On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Do You Become a Writer?

Someone recently wrote to me to ask how to become a writer. I reflected on this. One thing people often say to me is, "When I have a little time I'm going to write a book too." I don't get this confidence... people know that you're not going to play a Beethoven sonata on your third piano lesson, or paint a masterpiece after a few months of art lessons. So, why do they expect to just sit down for six months and produce a Nobel prize-winning work? Stories like Stephanie Meyer's* notwithstanding, it doesn't usually happen that way.

* Stephanie Meyer is the author of the wildly popular Twilight series. She tells the story of waking from a dream haunted by her characters, then writing the story in six months. A year and a half later she had a mega-bestseller. Yes, these blue-moon (excuse the pun) events happen, but it's because Meyer found a premise that totally resonated with many people, and her writing was good enough that it didn't kill the story. I'm delighted when any writer makes it -- but don't expect this to happen to you without working on your craft.

It takes work to develop your craft. I am a strong subscriber to Malcolm Gladwell's thesis in Outliers, that someone must invest 10,000 hours to become *excellent* in a field. The good news is, you can become quite good even before those 10,000 hours, and hopefully be able to publish or otherwise reap rewards of your hard work before then.

The best advice I can give to someone with the dream:

1. Invest daily time into writing. (Actually, six days a week -- it's important to have a floating day for which you don't feel guilty if you miss). Minimally do three or so days per week. Use a word goal, not a time goal. For beginners I like to set a goal of 300 words per day or 2000 words per week. Keep pushing that goal up as you become better. KEEP A DAILY AND WEEKLY LOG IN WHICH YOU WRITE DOWN YOUR PROGRESS!

2. What to write about? Blogs and short pieces are good practice, but always keep an eye on your long-term goals as well. If you want to write a novel, then keep moving in that direction: short stories are good, but imagine ideas that will take longer to finish. Get a notebook that you carry with you at all times, and anytime you run across an intriguing idea or something occurs to you, write it down. You should make at least one or two entries a day -- get in the habit of doing this. If you're looking for ideas, you can scan through here.

3. A good trick I use is to make lists of, say, fifteen or twenty BAD ideas for something. By giving myself permission to have bad ideas I come up with more, and many are quite good. Once you find something interesting, free write about it and figure out how you might be able to twist things or otherwise make it even more interesting.

4. Read books on writing. Writer's Digest has a series of books on writing techniques, and there are many more as well. Check out the library or bookstore. Also, writing books that are free can be found on amazon.com/Kindle-ebooks --> Nonfiction --> Reference --> Writing. There's a free computer app to read kindle books at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=sv_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771.

5. Just read -- anything you enjoy. If you want, analyze why the story works or doesn't work.

6. Find other writers. Work with a friend to encourage each other. Join a writing group. Go to writing conferences. If you are OK with Christian values, you may want to join ACFW which is an incredible loop of 2000+ writers, agents and editors. They offer advice, free online courses, and writing contests with valuable feedback. Cost is $65 first year and $50 annual renewal. GET A SEPARATE EMAIL ACCOUNT if you join since you will be snowed under with correspondence.

7. Get feedback on your work, but also be careful since critiquers can be cruel, wrong, or otherwise not helpful. Listen, find what the person is trying to say (even if in a hurtful tone) and take the hint to improve your work.


Ultimately my best advice is to simply stick with it. It takes a long time to learn to write, and you have to drive yourself because NO ONE ELSE is going to get why you're doing it. Some people will make unhelpful comments -- "Nora Roberts publishes a book every six months; what's wrong with you..." Just believe in yourself. I always tell my kids that, no matter how beginner or bad you are at something, you will always get better if you practice. Writing is a long road, but ultimately rewarding.

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