So You Want to Be a Writer
Lately I’ve run across a bunch of people who want to be writers (usually because they want to be indie) but genuinely have no idea how to go about it and ask for help.
And it occurred to me it’s been a long time since we did a post for bare beginners here, so here goes (and sorry it’s so late, wordpress has been driving me insane this morning.)
So… you want to be a writer. Okay, here are some steps I’ve found essential for me and other writers (pretty much every other writer I know.)
Let’s begin at the beginning, what Dave Freer hit on on Monday: do you read?
Look I don’t want to doubt you, but lately Ive been reading a lot of indie authors whose thought process seems to go something like this:
“Hey, if I write a book, those dupes who like [name it, romance, science fiction, mystery, vampires, etc.] will give me tons of money.”
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. If you start from your height of self-conceit and despise the people you’re writing for it will come to grief. The exception to that is GRRM, and that niche is filled.
As someone who reads all fields, I’m tired of say, science fiction writers thinking it’s easy to write a romance, main stream writers thinking sf is troppish and ‘easy’ etc. Most of what these people envision in the genres they don’t read is at least 50 years out of date, and sometimes more than that. (There might be a time when SF was a matter of “lizard men raping hot naked women” but it was never the norm, never the main thing, and if this happened with any frequency it was in the early 20th century, almost 100 years ago. But that’s what Margaret Atwood thinks we are.) Heck, even the guys who go all slitty eyed and laugh knowingly and say “romance is porn for women” have it wrong. The “hot” or “red” romance is porn for anyone (and often very wrong about women’s responses, which is funny.) But there is a growing market for “sweet” or “traditional” romance, and frankly you misunderstood the “porn for women” part. Relationships can be as addictive for women as porn for men, period.
Forgive the digression, what I’m saying is don’t try to write a genre you despise, particularly without reading it.
Let’s assume you don’t despise your readers. Go and read the genre. Ask friends who read the genre for reading suggestions. Make sure they’re th sort of people who read things you’re likely to write.
Don’t be afraid you’ll “steal the style” of any one author. Sure, it happens, but it’s fleeting. Later, when you’re a grown up writer, you’ll find if you write in multiple genres/series, you’ll re-read yourself or listen to your own audiobooks, to get back “into that head” but it’s not a permanent thing. (Or you’d not have different styles.) Also worse things could happen to you than have a style mimicking best sellers. (Won’t happen, though. Nor more than a week after you finish the book.)
Make sure you read a wide variety within the subgenre so you absorb the expectations of the readers. Then you won’t write whodunnits where the only solution is “the demons did it.” And people like me won’t curse loudly at your books.
Second, go to Amazon and buy Dwight Swain’s how to books.
I, myself, the older son and husband went from amateur, hit or miss writers to professionals after reading Techniques of the Selling Writer.
Someone recently pointed out that Swain’s fiction doesn’t sell very well now, and weren’t his techniques perhaps outdated? Um… no. What he gives you are the basics of how to write a story. He never sold very well.
I know, I know, I say there is no such thing as talent, but there is SOMETHING: an innate disposition of the mind to write saleable fiction. Mr. Swain seemed to lack that. He’s famous only as a writing TEACHER. Perhaps they’re not unrelated. Because I had to acculturate to the US before I could write for Americans, I learned way more craft than other people did, because their journey was easier.
Never mind that. If you’ve written or paid attention to books at all, you’ll start that book and think “But this is obvious”. And then suddenly you’ll come across something, some small thing you’ve missed completely. For me it was scene structure, despite a degree in literature.
(Speaking of: eschew degrees in writing and literature. Arguably they’ll hinder you. Took me years to rid my head of all the dross I’d picked up so I could write understandable — let alone enjoyable — fiction.)
If you have problems with characters — iow if your writing people involves more than someone showing up in your head, fully formed and telling you their story — try Swain’s Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.
There are a ton of other books on writing, but right now most of them are on how to sell to the fast-dissolving traditional publishing markets. I.e. how to sell to a publisher not a reader.
The only thing I can tell you about really successful indies is that their writing is like better-written pulp, and that it’s advantageous to write fast.
Be aware that it’s normal in the first novel or two to leave most of it in your head. I.e. description or even thoughts.
Be aware that while big words are cute, the most successful writing is transparent and people forget they’re reading and just live the story.
When you’re done, get your friends that read the genre, and have them read your book. Have a list of questions for them to answer, and tell them to ignore proofreading. That’s separate. If you have ten friends and three of them agree (independently) you might have found a problem. Go back to your reading and study how to fix it.
Oh, yeah, and write every day. If you want to be a writer, write. As close to every day as you can.
And when that first book is done (and get it done. More than three revisions and you’re actually kill it.) write another. And another. And another.
Eventually you’ll get pretty good at it.
That’s about it. Any questions, ask below.