Six Crucial Steps for the Beginning Writer

At the doctor’s office recently, I met another writer. We shared the what-do-you-write pleasantries before she shook her head. “I’ve been doing this for three years. How long did your first novel take?”

I grinned. “You don’t want to know.” (It took five years. That doesn’t count the eight years previously spent on writing short pieces while raising children, or the five years before that penning novels in another genre.)

God willing, I have years left to share more stories. But the conversation reminded me of my frustrations when I started out. I eventually completed all six of the following steps, even though it took a long time. I’m a slow learner.

  1. Settle in for the long haul. This isn’t an easy profession. You have to love it, and you can’t expect instant success. The “overnight success authors” spent days, months, and sometimes years pounding away on their computer keyboards. Expect the same of yourself.
  2. Locate a tribe. Local writers’ groups exist everywhere. Find one you can join. If one doesn’t exist in your area, and you don’t want to drive, look for a group on-line. It will keep your sanity. There’s nothing quite like chatting with other authors who are facing the same struggles you are.
  3. Learn the craft. Invest time (and money, if possible) in this venture you’ve undertaken. Libraries have books on writing and sometimes hold author events or workshops. Bookstores do this, as well. Set up a Conference Fund to attend a writer’s workshop or conference, where you can take classes, learn from established writers, and meet publishers, agents, and editors.
  4. Remember you’re not a special snowflake. This isn’t a derogatory statement. Everyone has a story to tell and a unique voice. But that doesn’t mean you get a pass at everything else. You’ll have to pay your dues. You’ll have to keep your day job (at least for a while). You’ll have to learn to balance writing, family, your day job, personal health, spiritual health, and any messes that pop up. I’m still learning how to deal with the balance issue.
  5. Allow others to see your work. I know—it’s hard. But everyone starts somewhere. If the group you’re critiquing with seems a bit too harsh, take another objective look. Are you sensitive because this story is your baby? Learn to take critiques with a thick skin, grace, and open ears. If you have to explain a part of your manuscript, it’s not working. Keep your mouth closed and take notes. (Keeping my mouth closed has been an especially difficult lesson for me. Just sayin.’)
  6. If you don’t have a religion, you should find one. This is an optional rule, but I’ve found it necessary to often ask God for help. Since I’m still learning, I’ve found the prayer please help to be especially necessary and humbling. If you desire to do it all yourself, go ahead. But I prefer to have Someone bigger lead my writing career and support group.

Tuck these steps in your pocket, and you’ll be well-equipped for the fantastic writing journey awaiting you!

5 Things You Must Do After Typing “The End”

 

You’ve finished the book. Day after day, month after month, (perhaps even year after year), you’ve slogged away at this manuscript. You’ve poured your heart and soul onto the pages. And now it’s finished right? Well, kinda. Here are five things you must do after typing “The End.”

 

  • Celebrate. Really. Did you know 97% of writers never finish their book? So you’re part of the 3% that completed yours. Congratulations! Go do whatever you do to celebrate: go out to dinner, go dancing, eat some prime chocolate, have a glass of wine, take a nap, whatever. But do celebrate because this is no small accomplishment.

 

  • Avoid the manuscript like the plague. Don’t look at it for a month. Six weeks would be better. Go on vacation. Take up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Let your brain have a break from it for awhile. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.

 

  • Revise. And revise. And revise. Oh, and revise some more. In regards to revision, more is better. One go-through isn’t enough to make the manuscript submission-ready (unless your John Grisham or James Patterson–and I’d bet they revise, too). You’ll need to go through it several times, removing unnecessary  words, strengthening sentences, plugging plot holes, adding description, and whatever else your manuscript needs.

 

  • Get feedback (but not from your parents, siblings, or other family relatives. Do not expect honest feedback from anybody who really loves you.) Maybe a stranger in Walmart would be a good choice. Just kidding–sort of. When you want to hear nice things, give it to a family member. If you want the honest truth, give it to someone who’s not related and doesn’t care about damaging your fragile ego. You might not agree with all of their comments, and that’s okay. It is, after all, your story. But the feedback’s another point of view, and you can make the choice to change the story or not. An important side note: if several beta readers (also known as unprofessional readers) say the same thing, take a good, hard look at the story. They see something you don’t.

 

  • Hire an editor. This is absolutely necessary if you’re going to self-publish. If not, it’d still be a beneficial move. It could be the difference between agent or no-agent. Or contract and no contract.  Listen to their ideas. (These professionals are amazing. In my current novel, my editor suggested action beats to flesh out a scene, flagged misplaced modifiers, and highlighted the actions that didn’t make sense. Spark is better for it–thanks, Michele!) There are a few manuscripts moldering in my filing cabinet. If I ever dust them off someday, they’ll desperately need an editor. Even though I love these cool stories, they need to be overhauled by a professional.

So, even if you’ve typed “The End,” it’s really not. But you’re in the home stretch, so don’t give up. Take some time to do the above five steps. And afterwards? Publish it independently. Send it to an agent. Or submit it to a publishing house. Because the world needs to read the story only you can tell.