Once people find out that that I've written novels, I regularly hear about those who have the same aspiration.
They have this idea for a book.
They know this unique person.
They have these stories. Or this poem.
They’ve thought about what a great story their own life would make.
They had this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Typically, they ask for advice: what should I do?
Writing has many elements.
It’s a talent—something that’s part of who you are. But it’s also a skill you must hone. Many people have natural abilities, but everyone needs training on the elements of good writing. So beyond actually "doing it" (i.e., writing!), I always recommend that budding writers work to be better writers. I'm also of the opinion that writing is a passion. Dare we say, a calling? Writers write because they can't not write!
You want to be a writer? I offer the following suggestions, but they are only suggestions and should not (NOT!!) be considered all-inclusive:
Examine your motives. Some want to a writer to make vaults of money by becoming the next bestselling writer. They want to write for the approval of others, for accolades, and adoration. Or they think they’ll be able to quit their job, stay home and write when they feel like it. I've had people say they think it would "fun" to be a writer. These people will probably be disappointed early. It’s not easy to make a living at writing. It’s hard work. (It's not impossible, but it's nothing like Jessica Fletcher.)
Benjamin Franklin said "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
Be a writer because you have stories to tell.
Be a writer because you think you have something important to add to a conversation or subject.
Be a writer because you love to write!
Start with the familiar. It’s probably the advice most often given to aspiring writers, but there’s more...and less...to the well-known (and not-always useful) axiom Write What You Know, so I spent significant time covering the topic earlier.
Learn the craft. I've read books where it was obvious the author had a wonderful idea, but the execution was horrible. (Unless we're using the word “execution” in the context of killing the English language!) I will rarely finish a good story that’s presented with bad writing.
Good writers write good. (That's bad grammar, in case you missed the joke!) Sorry dearies, but there's no shortcut on this one. Storytelling is an art, but telling the story well takes skill. And it might be different, depending on what you want to write. Fiction is different than speech writing. (There's a joke in there somewhere!) Business communication is not the same as poetry. Writing magazine articles is not the same as writing a blog. A screenplay is different than a novel. Skill and ability will be essential. Punctuation, grammar (UGH!), dialogue, vocabulary, pace, structure, plot development, characterization...these require expertise. (This is where you utilize that time spent learning to diagram a sentence!)
Improve you skills! Become an intern. Find a mentor. Attend Writer’s workshops, which can be found live and online. Read books on writing. In fact, build your own library of essential resources, such as dictionaries, thesaurus, book on writing, grammar, punctuation. (Most of these are available online and as e-books) Take a course. You might later break the rules, but you should know the rule, and there should be a valid reason for the infraction.
Example: Before my first novel was published, I gave it to a dear friend to proofread. She and I had worked together for many years; she was editor of a magazine, and I was a frequent contributor. When she began to edit my manuscript, she corrected the grammar everywhere, including the dialogue of my characters. But people don’t normally talk using correct grammar, so it was realistic for me to break the rules.
A good idea is a good beginning, but there's no substitute for writing...right. (But if you determine that you must write without the benefit of solid training, then the only other advice I could give is: GET A GREAT EDITOR!
Join a Writers’ group. I learned so much by regularly attending a group when I first began writing my fiction. I had the privilege of meeting and hearing some well-known authors. (My hometown was fortunate to have some well-known, best-selling authors who agreed to speak to our group.) Listening to the group critique the work of others gave me insights into how to write. And hearing my own writing discussed (and dissected) was the most helpful interaction I’d ever had. No, it's not easy to hear the criticism of your heart-felt work, but welcome to the world of the writer. This is reality: not everyone is going to like what we write, and they are usually more than willing to say that opinion. Once you begin to write...more accurately, once your writing becomes public, you should be prepared for criticism. A Writers’ Group can be difficult, but it’s nothing compared to agents, editors, readers, fans, critics, and especially the online crowd, who can be particularly brutal.
Practice. You will never learn to be a writer in theory, so get busy. You must sit down and (to use an anachronistic analogy) put pen to paper!
Start a journal.
Write short stories.
Describe the people you know, see or meet.
Craft a conversation between two characters.
Write a description of a scene that attracted your attention—something as beautiful as a garden, or as startling as an automobile accident.
If you wait for the best time, or when you have the time, or when "inspiration" strikes, you will never write.
Find a place that works for you; some prefer quiet, I like to have soft, instrumental music in the background.
Set aside the time and do it!
Don't think about the logistics (at first), just get it down on paper (or on the screen).
Not to be simplistic or trite, but writers write.
And finally, one that might surprise some, but in my opinion, it's essential.
Read!!! I'm amazed (and saddened...and confused) by those who say they want to write, but confess they don’t like to read. To me, that’s a major disconnect which could derail a potential future.
Read books on the subject of writing, but also read other (and many) books…especially the classics. They are classic for a reason, so we get to learn from the best! You should also read books in the genre you want to write—romance, sci-fi, horror, etc.
First and foremost, reading will stir your imagination and creativity. You get to see how the author crafted the story; you'll identify the elements that worked for you, and which ones didn’t. You will experience the pacing of the story, and the overall plot development. You will meet people in the story you relate to, and those you don’t like, then you get to determine why. Main characters and supporting character. Heroes, heroines, villains. Protagonists and antagonists. You can read dialogue and scene descriptions. You will be captivated and carried away. Then you can evaluate how that happened. Or, you won't be engaged, and you can seek the reasons.
In short, you learn writing from other writers. (And in the process, you'll read some amazing books!)
You want to be a writer?
Go for it!