People are always inordinately impressed when I tell them I’m a writer. What they don’t realize is that I’m a professional liar. Sure, it takes a lot of work to pull it off but essentially it’s the same compunction you had as kid telling a big fat whopper. You made it up because it was fun, it made youÂ more interesting and people love stories, the bigger the better. Yes, pulling off an imaginary world is vastly more complex than impressing your friends with that time you got attacked by a shark but nearly any avid reader with enough passion, stamina and imagination can pull it off.
How to tell if you’re a writer? Do you have a story to tell? Does nothing else in life gives you the deep down satisfaction of being enthralled by your own imagination and creativity? If not, then read on.
Writing is tough work. No, it‘s not digging ditches or mining but it requires single minded focus and tenacity when you’ve realized that everything you’ve written bears little resemblance to the great story that splashed around in your head for years. So you go back and you re-work it until it feels right.
This means hours, weeks, months and well, you get the idea, making one word follow the other until there’s absolutely nothing more to be done but allow a reader into your world. Outline carefully. Grab the reader on the first page with arresting images, building conflict and escalating tension. Get the first draft out quickly — revise as you go or do the whole thing in one big lump but move fast. Write every day or you’ll lose momentum. Write as if being chased by wild animals until you reach the end. If you slow down,Â you’ll fuss, you’ll dither over word choices, you’ll second guess yourself. Don’t do that. Just write. Every single day.
Find your voice and write the stories you want to hear. Don’t worry about trends but do find a genre that speaks to you and jump in with your own particular twists. Don’t try to channel another writer. This always ends in disaster. It took me a long time to embrace my own particular mix of comedy and romance. Once I did this and trusted my own instincts, it made my life much, much easier. Yes, I’d like to write literary or historical fiction but it’s just not me.
That moment when you know a piece of writing — aÂ screenplay, novel or short story is done is what separates the professionals from the dilettantes. An amateur will think, “It’s done. Look at me, I’ve written a book,” and dash off to show anyone who will look. Often they’ll deluge agents with a hastily written first draft. This people, is a huge mistake. By the time you’re done you have little to no perspective. Get friends to read it. Begin working on something else. Let the thing air. Then read it again. Out loud.
What everyÂ writer needs:
2-3 hours a day uninterrupted. Bare minimum.
A working knowledge of social media. You have to be on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram is highly recommended. Pinterest, probably. Ignore this at your peril. Readers are social beings (at least online.) You need a decent website (look on WordPress or Square for inexpensive or free templates and hosting.) I found a fabulous web designer to do this site on Fiverr on a WordPress template for a few hundred bucks. Also, go on Canva and make some eye-catching designs to promote yourself. Leak bits of your writing online. People love sneak peaks of first chapters. Build some excitement about this book you’re writing. The sooner you start, the better. Don’t wait until the book is done.
Alpha readers. 3-5 people who will read your work and give you honest feedback. I’ve found that people who don’t necessarily read your genre are brilliant because they aren’t being swept away by the story — they’re bored and looking for problems.
A routine. This is what is going to get you through the rough spots. Same place. Same time. Same rituals. Whether you’re in a coffee shop, home study, hallway or library, stick to the same spot. Your body will slip into work mode when it’s in familiar surroundings.
This book (below) is really all you need to keep you in line. It’s simple and will save you from looking stupid. The three best word in the book are printed in 80 point fond above my desk: Omit needless words. Also, this quote from Stephen King: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”Â
Lastly — read, read, read. As much as you possibly can. Read widely. Don’t stick to your genre. I learn more from reading other genres. New tricks, styles and approaches. For me reading fiction is much more instructive that reading about writing. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun.
I hope this has been helpful. I hope your own writing journey brings you the satisfaction and connection with readers that I’ve enjoyed. I’d love to tell you that each book gets easier. They are like kids — each bring their own joys and challenges. They don’t get easier but they always go out into the world and bring me a lot of joy.