HOW TO START WRITING
(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, August 7, 2002)
When I mention the fact that I'm a writer, someone often responds with, "I've always wanted to write." Many people harbor a desire to share their ideas and feelings with others, whether it be through a poem or a book, but few ever do anything about it.
Besides the work that goes into writing a book, what keeps most people from embarking on such a project is the fact that they don't know how to get started, or where to go for help in their endeavor. If you have entertained literary dreams, whether it be a rhyme or a novel, then this column, and several more of my articles on the subject that will run every so often in this column, might help you on your way.
So, if one of your New Year's resolutions involves a writing project that you've always wanted to tackle, maybe this article will help you get started. First, read to the end of this piece, then get busy! Oh, yeah, and watch for my next piece on writing too, coming soon.
Read in the area in which you want to write. If you plan to write category romances, then read category romances. Ditto for mysteries, science fiction, etc. Write what you like to read. Read many genres, whether you plan to write in those areas or not. You might end up writing something you never imagined you would write. Read good works and bad works. Good writing shows you how to write well. Bad writing inspires you to write better--and might even help you recognize your own errors.
Read about writing. Get comfortable with literature on writing and writers. In the article below, I share my list of "Resources for Writers," but the most important thing you can do is pick up a copy of Writer's Digest Magazine, which can lead you to almost any resource you'll ever need. If you're "wired," go online to www.writersdigest.com to find out how to subscribe to that revered periodical.
Talk to other writers about books and articles that have helped them. Keep on reading, and you'll learn how to find other writers, but first . . .
You don't really have to put words on paper every single day, unless that's what you need to do to get into and stay in the habit of writing, but at least do something related to writing each day. For instance, a journal is an effective tool for keeping ideas flowing. Some writers consider this formal method a necessity, but there are many other ways to record your thoughts too.
Write down all your ideas, no matter how disconnected or weird they seem at the time. You can record these notes on an index card, which helps you keep things in an orderly fashion, or on the back of an envelope if that's all you have handy--or if that's the record form that "trips" your creative "trigger." You can write a simple phrase or sentence, or a reference to an article or book related to a present or future project. You can record entire paragraphs that provide enough detail to start you on the project when you read them over again. I like to write down interesting names that give me an idea about a character; someday I'll use one of them in a novel. Anything that gives you an idea about an article or story belongs in your notes.
File these ideas so you can find them when you need them. If you think you'll write about a subject one day, collect everything you can find on the subject. Make notes and underline pertinent statements in articles you save so you can find the points quickly again. When you're ready to go back to this subject, you'll be surprised how much of your groundwork is already done.
Take the old adage, "Write what you know," with a grain of salt. Your writing style and subjects will depend upon your interests and things you want to learn about, as much as what you already know. There is a market for personal experience and nostalgia, but regardless of what some think, this is a specialized type of writing; few people can make the "truth" interesting to others. Like any other genre, study this one before you try to tackle it. Still, it's okay to start at what you know, then dare to learn something new and write about it. That is called "fiction."
Talking to other writers is the most effective way to learn about writing, to get your work objectively critiqued, and to keep your creative juices flowing. Be careful, though. Steer clear of those people whose criticisms sound too much like the moral equivalent of "kicking a dog." A good critiquer always mentions something you've done well and, if they find something that needs work, a suggestion on how it could be done differently. It's up to you whether or not to accept their suggestions. After all, it is your work.
You can find writers anywhere, from writers groups to the other end of your phone. You can meet writers at writers conferences or other specialized events, such as science fiction "cons" and plays. Writers often hang out at libraries and book stores. Computer and office supply stores are also favorite haunts. Ask the people in charge if they know of someone you can talk to. You can even find writers in your own church.
If you can't find writers any other way, advertise. Put up notices on public bulletin boards in grocery stores and laundromats. Take out an ad in the local newspaper; give the editor a public-service notice about a writers meeting you're planning, and it won't cost you a thing. Be prepared to take a leading role in the venture. In Texas and Georgia I used these methods to organize two writers groups. Once you start the ball rolling, it does tend to gather a lot of snow--and maybe even a few flakes!
If you want to sell your writing, the many resources available through Writer's Digest Magazine can teach you a lot about how it's done. You can also meet agents and editors at writers conferences. Making a personal contact first is the best way to get people to pay attention to your work when you send it to them for consideration later.
HONE YOUR SKILLS
No one becomes a writer overnight. Honing your skills is a gradual process that takes months and years of careful, hard work. Becoming a professional writer is a constant and never-ending learning process. No piece of writing is ever perfect, at least in the eyes of the writer. Every good published writer knows their best book on the bookstore racks can be improved with a little more work. Sooner or later, you've got to say, "enough." Send that literary "child" out into the publishing world and let it find its way.
There you have it: read, write, network, and hone. The entire process comes down to those four steps. In future columns this year, I'll share more information that will help you with these steps. Until then, get on with it. Time's a'wastin’.