So you wanna be a writer? …
According to author Edwin McDowell, the odds against an unknown author getting a manuscript published by simply sending it to a publishing house are astronomical.
But don’t let that discourage you. (If you let a little thing like that discourage you, then you’re not cut out to be a writer.) As Leo Rosten, the famous humorist, once said, “The only reason for being a professional writer is you just can’t help it.”
I can’t help it. Yes, I’m one of those dreamers who knew from an early age (five) that I wanted to be a writer. That’s because I was in love with words. And books. Still am. I love the shape of words. The look of them. The feel of them. The sound of them. If you’re not in love with words, I’m not sure how you can be a writer.
There’s no magic formula I can provide on how to write—every writer is different and has techniques and tips that work for them that may not work for you. (Maybe you’re a planner and outliner who figures out the entire book before you sit down to write a single word, or maybe you’re a seat-of-the-pantser—like me—or maybe you’re a combination of both.) The key is to just start writing. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day. Find out what works for you; quit talking about writing and dreaming about writing and just do it!
The two most important tips I can offer (and no, one of them is not an introduction to my agent): read, read, read and write, write, write. Read books on writing: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, Stephen King’s On Writing, and Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, to name just a few.
William Faulkner (whose novels I admit are over my chick-lit head) said: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
I’ve thrown a lot of things out the window and will continue to do so. You’ve got to be willing to “murder your darlings.” The other thing I ALWAYS recommend to aspiring writers is to attend a writer’s conference—where you can learn the nuts and bolts before you ever attempt to submit something to a publisher. There are several excellent ones around the country to choose from, but I was “discovered” at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference: www.mounthermon.org
I also recommend taking a basic journalism class at your local community college. Best writing training ever. Remember…writing is a craft. And you need to learn the craft. That is, if you want to get published—and get paid for your work. There are few overnight successes. (I’m still waiting to become one, nearly a decade after my first book was released.) I continue to write because I love it—because I’m called to it. I can’t not write.”
Bottom line? “Write or die! Don’t waste the gift God has given you.” Editor David Kopp (Multnomah Publishing) said those words at the first writer’s conference I attended years ago. They’re taped to my office wall so I can read them daily. I’ve included a few more writing quotes below to inspire you. Happy writing!
“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Best advice on writing I’ve ever received: Finish.” --Peter Mayle
“You have to throw yourself away when you write.” --Maxwell Perkins
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time, or the tools to write.” --Stephen King
“Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing and aren't writing particularly well.” --Agatha Christie
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