Want to be a writer?
Dear beginner writer,
Welcome! You have embarked on possibly the most exciting ride of your life by deciding to become an author. No better career choice, in my opinion. Maybe you have a story you’ve always wanted to write, and don’t know where to begin, or how you would take the idea through to fruition.
I hope you enjoy this creative process. I have some recommendations on where to start in general on your author’s path.
Where Do You start?
Read books you like, at least a few pages every day.
Read books on the craft*. No matter what they say, story structure is important! (*links will follow the list of recommendations below).
Read books that inspire you.
Write every day for ten minutes or for a few pages, whichever feels best, even if you’re just writing bla-bla-bla, as New Zealand’s award-winning author and teacher, Kate de Goldi, said to us once in a workshop. Sit down and write continuously every day religiously. If you don’t know what genre you should be writing in, then this sort of brainstorming process may help you discover the type of fiction that is right for you. Get into the habit of writing every day.
Write everywhere, get in the habit of noting your observations and catching your inspirations.
Write down your dreams. Keep a dream journal.
Observe first and foremost yourself. A writer must be able to show the reader through the medium of story, ‘the window and the mirror’ as Kate de Goldi called it, in other words, to look out at the world as it is and to look also back at ourselves, and be willing to look deep within our own psyches and examine what it is to be human.
Observe your family and friends, and people in public situations. The world is alive with stories and every single person shows us another way of being alive on the planet at this time, and all of it is potential fodder for story.
Observe movies and television as teaching mediums on the truly highest level of professional storytelling. Last night I was watching Captain America, The Winter Soldier, in between stints of editing my story, and when I went back to my text, I could see where some passages needed to be cut down and tightened.
Learn about story structure. You may be a ‘planner’ (a writer who nails down every part of a story before they start writing), or you may be a ‘pantser’ (someone who writes on the fly, like me), everyone benefits from knowing the basics of story structure.
Learn the craft. Whether that be from books or online courses, or night classes at a local college.
Learn about marketing for writers, read books, follow marketing bloggers, etc, as this is now an essential part of being an author today, regardless of whether you publish yourself or are traditionally published.
Start your own blog. I know it seems early but even if you just post about trying to write a book, you’ll get underway and be on the path to building your readership. In this business, you have to start sometime. It might as well be now.
Start to work on your own website.
Why would you build an author’s website when you don’t have a book published yet? I did and I’m glad I did. Why? Because my social media guru and all-round super-heroine, Kristen Lamb, said something very sensible, re creating one’s website before you publish. She said, do it now before you’re run off your feet being a writer with deadlines to meet. She promised me (the reader), I’d thank her later.
Start to carve out your own particular ‘digital footprint’ as Bob Mayer calls it, or your presence on the web. Be it via your blog, a vlog, a Youtube channel, daily twitter posts, Facebook fun, a Newsletter or join social media discussions on Goodreads, and LinkedIn, start to lay claim to your bit of turf.
Build your social media platform or author brand. As writer and blogger, Kristen Lamb, says, ‘Start now!’
Build your stories, your worlds, keep writing, keep producing prose, no matter what.
Build your life. “Live your life!” My very first writing teacher, Maria, told me, when I took a course with her at seventeen. I thought, no, I just want to write stories! But now, I know exactly what she means. You must be gathering as many life experiences as you can, this is perfect fuel for future stories.
Follow the blogs of authors you like (their people are your people, and it’s a good way to start to form friendships with other writers online).
Follow good writing blogs. The articles on the craft of fiction come in easy-to-read, bite-size parcels and they’re power-packed free tutorials.
Follow the leaders in the writing community who inspire you the most and then aim higher.
How Do You Improve?
Look at the world acutely, with fresh eyes, and take notes.
Look at those around you, really study them, and take notes.
Look at life and the world in general with as much enthusiasm as you can muster, for it is up to you, dear writer, as PJ Reece puts it, to ‘report back’ so take notes!
Listen to your thoughts, to the way you habitually think, this is good fodder for story.
Listen to people’s conversations, literally eavesdrop.
Listen to dialogue in movies and on television, this is tight, economical writing at its best. You can learn a lot from studying movies, says my one-time tutor, the author and publisher, Bob Mayer.
Feel your emotions when they pass through your body. One of my tutors, the wonderful Tiffany Inman-Lawson, says, studying our own emotions in as much detail as we can will provide us with an endless supply of appropriate responses our characters can have during times of upheaval.
Feel the way energy shifts in a room when people leave or enter, become aware of things going on at the subtle levels, look at the body language. You may never use this in a story, however you’re ever adding to your repertoire as the storyteller.
Feel for others, the best story comes from a place of empathy.
Smell things: citrus, coffee, smog, your dog, because yep, you guessed it, you may use this detail in your story. Including sensory details heightens the impact of fiction.
Smell things and then link it to a colour or a feeling, Kate de Goldi had us do these exercises. I thought nothing of it. Yet years later I find I do use this technique now and again in my writing.
Smell the roses. If you can’t be still and in this present moment, you’ll never be able to report it back fully. And you won’t be a happy person!
Taste your food, your drinks, and try to describe what they taste like. I think it may have been Tiffany who suggested this exercise too, that you really take a few minutes to experience everything about drinking your first cup of tea or coffee, and then write about it. Whoa, it’s hard. Yet these things enrich our writing.
Taste your food. Does it make you think of a colour? Or a song? Kate would ask us. She was always trying to rewire our brains I think! It’s good exercise for a writer’s muscles.
Taste your life and don’t be afraid to report back, especially about the messy stuff, that material will be needed when it comes to writing about the breakdown at the core of every story, or to borrow the phrase PJ Reece coined, the transcendental story heart. Sometimes you have to mine the emotions and faithfully report back on the difficult times.
What Else Could You be Doing?
Join a critique group, honestly, you’ll save yourself a lot of time.
Join online and in-person writer’s groups. They’re a place to share information and to make connections. You need people who know what’s what in this business. And you need the inspiration.
Join a club. It helps us writers who can tend to be introverts to get out of our shells. Go to Toastmasters or sign up for a stand-up comedy class – as my facebook friend, author, Fi Colston said recently, “If you can make em laugh, you’ll never be afraid of speaking in public again.”
Share with others in the online writing community, be generous, be kind, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and so on. Build friendships to last.
Share your “likes” and comments on blogs and social media sites, share book releases, buy books and review them. In writers’ circles, this is considered good etiquette.
Recently, I shared with a friend the story of where my social media philosophy comes from. The story contains a perfect nugget of wisdom which I think is worth sharing.
About seven years ago I was in a multi-level marketing business. One night, I had a conversation with our team leader that has stayed with me over the years, and had a big impact, I feel, on my life.
Yvonne was a charismatic person and was a millionaire in her 40’s when I met her. She and I ended up leaving the weekly meeting at the same time that night. We stood in the parking lot and Yvonne said, “Is there anything you want to ask?”
“If you were to give one top piece of advice, what would it be?”
“Spread the love!” She said, “Never think about the sale, about the money, or about the business. Spread the love. Just concentrate and focus all your efforts on relationships and helping others. The rest will come.”
Those words really struck a chord with me. I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice. Whenever I have to deal with matters of marketing, I try to spread the love. Make friendships. Look after people. Be generous. Be kind. Be considerate. Be creative. Have fun! Play. Dance. Laugh. Love. Sing.
To someone who wants to write a book, I’d like to borrow the advice of my 97-year-old buddy at Toastmasters, Bruce.
At this week’s meeting, Bruce was sharing some of his wisdom on the subject of ‘the elements of speech’.
He said, “The essence of every speech is a story. And a story has to have passion.”
The same is true of any story. When you come to write, or should I say, when the story comes to you, it has to come from a deep place. Ask yourself, does it matter to you. I think it was Kate who said, ‘does your story need to be told?’
And if it does, then write, open the floodgates, give permission to your soul ‘to bleed onto the page’, let loose, throw abandon to the wind and write the story that only you can write. Don’t think about structure, or grammar, or spelling, or any of that, the time for thinking will come later. Get in contact with your soul and with the spark of life in everything around you and the stories will flow.
A list of links will follow below. If you also need ‘how to write a story’ advice, I’m working on this topic at present. *Watch this blog for a new page in the near future.
*List of Resources for the Beginner Writer:
Books on the craft of writing:
William Strunk Jr. And E.B. White, The Elements of Style
John Yorke, Into The Woods
Bob Mayer, The Novels Writers Toolkit. “I started writing that over 20 years ago and have been updating it ever since. In this blog, I will be updating the excerpts for the next edition of the Toolkit.”
Books on story structure and plot:
Larry Brooks, Story Engineering
PJ Reece, Story Structure To Die For
Books on marketing and social media platform:
Kristen Lamb is the author of the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, and her latest, Rise of the Machines.
The Write It Forward Author Branding Plan is based on the book Primalbranding by Patrick Hanlon. You can find this also on Bob Mayer’s blog.
Marketing/ Social Media blogs:
Storyfix, (Larry Brooks),
“Kristen Lamb’s “WANA tribe” (We Are Not Alone) is a great online community where writers can find mutual support. Another is Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group. CritiqueCircle.com also offers many different groups in a variety of genres, with the extra benefit of critiques. There are also great writers groups on Facebook and Google Plus and in forums all over the Web.” ~ Anne R. Allen (2015)
Online writing classes:
The only way to learn is to take risks, make mistakes. Go out, make a mistake. Have the guts to fail. Talk about it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.’ ~ Eunice Kennedy Shriver