#amwriting: so you want to be a writer

Dial-a-PlotSo, you want to be a writer. You have written several unpublished short works, and they were darned good, if you do say so yourself. Your novel is half finished, and your cousin, Phil, says he’s never read anything like it.

One of the many things I didn’t realize when I first began this crazy journey, is that your family and friends are not editors. Even if they are teachers, it’s likely they won’t notice anything but the most glaring errors in your work, and they will miss a great many of those.

Unless your cousin Phil is an author himself, he won’t mention places where you have repeated yourself ad nauseum, nor will he point out places that are phrased in a convoluted way.

Because these places are both annoying and confusing, Phil has most likely skipped over them, and didn’t mention it because he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Large plot-holes, inadvertent use of clichés, and intriguing auto-correct mistakes get missed when your eager-to-help friends try to edit your work.

Your friends might know they don’t like what you wrote, but they don’t know why they don’t like it so they plow through it as fast as they can just to get the misery done with. They will spot a few problems, which helps, but isn’t going to make your manuscript readable.

Oh, your friends aren’t going to tell you they don’t like it, but they will think it: “This is awful. What’s up with the dog…is he an arsonist? No…it was apparently the Guinea pig but…no. God, this is the worst drivel I’ve ever read. How do I get out of this? Um…I’ll tell her it was great, I loved it.”

Consider joining an online beginners’ writing group. A lot of useful information can be found through these two free resources:

  • NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) nanowrimo.org They operate year round and have many resources available to help you get started.
  • Critters Workshop critters.org

Critter is an excellent place to get feedback on your work, in a way that doesn’t feel threatening. New authors should definitely consider joining the critters workshop.

a writer's stylePLEASE don’t publish your work without first having it edited professionally, or at the very least, read by an advanced writers group. You have no idea what your manuscript actually looks like. An advanced writing group will tell you the ugly truth, and they won’t be kind about it, but once they are done with you, you will reconsider your decision to not hire an editor.

If you plan to submit it to a large publisher, do hire an editor so that what you submit will be the best you can offer them.

If you are in the beginning stages of your writing career, invest in books on the craft of writing. Many books are available used through Amazon dot com, and many are available as affordable eBooks, also through Amazon. And you don’t need a Kindle, as you can download the free app for your PC, Mac, Android, or Apple device.

Books on the craft that are on my desk and in use today:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
  • Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
  • The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker
  • The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda
  • Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

Books that help when I am stuck:

  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers in plain English:

Writing is not just a career for me—it is an obsession. Anything involving books is the proverbial shiny thing for me. All of my inspiration has come from the many excellent writers whose works moved me.

Better You Go Home, Scott DriscollI am also inspired by those authors whose workshops I have been fortunate enough to attend. Consider this high quality online option for learning the craft of writing:

Introduction to Fiction Writing at The Writer’s Workshop, instructor, Scott Driscoll.

This is admittedly not  free, but it is an exceptionally in-depth exploration of the craft. I have attended some seminars offered by Scott at several conferences and have never come away disappointed.

Remember, writing is a career path that requires dedication, and commitment to learning and growth. The money you spend going to workshops and conferences is an investment you make in your career. You not only learn about the craft of writing, but you will also learn the business aspect, and make no mistake: regardless of whether you are traditionally published or indie published, this is a business.

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

It’s not always easy, and sometimes it is hard to see progress. But with each completed project you gain strength and confidence. Your work evolves, growing in readability and your voice as an author becomes recognizably yours.

Writers finish their work. Many people will begin walking this path, believing they want to be writers. They like the idea of being a writer, and may claim to be a writer, but when you ask them about their work, they will tell you they don’t have time to write, and their work was only halfway begun when they had to stop.

The fact that you once sat in a Ferrari does not make you a Formula One driver.

I always urge writers to write every day, even if it is only for fifteen minutes. If you are not committed to writing regularly, your novel will never see the light of day.

Write regularly, and finish that book.


Filed under Literature, writer, writing

9 responses to “#amwriting: so you want to be a writer

  1. Bookmarked! As always, thank you, Connie! You’re a treasure-trove of helpful hints.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephen Swartz

    Wish I’d known all that 50 years ago. Then I’d just become a truck driver instead.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One way to get useful feedback from cousin Phil is to ask him to tell you everything in the novel he didn’t like. Point out anything boring, confusing, silly, annoying. Promise to buy him more drinks for all the bad stuff he finds.

    Thank him. And fix everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm, this post sounds good, but I struggle to relate to it. Pardon the length of my comment, but I’d be interested if you have some advice for my situation…

    It’s strange because it’s not that I disagree with the post, but at the same time, I question whether a direct hierarchy is accurate for essentially beta-reading (friend/family < writing group < critique group < paid editor). I've worked on manuscripts with 3 of those 4 options. There's definitely a struggle for regular people in the friend/family category to figure out why they feel this or that about the story and there's usually no grammar support at all, even though some try.

    However, my experience with writing and critique groups is that they aren't a whole lot better for the purposes of editing. The feedback from these groups (again, in my experience) are inconsistent at best, contradictory at worst. A lot of other writers in these groups are also learning and have different ideas about style/grammar. For the purposes of editing… it leaves me to figure it out on my own regardless. A part of me, also, tends to dislike having many strangers reading the manuscript before it's actually finished. Plus, I don't know why, but I don't ever get scathing feedback for my manuscripts that critique groups are supposedly meant to give – the worst feedback I've ever received is confusion about a creative decision… usually accompanying the confusion, however, is exactly the response/emotion I wanted to invoke in the reader.

    So, that brings us to Editors… and here's where you might have some direct advice, idk… The fact of the matter is that right now, I don't have the money to hire an editor. I've never come across an editor that I want to hire either when I've looked to figure out estimates for the future. I hardly have money to throw at books. Luckily, writing is one of those disciplines that has a wealth of free information available.

    Realistically, I probably won't have the funds for an editor for a couple years, but I want to self-publish anyways because I want to get the ball rolling with my stories. I've already self-published under a penname for another project. I edited that manuscript entirely on my own, which was not easy. Yes, there are probably errors. I'm no stickler for style/grammar rules, but I spent a lot of time minimizing the possibility through line-by-line editing. Part of me thinks… editors probably make mistakes of their own and one editor over there might create entirely different edits than that other editor across the way… sooo… ??? I feel like depending on the editor I choose, my finished work is going to end up being entirely different than if I chose a different editor.

    Lately, I've been coming across a lot of articles/blogs that speak in the same language as this post, begging/pleading self-publishers to hire editors as if it is a religious ordinance that must be spread and slightly implying those who don't are "wrong" or what not. It makes someone like me – who wants to publish, has multiple manuscripts on the pipeline and further concepts that I want to move on to, but absolutely no funds to spare on editors, not enough awareness to run a kickstarter/patreon/etc. and cannot find meaningful support through critique groups – feel like I'm doing something wrong because I don't want to spend money-I-don't-have for something that I literally can do myself, but it just won't be "perfect"……. soooo, yup, just a young author here trying to make sense of this aspect of the indie/writing community. (@ _ @)

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Dominika–I do understand your situation. I have been there myself, and I completely agree that writing groups are not always the best choice. The problem is, we need an unbiased eye on our work–at least I do.

      One thing that works for me when I am editing for a client is to print out each chapter. Then I find a business sized envelope (or something to cover the page) and beginning with the LAST paragraph, work my way UP, using the envelope to cover the portions above so I’m not distracted.

      As you work your way through the ms, read each paragraph aloud. If you stumble while reading it, correct it. While you are reading this way you will be more likely to spot homonyms (words like their and there), repetition of thought, awkward phrasing, and typos. You will also see word repetitions, where you may have used the same word three or four times in close quarters.

      Good luck! And there may be a person in a local group who will help you with this, and who will be able to work well with you!

      Liked by 1 person