I’m asked all the time how to get started writing. Most recently I sent an email out to a special young girl who is aspiring to be a writer this last week and I thought I’d share parts of it here with you.
Writing isn’t an easy career and it’s not one to do if you wish to become a millionaire. Unless you’re JK Rowlings or Stephanie Meyers that just won’t happen. I’ll also tell you writing isn’t for the faint at heart. JK was rejected about twelve times, Stephanie Meyers more and Rick Riordan even more before their stories were accepted, and now look at them. The stories birthed in their minds became big screen movies and they inspire young people to write. Sometimes your stories will be seen by nobody but you, other stories will be loved by everyone who reads them. I love writing. I love creating worlds and characters and making them come to life.
The first, most important thing to do in order to become a good writer, is to read. A lot. The second, is to write. Third, is to finish your stories. The more you write, the more you learn about your process as a writer and the better you become. Enter contests and look for places to submit short stories, if you have any available. Talk to your local librarian and your school librarian and tell them of your interest in writing. Ask them if they know of contests. They can also point you to books to help you learn about the craft.
Not everyone will agree with me on what’s most important. I also know many will roll their eyes when I say ‘finish the book’, but to be honest finishing your book ranks at the top. Even if you think you’ll never show it to anyone, I think it’s important. When I was in High School, I wrote a weird story about four old men sitting on a bench outside a gated cemetery. I don’t remember all the aspects of the story, but I don know I finished it and I can tell you that the end revealed the four old men had actually passed away. I know, it sounds a little morbid, but I was in High School.
The first story I started since I began pursuing this publishing career in 2006 was called A Champion for Charlotte. It was set in 1815 in Dorset, England. It’s about a young woman who sets out to rescue her beloved uncle and teams up with a spy. And of course ends up saving England. It’s a very dark story and the whole of it will probably never see the light of day, but I’ll give you a little peek at how awful my first attempt was.
Cold damp stone walls closed in around her. Fingers of frigid air tore at her lungs making it that much harder for her to breathe. She stood on the precipice. A tiny step forward and she would fall to the watery grave below. Moving back against the wall, left the prick of spikes upon her skin. She reached a shaking hand out and grasped a hold of the rusty chains that hung from the steel grate above her. The darkness was the worse of all; the way it closed in on the soul, the way the noises about her let her imagination run wild with fear. She wished for the power to summon a sliver of light, anything to banish the blackness to the corners where it belonged. Leaning her head in the crook of her outstretched arm, she willed herself to gain control of her erratic breathing. She knew it would do no good if she fell to her death in a faint.
As awful as it was, I finished the story. Even though I had no idea where I was going with the story, I finished it. Even though I had no idea what goal, motivation and conflict was, I finished it. Head hopping, comma infractions, adverbs and too many prepositional phrases, I finished it. And then all the writers around me celebrated, because I guess it’s a major achievement.
That was 2006. In 2007 I began another story, which one day I hope will find it’s way to being published. It’s a Scottish historical, and although it didn’t do well in the first two or three contests I entered, after revisions it started finaling (in 2008-2009) and gaining attention from both agents and editors. I eventually put it down, sometimes part of being a writer is knowing when to move on, but I finished that story too. And I grew by leaps and bounds.
I’m still learning. I learn with each manuscript. With each manuscript I finish.