Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Writing 101 - Getting Started Writing

There are two sort of writers out there: those who write for the drawer and those who want to get published and even make writing a career.
My friend Jackie's been the first kind for quite some time but I think she's ready to make the move because just the other day she asked me how I started writing and what I did to get published. She also wanted pointers. Well, I thought I'd share my answer:

When I made the switch from writing without anyone seeing to wanting to be published, I was so concerned about the process of publishing (finding markets, the right format, writing cover letters, writing queries), that the writing took second place and for a while no place at all. All I did for nearly a month was to try and find out how to be a writer that I forgot that a writer can't be one if she doesn't actually write.

I've read too many "getting started" articles. These articles usually suggested anything from buying a computer, printer and paper as well as having a library that includes The Writer's Market to setting attainable goals and creating a work space. Well, I always found these articles scary. And rather obvious too.

Yet, the question remains, what should one do should one wishes to write and be published?
Here are my five simple things:

1. Write. I think that this is the most important thing. One should always write, if it's by setting aside a certain amount of time each day for writing, or by taking advantage of free time or any other method (or non-method) that works. Meaning, a writer should spend time writing without worrying too much about where to start. (One can always write the beginning of a piece later, some even recommend it.)

2. Market research. Set aside a certain amount of time a week/month for market research. This is more important at first until finding markets becomes matter-of-course.

3. Be aware. Be very aware. Of everything. If you're a columnist, pay attention to what's going on in the area that interests you, or if you're a fiction writer, pay attention to how people interact and the colour of the sky.

4. Talk out your ideas, either with someone else or with yourself. Have a notebook, cards, anything to help you organizing the ideas.

5. Get a life. I always try to maintain balance. When I was a student I had this rule that Saturday night is sacred for going out. I didn't care if I was in the midst of finals or if a project was due Monday morning, Saturday night was dedicated to having fun. So maybe I'm too much of a geek who needs rules for having a life, but regardless of how r&r is obtained, it is just as important.

Any other advice?
Read the rest

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Carter said...

All excellent points. I would add as a footnote: Don't stress about it, just write and submit. When you're good enough, your work will sell. In the meantime: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, words on screen.

redchurch said...

National Novel Writing Month helps for some people who have trouble getting started, or actually finishing a manuscript. There was a joke in an Albert Camus book--one of the characters was a 'writer' but was so hung up on the first sentence of his masterpiece that all he ever did was write and rewrite that first sentence.

Something like Nano helps with that for sure. It also helps for organization/plotting-crazy people like me, who obsess too much about structure when sometimes you just need to lay the cement and worry about the mold later--although don't be surprised if your foundation is crooked. ;-)

I'm going to do Nano again this year if I'm not too busy, just to force-crank a new manuscript.

Gregory said...

Redchurch, I would recommend the movie "Throw muma from the train" for something similar to the Albert Camus book charactor you mentioned. The case is essensially the same, perhaps even inspired.

Jennifer said...

Funny, the moment I started writing I wanted the world to read what I'd wrote, but every time I gave them my work I would get nauseous convincing myself they'd think it was awful and tell me to quit writing. That never stopped me from sharing though.

I like your rules. And I second the RESEARCH! That is one of the most important things. Make sure you're sending your work to someone who's interest is actually in what you written.


Bryan D. Catherman said...

It's funny that writing is often the hardest part about getting started. It's too easy to get sucked into the "how-to" that we sometimes forget the "do."

This is a good set of rules.

rdl said...

Good advice, especially #5!

Nienke Hinton said...

Get a life: does that include laundry and dishes?

Melly said...

Carter, I'll officially add that footnote about stressing - so true.

redchurch, I love Nano even though I could only participate for half the month last time. But while I was participating it was going really well. You're right - it's a good way to just get in gear.

Gregory, it's been a while since I've seen the movie and I vaguely recall Billy Crystal being a English prof and Danny DeVito a student in his class who wrote something. Other than that, I can't remember much.

Jennifer, if we could stop, for one reason or another, I would safely assume that many of us would stop. Writing can be painful... :)

Bryan, thanks, and I really like the way you put it.

Thanks rdl. #5 is my favourite too :)

Alas, Nienke, no, at least not in my book. But I guess life comes in all shapes and sizes?
Yes, I've read your "catching up" post full of laundry and dishes chores :)
I guess anything that can clear our heads and make us available physically and mentally for writing is good. Would you agree?

piotrush said...

great advice. especially the first point.

note to redchurch: the book by camus that you refer to is called "the plague." in case you have not read it yet, you should. its simple writing with a strong point, which is: 'what happens when you segregate people from themselves, others, society, etc.' I had to read it for my 4th year political theory class and found it very useful for various political applications...but anyway.

Melly said...

Thanks Piotrush.

As for Redchurch, this is his updated web page if you wish to contact him :)