By Jeffrey P. Martin
Over the years, I think most people have thought, “well I could write a book,” and given it the old community college try. Sometimes that effort turns into something fruitful and they become authors, and maybe even sell books. Sometimes people give up writing because it’s too hard, or they don’t have enough time. Often times, that is a shame, because you should have the ability to learn to form thoughts into sentences. Not only because writing is a beautiful art form, but also because it can be very a very transformative process filled with healing. No matter what your reason for writing, there are many pit falls and problems with getting into the rhythm of being an author. As people who are both writers and editors ourselves we thought it would be nice to give some advice on things to remember when you’re just starting out as an author.
- Try to avoid 1st person narration.
While this style of narration can be used effectively (see The Stranger), for the most part this will just limit the scope of your story. So, like the semi colon, stay away from it until you know how to wield it effectively. Plus, editors tend to prefer 3rd person.
- Ask your friends/family/dog/whoever you can to read through your piece.
No matter what, always take the opinions of readers seriously. They are your audience. Don’t make the mistake and think that EVERY single correction, or comment, they make is to be taken literally, but if ten readers all say that something is problematic, then it seems pretty likely that that one part is problematic.
- Trust your instincts.
If you find a story idea to be interesting and unique, and it resonates with you, then test it out. Start writing.
- Plan ahead.
There’s obviously no “right” way to write a story—as everyone’s process is different—but one simple way to help keep your story on track and help stay away from logical fallacies is to write an over arching master plan for the story. It also helps keep your writing fresh as you know that you need to get from point A to point B to point C.
- The more you write the better you get.
You should know that even the best authors—or the ones you respect the most—weren’t born with the innate ability to write those amazing and magical combinations of words. Obviously, some people have upbringings or ways of thinking that lend themselves to writing, but it is a skill, like cooking, driving, or sex. You get better at it the more you do it.
- Read your dialogue out loud.
I know, it’s scary, but a good way to have dialogue sound more life-like is to read it out loud. Maybe ask a friend/spouse/zombie to help read the conversation going back and forth between your characters. You’ll probably find that it is sounds clunky and like someone wrote it, instead of being fluid and life-like.
- Join a writers group.
Finding motivation and time can be hard. Lots of writers have very rigid schedules in order to get their work done in a timely manner. When you’re starting out forming that habit can be difficult. So join a group of people who like to do it too. These groups are people who get together once a week and write, and often times they have a time afterward to read your story, and then they critique it. It’s like art school.
If you don’t know where to find one join Meetup.com and do some searching in your area. If you can’t find one, start one.
- Write what you know.
This doesn’t mean you have to write about your own life, but start with concepts and ideas that are inspired by things you’ve experienced. You’ll be the strongest and most believable writer when you write inside your own knowledge set. More advanced writers will spend months researching a specific topic in order to write about it, making them experts on the topic, but you don’t need to focus on that at first.
- Writing is hard.
This seems like a no-brainer, but seriously, it can be grueling at times. It can also be incredibly fun and life giving, but there are days when everything you write or do just comes out slowly and painfully, don’t let that get you down. It requires work. Even the best writers spend time and energy crafting those elegant prose and poems that you love so much. Don’t be disconcerted if you haven’t written Ulysses after your first draft. Keep. Going.
- Edit other people’s work.
One thing we have found is that intently reading someone else’s work has made us better writers. Why? Because we’ve learned what works for us, and what doesn’t. Maybe it’s bias, but in your own writing, you’re allowed to use your preferences for more commas or periods, and you’re allowed to break some rules, and a good way to find what you prefer is edit your friends’ work.
Seriously, read everything, especially at first. Pay attention to punctuation, wording, and general formatting. Analyze why they used the descriptions they did. What kind of narration are they using? Where does the description for a new character fall, near their introduction or over time? Every author has preferences, and just like with editing your friends’ work, you can learn a lot by reading your favorite author’s books.
Reread something you’ve already read before, so that you can get to the meet of the “how” instead of just trying to focus on the story.
- Write something you would want to read.
Yes, we would all like to have a book that is as popular as The Hunger Games, but that might not be something you’re interested in. So, write about what interests you, instead of trying to catch up with trends. Because honestly, by the time you’re done writing that story about the robot with a love for adorable baby pandas and youtube videos, the world will have moved on.
- Finish your projects.
This doesn’t have to be done quickly, or on a specific time frame, but if you write something and just can’t seem to finish it, then try to finish it. Even if it’s not the right ending, just finish it. The nice thing about this is you will learn how to conclude, and then how to do it correctly, instead of letting that insecurity stop you.
Once it’s done then you can switch your brain to editor mode and go to town correcting it, but sometimes the hardest thing is just writing that last word.