I’ve written news copy for more than two decades and print articles since 2005. Then in 2011 I decided to try fiction. Initially I took some novel writing classes but then got stuck and stopped. That was mistake number one. Having penned many magazine pieces I didn’t study the art of non-fiction writing and that was my second major error. When I sent my book to my brilliant editor she pointed out I would have failed Freshman English. All because of a rookie mistake. Having since learned some lessons out of desperation and others propelled by frustration, I have a list of things that would have been extremely helpful. Ten years ago!
- Read extensively – I meet a lot of writers who avoid this in case they plagiarize, even a little bit. Relax. There are very few new ideas under the sun. When you send in proposals to agents they’ll want to know who your audience is and what they’re reading. You should have a very clear idea of who your competition for the market is. If this idea of competing makes you uncomfortable then consider this – I write in my fiction genre because I love to read it. There are certain authors I cheer on loudly when they publish books. I pray for their success.
- Study your craft – there are a number of ways to do this. Join a good writers organization that includes online learning as part of its member benefits; see if there are courses offered at a community college, or available for audit if there’s a great university nearby; attend writers conferences.
- Decide on your own process – for a long time I tried to force a plot for my first novel. I wanted it in writing so I knew what I’d be writing each day. That lasted three chapters. Then nothing. So I gave up until Write Well Sell Well’s very own Rene Gutteridge told me I could ignore my writing teacher (sorry Glenn) and just sit at the laptop and type whatever came next. And what did come next was 45,000 words in one month. Whether you are a plotter or a “pantster,” figure out what works for you and stick with it. There are techniques that work for some but there is no law on how a book must be written.
- Set goals – just like if you don’t know where you’re going it’s hard to get there, I have found it much more productive to have a word count or editing goal each day I’m planning to write. There are good apps or writing software that can help you with this and then events like NaNoWriMo (Google it if unfamiliar) to inject some impetus.
- Find accountability – once I have a goal I make sure I’m held responsible for meeting it. My friend Kelly Goshorn recently had her debut novel published and is working on a three-book series. We both get up at five AM and via text we sprint for set amounts of time (usually ten to fifteen minutes) or dash to set numbers of words (typically 2-300). It’s amazing how quickly you reach a goal of say 1500 words per day when you work like that.
- Seek constructive criticism – make friends with other authors writing in a similar manner. Kelly writes historical romance while I write contemporary, but close enough. We review chapters for each other on a weekly basis when we are both putting down fresh words. This isn’t like having an editor, but more someone who can help identify weaker areas or simple mistakes that we so often miss in our own work.
- Network like crazy – the biggest breakthroughs I’ve made in my writing have come after talking to someone further down the publishing path. Writers love to talk about writing. The more conferences I’ve attended and organizations I’ve joined or even online communities (Facebook has a number of these), the more I’ve made friends with other writers and had people happy to answer my rookie questions. You’d be amazed at how quickly you learn enough to be able to pay that knowledge forward in one way or another.
Writing can be a hard, lonely, and exhausting profession but hopefully by learning from some of my mistakes you can get going more quickly and have some fun. I wish you many beautiful words.