I just got back from a trip to Little Rock where I did several taped interviews. It took three flights to get there and two to get home. One flight was delayed two hours and another was canceled, then reinstated at a different gate. That meant lots of time spent talking and commiserating. Lots of chit-chat. Lots of asking, “So, why are you going to Little Rock?” and “What’s your job?”
I’ve always maintained that 3 out of every 4 people who know I’m a writer say, “Oh, I want to write, too!” And half of those add, “Any hints on how I can get started?” On my trip to Little Rock, I decided to gather some scientific basis for my number estimates, so I kept a tally. Here’s what I got:
- Asked what I did–14
- Want to be a writer too–12
- Asked for hints for getting started–8.
For all you people on those flights last week, and everyone else with how-can-I-be-a-writer questions, here is my advice:
- Set aside a writing area. You say you plan to clear away a little spot when you’re ready to write? Won’t happen! My first writing area was a dedicated end of the kitchen table. Yours doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be yours.
- Learn your craft. Locate a writing class (university continuing education classes can be great). Find–or start–a writers’ critique group. Start saving your $$ for a good writers conference.
- Invest in the tools of the trade. For starters, you need: A computer. A printer. Internet service. A basic set of reference books. A bookcase for your library. (Trust me, you’ll accumulate a library!)
- Read. Great writers are great readers. Read different things: books on writing, magazines, books both fiction and non-fiction. Read critically, paying attention to characters, plots, tension, the use of details.
- Put words down on paper. Loosen up your writing joints by spending five minutes writing whatever pops into your head. Don’t stop until the five minutes are up. After that, the sky’s the limit.
- Write every day. It may mean getting up early. It may mean turning off the TV. (Bonus for the entire family!) But make time to write every day. Oh, and carry a notebook with you so you can jot down ideas. The most unforgettable ones have a way of hitting at inopportune times, then slithering away before you can find paper.
- Determine what type of writing you want to pursue. Your first clue might be the type of writing you enjoy reading. That old nugget Write about what you know has a lot of truth to it. If you love reading legal drama, but know nothing about the legal system, you’ve got a huge amount of research to do. Do you love to ponder life? To know your family? Maybe you want to write a journal, or a family history for your next reunion. All writing doesn’t have to be published.
- Think small. “I’m writing a novel about…” Why does everyone think novel? Or even book? Write fillers. Start a blog. Write an article for your local newspaper. Contribute to on-line magazines. Writing small hones your work, a vital step for most writers.
- Write something someone wants to read. If your intention is to be published, avoid the trap of writing only for yourself. Instead, write with the reader in mind. Locate the Writers’ Guidelines for the publisher to which you want to submit and follow the directions. Edit your work until it’s the best you can do right now, then send it off.
- Expect rejections. Rejection letters are part of the writing process. We all get them. Some of us get lots and lots of them. When you open yours, remember that it’s only one editor’s opinion. Only one publication’s consideration. Lots of great books were rejected many times before they hit stardom. On the other hand, look back over your manuscript with an editor’s eye. What problems did she see? What will you rewrite before you send it out again?
Best advice: If you want to be a writer, write. Write and write and never give up.
“When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”