People are often impressed when I tell them that I spend a lot of my free time writing. I am surprised at how many people have come up with story ideas, and are excited to tell me about them. If you’re serious about writing, here are seven things you ought to be doing.
#1: Apply butt to chair
You will never get that story written unless you sit down and do it. This seems like it would go without saying, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to make excuses not to write. Writing takes a lot of self-discipline. I used to think that great writers are born, not bred. This might be true in some cases, but more than anything else you’ll find that great writers are just persistent.
#2: Join a critique group
You need to be able to take criticism, and you need to be grown up about it. Everyone’s writing needs improvement, and a critique group can help you spot areas where your skill is weak. However, if you’re going to get defensive then you might as well take up another hobby. You’ll never make it past your first rejection slip. Criticism should be respectful, courteous, focused, and specific. If all they tell you is, “I loved it!” then you need to find a new group.
#3: Take courses in writing
Writing fiction is not quite the same as writing non-fiction. Find a course on creative writing. Make sure it teaches how to write dialog, how to craft effective characters, how to construct scenery, how to show and not tell, how to create a plot, and how to use all five senses. Make sure the course requires homework, and has brief critique sessions every time you meet.
#4: Attend writing conventions, symposiums, and workshops
Conventions usually last a day or two, and offer courses of literally every kind. Most symposiums focus on a particular genre: romance, fantasy and sci-fi, thrillers, mainstream, creative nonfiction, etc. Some symposiums are free, but most require a registration fee.
You will get to meet published authors, and hear their words of advice. You will get to meet with agents and editors. You will get to attend workshops where you can get one on one attention for your work. You will make friends with other writers; but most of all, conventions will get you pumped up about writing—and that is vital.
#5: Read books on writing
You will need to build up a personal library of reading material. Find books that cover these subjects:
2. Characters and Viewpoint
3. Story, Plot and Structure
4. Revision and Self-editing
My favorites are:
1. The Lie That Tells a Truth, by John Dufresne
2. Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card
3. Revision and Self Editing, by James Scott Bell
4. Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
#6: Join a professional association
Writer’s associations are designed to help you make friends and network with other professional writers in your local community and to help you stay excited about writing. They typically charge annual dues. Most associations hold symposiums during the year, and each month the local chapters will meet and have something different: critique sessions, short workshops, brief lectures, readings, etc.
#7: Learn about the industry
Writers love to write, but too often we forget that publishers have a business to run. In short, you are providing a commodity that they can turn around and sell. Learn how to put your writing in manuscript format. Learn what a query letter is, and when to use one. Learn how to write a cover letter. Learn how to write a summary for a novel.
There are probably a lot of other things I might add in this article, but these seven items will help you quickly pick up what you need to know. Above all else, remember that the best piece of advice is to stick with it. Every time I start writing something new I find it a little easier, and when I finish my work I find that I’ve gotten a little better. Good luck!