Not long ago I happened to overhear someone say they like to write, and were starting to write short stories. They didn’t ask me this question specifically, but I began to wonder, what would I say if someone asked me, “How do I go about becoming a writer and get published?” It helps, of course, to have a modicum of talent, but barring that, what should a newbie do to start a writing career? I’m assuming you want to go all the way and get published somewhere, but even if you only want to write for yourself and never show it to others, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions I have to readers of this blog as to how to start. Take or reject any or all.
- Start writing. Just sit down and start. Whether you write on a computer, on a legal pad, on a typewriter, or on a mirror with the blood of a vampire, it doesn’t matter how good it is, just get it down. You can revise it later when you’ve learned more about the craft. Put your ideas down before you forget them. Make notes to yourself. If you’re doing a family history, get Uncle Joe’s reminiscences down before he croaks.
- Read writing magazines. There are several good writing magazines out there. I have subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poet’s and Writers, but several others exist and you shouldn’t be limited to these. Writing magazines such as these are the most concentrated form of information about the art and craft of writing you can get. I started with a subscription to my first one almost as soon as I started writing.
- Read books and stories in your genre. But, and this is very important, read outside your genre. If you want to write prose, read poetry. And then decide you will write prose in as lyrical style you can, influenced by the poetry you read.
- Read books on writing. A hugely popular book is William Strunk, Jr., and E.B White’s The Elements of Style. And it won’t break your budget to get a copy. But there are others, such as Stephen King’s book On Writing, Donald Maass’s books, in particular, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Writing 21st Century Fiction, or Oakley Hall’s How Fiction Works. But don’t be limited to these. Check online and check your library.
- Join a critique group. Find a group that either accepts all forms of writing, or at least is limited to your favorite genre. Submit your work to the others in the group and listen to what they say. But also, read and critique the others. This gives you experience in looking for what works and what doesn’t in a manuscript. Some critique groups are online. Check out Lit Reactor.
- Join a writing group. Preferably one that has regular meetings. If they have a guest speaker, listen to what the speaker has to say. Some groups have open mic nights where you can read, and sometimes get feedback. Go. Listen. Enjoy.
- Start attending writer’s conventions. You can find these listed in many magazines. Look for one in your area. Or look for one that specializes in your genre. There will be an expense involved, but it may be tax deductible. There will be speakers who will have a lot of good info in what you are interested in, and there will be speakers who don’t have much to say to you. Listen to all.
- Get an MFA in creative writing. This may take several years, but many universities have low-residency programs where you only have to be on campus for a short time each year. But they are intense, and you will learn a lot. Plus, you get those letters after your name.
- Round up beta readers. You are the alpha reader of your work. But you will eventually need someone to read your entire manuscript and give you feedback. This is someone you trust to be objective, yet ruthless. No one in your family is that person. You will want someone at a distance, yet someone you know and trust. You may even find someone online.
- Read other writer’s manuscripts. In other words, be a beta reader for some other beginning writer.
- Start a list of where you’d like to submit your manuscripts. Usually in your genre, although you might be submitting to a magazine that publishes works of many genres. Do you like dogs? Submit to the dog magazines. Poetry? Many literary journals take poetry. You can find lists of magazines (there are thousands out there) in the backs of writing magazines, and in reference books. Check your bookstore or library.
- If you have completed a manuscript, start looking for agents or publishers. Start this list even before the manuscript is complete and thoroughly revised and edited. Again, writing magazines have lists of these, and reference books abound with lists of agents and publishers and what they’re looking for. Try online too. Check each agent or publisher’s website for what they want.
- If you prefer, start looking into self-publishing. You can publish your own book, and not be bothered by agents and publishers. But beware, you’ll want to have your book edited by an independent editor, and a good cover designed by an independent artist. Remember, you’re taking on the job of publisher yourself, and, let’s face it, you, as a beginner, aren’t a good editor or publisher. Get others to help you.
- Talk to other writers. Network to get the inside scoop. Tips and suggestions that no one else talks about.
- Set up a website or a blogsite to advertise your book. Start thinking about this even before your book is published.
- Visit the library. ‘Nuf said.
- Don’t quit your day job.
Stop reading this and start writing.