I’ve had several aspiring writers ask me for tips recently. So, I thought I’d make my answer to them available as a blog post, in the hope it would help others.
How To Be A Writer:
I’m assuming you already know how to string a sentence together, so I’ll skip the nitty gritty. (If you’re not sure, there are plenty of good books on the subject. I recommend the Oxford Style Manual, or The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, but there are many others).
You may be slightly disappointed to learn that there are no shortcuts. Becoming a published writer is hard work – but if writing is what you love doing, then that hard work will be enjoyable in and of itself.
So, here and without any further ado, are my 8 Steps To Becoming A Published Writer.
1. Write. It doesn’t matter when you write or how much you write, as long as you write. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer, the same way a skier who sits at home all day dreaming about the mountains instead of strapping a pair of skis to his feet isn’t a skier.
2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read good books and bad books, and try to figure out what makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad. Look at the way dialogue is used to create character. Figure out what stories have already been told, and look for new ones – or at least, new spins on old themes.
3. Observe. Watch people. Listen to the way they talk and interact. Notice their mannerisms. Learn to pick out salient details. Nothing kills a story faster than flat, two-dimensional characters; so tune your ears to the way real people speak, and how they reveal themselves through their words and gestures.
4. Finish. Whatever you’re writing, finish it. There are no two ways around this, no short cuts. Just as a carpenter can’t sell a chair without legs, so you can’t sell a half-written story. Sometimes, people ask what the secret is, and it is this: finish. Having a finished book is what distinguishes the writers from the wannabes. Loads of people want to write a novel, relatively few ever get to the end. But if you “want to be a writer”, this is what you have to do.
5. Accept that the first draft will be rough. But that’s okay. That’s what first drafts are for. They give you a place to start. Don’t get disheartened, but also, don’t show anyone what you’ve got yet. First you have to…
6. Edit. Rewrite. Revise. Keep going back through your story, tightening up the plot and fixing the bits that simply don’t work. Then, when you think you’re done, ask a couple of trusted friends to read it. If they give you honest feedback, maybe you’ll need to go back and do some more revision. The key thing is, you shouldn’t send it out into the world until it is the very best that you can make it.
7. Find an agent. If you’ve written a novel, you’ll need to find an agent. Do some research; find an agent who deals with the kind of story you’ve written and find out what their submissions policy is. Find authors you admire and find out who their agent is. Then submit your work. Keep repeating this stage until you find an agent willing to represent you, and who you’re happy to have represent you. With luck, they’ll sell your book for you.
7 a. Self publish. With the advent of ebooks, it’s now possible to self publish your work online. This is fine, and some self-published authors have gone on to make a name for themselves. Equally, there are thousands, possibly millions who’ve remained in obscurity. If you publish your own work, you have to be prepared to publicise it yourself; to get out there and let people know about it.
8. Write something else. Whatever happens, you have to start work on the next story. Remember what I said at the beginning? A writer writes. So, good luck, and keep writing!
I hope that’s helpful. I’ve written other articles on different aspects of the writing process, from writer’s block to balancing writing with your day job, and you can find them all here.