Becoming Flannery O'Connor
Over the years, many people have asked me about "becoming a writer". They have an awesome idea or life story and want to write a novel length book, or, hell, maybe it's a three book deal. I know what they want me to say, "You can do it." I have no problem saying that to them because I know that they can. Except what they really want me to say is, "Just write it!" I know, because this was me ten years ago. And, there is validity in "just writing it". A call to action that's important for every burgeoning author.
However - and here's the big capitalized HOWEVER - if you really want to be a writer, you need to invest even more than hour upon hour hunched over a computer keyboard. You need to immerse yourself, make a commitment to understanding how stories work. They work hard behind the scenes to bring their audience magic. I know some of you will shake your head and exclaim that such-and-such wrote her vampire love story in two months and sold it for a zillion dollars. And, I'm sure that does happen. But, for most the journey's not that quick and a few solid steps can get you on your way. Steps I wish I had taken much earlier along my writing path. You can reach your end goal if you really want to get there. Here's a few tips to point you in the right direction.
A - Pick up at least 3 books on writing craft. Make sure they cover tension, plot, and voice. Learn the writing adages that newbie writers tend to break. They may seem wrong to you at first, but the more you read and analyze the clearer this advice will become. A couple of examples: Avoid adverbs - just use stronger verbs. Show don't tell.
There are also numerous sources on the web for free! Writing blogs (hello!) and organizations like Poets & Writers are all over the internet. Learn from people that have already done what you are trying to do.
B - Read. Read. Read.
C - Take a class! You will grow much quicker than sitting in your room having conversations with yourself. Trust me on this. You will meet others that have the same strange compulsion as you do...to write, write, write. Invaluable time spent. Search for classes at your local junior college, art center, or museum.
D - Join a writer's group. There are many wonderful, encouraging organizations throughout the nation. These groups usually have monthly meetings to discuss current topics relative to the writing/publishing world. Consider going to one of their writer's conferences. Don't be scared. Conferences are for both beginners learning the craft and professional published authors. My group, James River Writers, holds an extremely friendly conference every October.
E - Try your hand at short stories. This is an excellent way to examine the structure and elements of story in a quick span of time. Before you spend two years writing that novel, take a couple weeks and write a kickass short story. Read masters of the form like Tobias Wolff and Flannery O'Connor. I promise you that your stories will improve the more you do this exercise. Also, try reading and writing poetry to pay attention to word sounds and flow.
F - Join a critique group. Helping others will end up giving you great insight on both personal style and technical aspects of the craft. As you grow in your writing, you will learn which advice to consider and which to leave on the table. Remember writing is both technical and subjective.
H - Now, I can say - Just write it! Or, hell, go ahead and follow your own path...sometimes zig zags lead us to unexpected places.
I - Don't get me started on editing... (Did you notice I left out "G"?)