I Want To Be a Writer - Where Do I Start?

   This seems like a perfectly reasonable question, until you realise that there is one fundamental flaw: if someone wants to write, they already would be.
   Instead, this question isn't asking for advice or guidance on how to become a great writer, or how to hone their craft, or even for submission advice once a story has been written. This question is actually asking for tips on how to write a book that will sell, and sell soon.
   This may also seem reasonable, until you realise that musicians never release the first song they write, artists never sell their first sketch or doodle, and actors are never remembered for their high school plays. Why? Because they're not good. This isn't meant cruelly - it's actually a normal and very good thing, and something artists of all kinds need to keep in mind. And it doesn't relate necessarily to the old idiom 'practice makes perfect', because it's not about perfection. There's no such thing as 'perfect' outside of science. Instead, it's about finding your voice. And there is no single age group that this does not apply to; 10 or 75, it takes time.

Finding Your Voice
   The first thing you write will not come naturally. It will most likely be a repeat of the story that inspired you to want to write in the first place, and if not that, it will almost certainly be written in that author's voice. And that's completely fine. Because you read a story that had an impact on you, you loved what the writer did, and you wanted to do it, too. So you took the elements that impressed you the most - the delivery of the story, sentence structure, choice of words, diction - and you copied it. Just as in the same way you learn to draw by copying others, and to play instruments by repeating others' songs. My first five books were written - poorly - in Tolkien's voice.

   But, like drawing and music, you won't find your individual voice and skill after just one story, doodle or rendition of Three Blind Mice. It can take three, seven, fifteen stories before you find your voice, and you'll know when you have it because, as Neil Gaiman said, "you'll be doing things you can't help doing." Your own sentence structure, choice of words, it will happen naturally once you have a feel for writing, once you've had enough practice to find the confidence, even subconsciously, to move on your own. It won't be something you think about, if you even notice it. But it is then that you'll have your own voice.
   And so, to find your voice, to be a writer of your own rather than an imitation, you have to write. And if you enjoy doing it, it won't feel like a chore, or practice. Don't ever approach it without the intent to publish anything; if you plod along hopelessly, thinking to yourself "this is only practice," it will take that much longer to find your voice. And you could find it much sooner than others.

Always write from your heart, write the stories you want to write, because only by enjoying it will your voice be given the best and quickest opportunity to reveal itself. 

Finish Things
   In tandem with finding your voice, you also have to finish things. Don't abandon stories because the first few pages didn't go your way. Just keep going. Only by sticking with an idea can we learn to adapt and find a way around problems like writer's block, unanticipated repercussions of written events, or even just a dislike for the choices we've made. rather than turning away from it the moment it goes slightly downhill. Again, as Neil Gaiman said, "we learn more from finishing our failures than by succeeding." He had written the first chapter of American Gods in first person, then rewrote it all because it didn't work. The lead character was emotionally dead, which left the benefits of first person - getting into the inner workings of the character - redundant.
   American Gods went on to be adapted from a book to a critically acclaimed TV drama series.
   Imagine if he'd abandoned it after that first chapter.

Start Now

“You can fix dialogue that isn’t quite there. You can fix the beginning of something. But you cannot fix nothingness, so you have to be brave. You have to just start.” - Neil Gaiman

   If you want to write, write. The beautiful thing about writing is that you don't need any special equipment - no pencils, paint brushes, specialist software or a small audience. You need only pen and paper, and maybe a laptop. And, no, Microsoft Office is not a necessity. For the past 15 years, I've been using Wordpad, pre-installed on any Windows computer or laptop. It's what I started with, and, by habit, it's what I continue with. I've downloaded Open Office which I use to format my work for printing, and for counting pages and words (more on this habit in a later article), but I never write in it because I don't want a running commentary on the number of words or pages I've written, or failed to write.
   All you need is an idea. If you have an idea, write it. Don't embark upon a long book right away, just write your stories, now matter how short. My first was 20 pages, at the age of 12. I'm publishing 600 now, at the age of 28.
   You cannot fail until you give up. Even if what you write is awful, you will always improve, and you can always edit. It's a learning process - even authors who are successful, who have found their voice and a loyal audience, are still learning. Because, if you're passionate, you will always be open to learning more.


Post a comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.