One of the questions I’m often asked in interviewers, or by friends, or by strangers is, “What are your recommendations for beginning writers?” Chances are, even if you yourself have no interest in writing, you know at least one person who does have that interest.
Thus, I thought I’d summarize my suggestions here!
1. Educate yourself on the craft of writing. When I first decided to try my hand at writing a novel, I hoped that my lifetime as a reader qualified me to be a writer. I’d been reading for ages! Countless books! But, nope. What I came to realize is that the craft of writing can’t be learned by osmosis. It has to be learned the old fashioned way through books on the topic, seminars, articles, conferences, study. There are numerous non-fiction books on the craft of novel writing available at your local library and your local bookstore. I recommend: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (by the time I read this one, I’d made almost all the mistakes listed) by Jack Bickham, Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, Goal, Movtivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. Start with those, then continue to expand your education. For better or for worse, the longer you write fiction and the more you learn about it, the more you understand how incredibly complex it is and how much more you have to learn.
2. Begin writing. Frequently over the years, I’ve had conversations with people who discovered that I’m a writer and responded with, “I want to write a book!” Sometimes they go on to tell me their story idea, which is often based in some way on their life. I always encourage them warmly and I always suggest that they sit down and begin writing. These talks are bittersweet for me, because I know from experience that very, very few of the people who would like to write will ever take the step of actually writing. Of the few that do write something, far fewer will complete an entire novel-length manuscript.
Believe me, I understand! Beginning is daunting. Beginning requires the funneling of hope into action. Action is harder than mere hoping. But no one will ever publish a novel or improve their skills or make someone laugh or cry or marvel over their work without first putting in hours and hours and hours writing. You wouldn’t imagine that a cellist could play a piece of music beautifully without first putting in a tremendous amount of practice, right? It’s the same with writing. Every writer is going to need a great deal of practice before their product will be decent. We practice through writing.
Don’t worry about publishing your work at this stage. I wrote three full manuscripts that I never sold or self-published but they’re worth more than gold to me because of all that I learned through the writing of them. For me, there was no shortcut to the knowledge I gained thanks to those manuscripts. They formed stepping stones that provided a way forward.
3. Join a writer’s organization. Do you write romance? There’s Romance Writers of America. Do you write children’s books? Try SCBWI. Do you write mysteries? Check our Mystery Writers of America. Do you write Christian fiction? Then ACFW is for you.
Does that give you a sense of how many author’s groups are out there? Even if there’s not a local chapter that meets near where you live, you can join a group and connect via the Internet with like-minded writers. These wonderful groups often offer invaluable resources like conferences, webinars, critique partners, newsletters, contests. You’ll need trustworthy feedback on your work at some stage. You might think that your mom or your best friend or your sister are qualified to give you helpful feedback on your book. They’re not. But some of the people in your writer’s organization will be or they’ll know where to steer you for good feedback. On top of all that, your writer’s group will provide the thing you’ll come to cherish the most as you pursue your writing dream — writing friends.
Writing is very solitary so it’s a joy to connect with people who share your passion. Writers at your stage in the journey will come beside you and empathize, cheer, listen, brainstorm. You’ll do the same for them. Writers who are further along than you are will teach, answer your questions, give you advice.
4. Submit your work. This step should only be undertaken once you’ve completed at least one novel and once you’ve accomplished #1, 2, and 3. If you’re interested in traditionally publishing your novel, so that it will be available on bookstore shelves, then you’ll need to educate yourself about the world of publishers, editors, agents, and submission guidelines. There’s a learning curve to scale there and in my honest opinion, writer’s organizations will offer you the best source of up to date information regarding how and where to sell your novel. Additionally, Writer’s Digest releases a book every year called Writer’s Market.
Back when I started writing, the traditional route was the only route open to writers who wanted to make their work available to readers. Not so, these days. Writers who’ve completed a novel and received trustworthy feedback along the lines of, “This is excellent. This is polished. This is ready for publication,” might be ready to self-publish their book if that’s the approach they prefer. There’s a learning curve to scale there, too. Once again, non-fiction books and writer’s organizations will be able to provide reliable information on the topic.
Are you an aspiring #writer in need of advice and direction? @beckywadewriter suggests 4 Steps For Beginning Writers — Tweet That!