How To Get Started In Writing
My best friend challenged me to write a book.
I'd just started my junior year of college, pretty miserable in my current field-of-study, and longing for the days when I fiddled on my computer and created epic tales of romance and seduction.
I dreamed of writing for Harlequin. I joined their online community, read every Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel book I could get my hands on, and decided that the only way I'd make it through those last difficult years of college were through following my childhood dream.
I'd write a book.
So I spent every spare moment for three months, locked away in my room, creating what I'm convinced is the worst romance novel ever.
Forbidden love, deception and clones. Yup. That's what it was about.
It was horrible. And I loved it.
But I'd always loved to write. Since third grade, I wanted to be an author. Life, unfortunately, had other plans and it wasn't until much later, years after my clone romance, that I made the final decision to pursue writing as a career. Even if I never got published. Even if I never made a single penny. At that point, I simply couldn't avoid it anymore.
I was a writer who wasn't writing.
But how does a writer get into the industry?
1. Pick a genre and find a community: While I currently write dark fiction and horror, I started in Christian fiction and Romance. I became a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, which allowed me to access tons of critique groups based on various sub-genres. I plugged into a group, stuffed my doubt and insecurities deep down, and hit the ground running. These individuals molded and guided my words, allowing me to gain confidence and deepening my passion for writing. Now that I'm in a different genre, I had to find another community. For me, the amazing group of writers at Litreactor have swooped in and taken those roles. But whatever your genre, find a group of folks and start working with them.
2. Read and Write. Everyday. Like it's your job: Every writer says this for a reason. It's absolutely vital. You simply can't be a good writer, and you certainly can't be a great writer, if you aren't reading and writing. Start with your genre and then branch out. I suggest keeping a journal and making notes while you write, things that work and things that you found disconcerting. Read, read, read. And then write, write, write.
3. Research the Industry and Learn Key Players: You don't want to sit across the table from your dream agent and fumble over basic industry knowledge. A little studying can go along way. Know the top publishers, the editors and agents you want to work with. Finding these people is easier than you might think. It just takes a little effort and Google. A lot of published authors thank their agents or editors in their book's acknowledgements. Start there. Keep a list. Follow publishers and key members in the field on social media. Stay up to date on publishing news and events. Sign up for their newsletters and read their blogs. It takes time, but it's worth it.
4. Figure out how to properly write a book: Here's the biggest thing I see with new writers. They sit down at their computer, start writing without any prep, and come out with a manuscript riddled in purple prose, "telling" not "showing", adverbs galore, incorrect spacing and formatting, head hopping POVs, and possibly some sort of "experimental" form of narrative that is supposed to be literary. First, know that none of this is wrong in the a rough draft. In those early stages of writing, you can break every rule in the world. Just get the story on paper. But when you're ready to submit to an agent or editor, you need to follow the rules. "But what about (fill in the blank with an award winning writer)? That person doesn't follow the rules." Sure, we can think of plenty of writers that blend genres, toss out the basic outline and structure to storytelling, use dream sequences...but these are the authors that have earned that right. They mastered the rules, so they know how to properly break them. You, my friend, simply do not. And it's better to realize it now and learn how to properly write a manuscript then embarrass yourself later. Trust me. Been there, done that. There are tons of resources on how to write a manuscript, from broad info you can find on writersdigets.com, or more specific that your favorite author may blog about. Find it, read it, digest it, then do it. I find that Susan May Warren has incredible tips. In fact, even after all these years, every time I sit down to write something new, even if it's a 500 word piece of flash fiction, I have her resources handy. Just in case I need a refresher. It's that important.
5. Be patient: Writing a book can take anywhere from a handful of months to a year. For me, it's a solid year including the editing process. So relax. Make yourself a lot of coffee. Break out the Hershey Kisses and get comfy.
Now you're book is done. Phew! What's next:
4. Learn how to Pitch: If you're going to go to a writer's conference and pitch in person, you need to know how to properly do so. Conferences are not mandatory to get published, but they are a lot of fun and a nice way to get face time with editors and dream agents. You need to be able to convey your plot in a very short amount of time. Here's a link to get your started.
5. Query and Book Proposals: After you write a manuscript, you need to be able to write a query and possibly a book proposal. Yup, it's time for more research. Ask your critique partners, search blog posts of your authors, look up examples and get to work. I find writing a query to be one of the hardest aspects of being a writer. Others love it.
6. Go for it: You've spend a year writing your heart on the paper. Now it's time to send your baby into the world. Here's where it helps to remind yourself that even the best authors used to get tons of rejections. You'll need a thick skin at this point because while most of the time, rejections come in the standard, "We're sorry to inform you..." format, some will take the time to crush your soul. But that's okay. Your writing won't be for everyone. Keep pushing forward.