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2/8/2014: Plotting Through the Middle

1/18/2014: Who's Telling The Story?

1/21/2013: Supporting Characters

8/1/2012: The Ins and Outs of Publishing

7/1/2012: Plotting Along

6/1/2012: Advice for Aspiring Writers


Letters from the Editor
Advice for Aspiring Writers

I recently had a long conversation with a friend on Facebook who was writing a story for a contest. She had a lot of questions and concerns, and as I looked back over the conversation I realized we discussed a lot of important points. So, I decided to organize the conversation into this “newbie advice” column.

It’s very common to have a great idea and then not be able to finish the story. Writing a story can be so overwhelming that our fears take over and writers’ block sets in. You worry about whether the story is good enough or whether people will like it. Then you start worrying about the story itself and you begin to agonize over word choice. If you’re like me, you’ll spend an excessive amount of time choosing and changing words, rephrasing sentences and chastising yourself about spelling and grammar.

Let’s get those fears out of the way first. Is my story good enough? Will people like it? I used to worry about that a lot, but I did get positive feedback from people who read my stories. Eventually, I had an epiphany: with billions of people in the world, there will be some who love my work, some who hate my work, and lots in between. I could choose to focus anywhere along the spectrum, so I chose to focus on people who would love my work. You’ve heard of the Law of Attraction? It really works, primarily because we see what we want to see. It’s all out there; simply pay attention to what you want and write because you love to write.

I recently watched the movie “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen. I could relate to the main character, Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson), because he embodied the fears of an aspiring writer. I think my favorite scene was his first conversation with Ernest Hemingway (played by Corey Stoll). The two lines by Hemingway that had the most impact on me were:

“Yes it was a good book because it was an honest book and that’s what war does to men and there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully and then it’s not only noble but brave.”

“No subject is terrible if the story is true. If the prose is clean and honest and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”

For me, these two lines embody the essence of writing. If you have something to say then you are not wasting your time and people will like it.

Now that your fears are out of the way, it’s time to finish the story! In November 2001 I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month, hosted by nanowrimo. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That is a lot of writing. They have a lot of good advice, but the most important is to WRITE! Forget about spelling. Forget about grammar. Forget about plot. Just get the words out. You can always go back and polish it afterwards. No one has to see it unless you want them to, and not until you are ready.

nanowrimo brings to mind the subject of contests. Motivation is as important in writing as it is in a murder mystery. Contests can help with that. If you are excited about a contest you are more likely to finish writing your story.

Next is the re-write. Some people love it, some people don’t. I’m not a fan of re-writing, but I do it. I can recommend two resources that have helped me a lot:

  1. “The Writer's Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages” by Nancy Ellen Dodd. The story map alone is worth the price of the book. With it, Ms. Dodd covers the important elements to the plot line that will help keep your story on track.
  2. “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is an invaluable style reference filled with tips for strengthening your prose and dialog.

Finally, it’s time to put on your thick skin and seek criticism that will assist you with honing your skills. The only way to become seasoned is to write and get feedback. There are dozens of websites out there for writers to post their work and receive reviews. A short listing of sites I’ve tried can be found at Writer(AKA). Of those sites, the one I’ve stuck with is FanStory because it’s the most straightforward to use, has a very active community, and has a lot of contests to enter. For a modest fee, you can post your work and earn member dollars for reviewing other people’s work. You can use the member dollars to purchase certificates to promote your work.

Will you become a best-selling author? Possibly, but probably not. Becoming a famous writer is like trying to become a famous actor or singer. These are highly competitive fields with a fickle audience and the people in charge have an agenda. You'll meet with more rejection than success because a lot depends on the mood of the audience and the people in charge.

But don’t let that discourage you. To paraphrase William W. Purkey: You’ve got to write like there’s nobody reading.

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