So You Want To Be A Writer

If you’re thinking of writing your first novel in June but are a little daunted by the prospect, don’t be afraid! Susan Kaye Quinn has some excellent advice for new writers. Keep reading for some great tips on how to be a writer. (Originally posted here.)

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So You Want To Be A Writer …

I often have people ask how to get started in writing. Or perhaps they’ve started a novel, but aren’t sure where to go from there. Or even finished their novel and want to explore publishing. This post is a general guide to help my friends explore writing to see if it’s right for them.

If You’ve Always Wanted to Write A Novel …

…but you haven’t started yet, this section is for you. The most important thing for a beginning writer to do is simply write. Invariably, beginning writers do not believe me. Shouldn’t they take a class? Or read a book on writing? Or possibly make an outline first? After all, they have no idea where to start. The hard answer is that no one knows where to start. They just do it. This is hard to hear, because it’s like wandering out into the dark without a flashlight or a map, much less a GPS. Who on earth would do that? There’s one person that does: a writer. Every time she stares at the blank page, or he takes a leap into an unknown plot twist, the writer forges out into the dark with no idea where they will end up but willing to take the dangerous journey anyway. DO THIS. Take the leap into putting words on the page without caution. It’s the quickest way to find out if you’ve got the mettle to take on such a risky undertaking. A less frightening analogy: suppose you decided that you wanted to run a marathon. You shouldn’t start out by reading about marathons, or signing up for a marathon trainer, or even watching marathons on TV. The first thing you should do is run. Every day. When you’ve built up some stamina, you can start worrying about things like interval training and carbo-loading and even reading books about marathons. But for now, just write.

If You’ve Started a Novel, But Don’t Know How to Finish …

…don’t panic. Writing a novel is a tremendously large undertaking. It’s not something you’ll whip out in a weekend, and the first several novels will likely all be steep learning curves where you start to understand things like voicecraft, and storytelling. There’s a famous saying that you have to write a million bad words before you start writing the good ones. Ira Glass has a delightful video on beginning artists (which includes writers) needing to fight through a large body of work before they can bridge the gap between what they can imagine and what they can produce. So, you have a long road ahead of you: don’t be impatient. But the first (and very important) step is to finish that first novel. I highly encourage writers still working on their first novel to finish it, as in write it all the way to The End. It may be crap. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed to be crap (with tidbits of awesome). Here’s a secret for you: all first drafts are crap. It’s learning how to get the words on the page, then going back and reworking them into something that SHINES that separates the beginners from the less-beginners (because I swear we’re all still learning along the way).

If You’ve Finished a Novel, But Don’t Know What To Do Now …

…you’re not done. Finishing the first draft is a wonderful accomplishment, especially the first time! Pat yourself on the back, have a glass of wine, and decide if that (writing a novel) is something you ever, ever, in your life, want to do again. The answer may be “no” and that’s perfectly acceptable. But if you want to produce something you can be proud to share with others (even possibly beyond your family and friends), you will need to revise. And by revision, I don’t mean checking your punctuation or sentence structure (always good to do as well). I mean, this is where you decide, Am I serious about learning this craft and art of writing, knowing how much work it is? If the answer is “yes” congratulations! You’re a writer! Also, condolences, as you have just picked a life of misery and suffering, I mean, great artistic fulfillment! See my For Writers page with links to all kinds of posts on writerly craft. Seek out other writers in your genre and offer to swap critiques with them (first chapters in the beginning, then progress to swapping whole manuscripts). Listen hard to criticism and treat it as the gift that it is. Begin the slow, unending journey toward improving your craft and your storytelling. Find your Voice. Discover what makes you unique as a writer. And remember this is a journey of discovery of yourself as much as your story. And most importantly: write another novel. Your first novel, no matter how many drafts you put into it, is unlikely to be one you want to publish. Many writers have several novels under their belts before they have something ready to show the world.

If You Think You Want to Publish Your Novel, But Don’t Know Where to Start …

…stop. Do not leap immediately into self-publishing. Ask yourself these Seven Questions before self-publishing and evaluate your Writer’s Mission Statement (don’t have one? Make one). You need to know what your goals are before you publish, in order to have any hope of it being a fulfilling experience for you. See my For Writerspage for links to posts about publishing. There has never been a greater time to be a writer, because of all the choices that writers have, from self-publishing to small publishers to Big Six Publishers. The choices are yours, but it pays to know what you’re after and be well informed before taking the leap into publishing. If you thought being a writer was hard, trust me that being a published writer just makes everything more complicated. And rewarding and awesome, but only if you’ve got realistic and attainable goals in your sights.

Welcome to the wild and wonderful life of being a writer! I hope this post helps, and I’m always open to questions. Paying forward the many, many times that other writers have helped me … well, that’s part of my Writer’s Mission Statement. 🙂

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Susan Kaye QuinnSusan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA SF Mindjack series. Her new Debt Collector serial is her more grown-up SF, which she likes to call future-noir. Susan has a lot of degrees in engineering, which come in handy when dreaming up dangerous mind powers, future dystopias, and slightly plausible steampunk inventions. Mostly she plays on Facebook, in awe that she gets make up stuff full-time. You can find her at www.susankayequinn.com.

 

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