when someone tells you that something isn't working, and you know it isn't working, get rid of it. And then write it better.

So, the distillation of my Common Sense points is as follows:

1. Write.
2. Write.
3. Write.
4. Write.
5. Write.

And you know, this advice isn't just for "newbies." Those of us who are on our second or third or fifteenth novels need the same reminders. Life is short. WRITE.

Feel free to add your own "Common Sense" advice in the comments box!

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