What’s something you wish you had known when you were getting started writing?
I made a new friend the other day. I met a lady at a church event who asked me what I did for a living. When I replied that I was a writer, she mentioned that her daughter was working on a young adult book. I gave Mom my business card and told her that her daughter was welcome to email me with questions. She finally did the other day, and I realized that much of what I shared with her could be useful to other aspiring and new writers.
This isn’t a nuts-and-bolts post about how to get plot, outline, or get the first paragraph down perfectly. I don’t have the knowledge to try and write something like that. But I’ve got three tips to get you started on the background stuff, all of them things I wish I’d known when I was getting started.
Don’t Do It Alone
We’ve all seen or imagined that poor writer, hunched over a typewriter with fingerless gloves on, wrapped up in his coat and scarf, held hostage by the single bare light bulb in some desolate unheated apartment or hotel room.
Yeah, don’t believe everything you’ve seen on the Internet. George Washington said that.
One of my first pieces of advice is don’t go it alone. Writing does not have to be a lonely, solitary existence. There are plenty of places to find a community of like-minded people.
I find community to be hugely important to my sanity. There will be times you’re ready to punch the screen or throw your notebook across the room in frustration over not being able to work out a particular scene. You’ll think you’re the worst writer who’s ever lived, a no-talented hack who has no business even owning a pencil. You want to shred every notebook you own and nuke your hard drive.
We’ve all been there.
Those are the times you need to hang out with fellow writers. They’ll nod thoughtfully, sharing your pain, tell you it’s going to be all right, then give you ideas on how to make it better.
The Watercooler at Absolute Write is a great place to start. There are all sorts of areas for basic writing craft, query letter help, blogging, genre-specific help; you name it, and you’ll find it there. There’s also a Share Your Work area when you can get critiques, along with Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check, a section where you can do your due diligence when you research that agent, publisher, or magazine you’re thinking of submitting to.
There are also several writing-related places at Reddit, called subreddits. Check out the Writing, Short Fiction, Writers Group, SelfPublish or YoungAdultBooks subs, just for starters. Some are more active than others, and you’ll probably see users in multiple places. Reddit itself is a huge community, and an easy place to get lost in live research; there are over 36 million user accounts, although many people have duplicate accounts.
You should also look for a writer’s group in your area. I’m fortunate to have Tulsa Nightwriters, Writers Pad, and Tahlequah Writers Group all within 45 minutes’ drive. Google “writers group (your area)” to what’s near you.
The most important part of community though is participation. Don’t just read the posts. Respond. Share. You can contribute to a forum thread or a discussion at a meeting, even if you’ve only written five hundred words in your life.
You’re not competing with other writers. Your competition is with social media, movies and everything else vying for people’s attention.
How active are you on social media so far? You don’t absolutely have to have a website (especially not an expensive one), but it’s not a bad idea to have a Facebook Page up (not just your personal account), a Twitter account, and probably Instagram and Pinterest at a minimum. Those are all free of course, and you should get them in your author’s name, no matter what you end up choosing. Get those accounts set up now, so you can get consistent naming across social media channels. You can start establishing relationships with your followers now, which will make things easier when it comes to marketing your book. Consider buying your domain now though. They can be had cheaply, and parked with a “Coming Soon” page.
There are also tons of Twitter chats that can help you out along the way.
Don’t let that last paragraph overwhelm you, by the way. It seems like a lot to do, but really, just setting up the accounts right now in a consistent manner will help a lot in the long run.
Rachel Thompson is one of my writing mentors and quite the social media guru. One of the things she pushes is “branding the author, not the book.” That means the author has one website, one Twitter account, etc., rather than 5 Facebook pages for 5 different books, for example. You should check out Rachel’s site. She also runs BadRedheadMedia.com, where she provides marketing services for authors. She’s got tons of great social media advice on both of those websites, plus on her Facebook accounts and Twitter.
My other general advice for every writer: READ! Read in AND OUT of your genre. Even if you’re writing YA now, read fantasy. Read suspense. Read romance. There are elements of every genre in every other genre, like suspenseful and romantic scenes in YA, or thriller scenes in fantasy. Reading outside your genre will stretch your writing muscles, which is one of the best ways to improve.
One book I strongly encourage you to read is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s one many, many writers have read, and recommended. It’s not about the grammar and punctuation and spelling side of it as much as it’s about the nuts-and-bolts, butt-in-chair aspect. He originally wrote it in about 2000, I think, and it holds some great advice and insight into writing.
I also highly recommend Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. Block has written well over 100 novels in his career. He started in the 50s and is still going strong, releasing three books in 2013. Telling Lies is a great introduction to the “old days” of traditional publishing (it was written in 1981 when writers still used typewriters), but he spends a lot of time getting into the guts of writing. I see from Mr. Block’s Wikipedia entry that there are two additional books to go along with Telling Lies, and I really need to add them to my library. I just looked for those books on Amazon though, and prices are stratospherically high! Maybe I’ll pass on that idea for now!
What’s something you wish you had known before you started writing?
Previously published on Bob Mueller
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