Friday, October 30, 2020

Writing: Getting Started

Everyone will be posting Halloween-themed material today--except me. We don't expect many trick-or-treaters tomorrow night. So I thought it appropriate to post this instead, since it answers questions that I sometimes get.

As we used to say in medicine, "Although you may not be able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can nevertheless make a better-looking, more acceptable sow's ear." In writing, probably there are people who are born with a talent for putting the words together, and they may turn out better products than those of us who don't have the natural ability they do, but those of us in the latter group have learned to write by reading, practice, and paying attention to advice. In other words, I learned to improve on the sow's ear--and sometimes got a silk purse out of the deal.

Mine is not advertised as "sure-fire" advice, but it's the way I learned. First, I attended a writing conference. Actually, I attended several of them. This may be too expensive for some of you, but if you really want to learn writing, go to one. It's not necessary to attend a large one. There are many good ones out there. If you go, you'll develop relationships with others of the same bent. Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents in the above paragraph. If you go to your first conference expecting a contract, prepare for disappointment. If for some reason you do get one, count yourself fortunate. But keep learning anyway.

While you're deciding about a conference, start reading. Learn how to plot, with books like James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. Learn how to catch the attention of the reader by reading Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. There are too many books to mention--I have a two-foot shelf of them in my office--but read to learn how to write. And also read books by other authors. Read the good stuff, and imitate it. Read the bad stuff, and avoid it.

This isn't sure-fire advice. It's just the way I got into it. There was a lot that followed, but this is how I started.  Eighteen novels and novellas later, am I an expert? Not at all. But I hope you'll be on your way with this advice. What would you add?



Patricia Bradley said...

Good advice, Richard! I also read craft books and take classes to improve my writing. Also, aspiring writers need to realize writing a book will probably be one of the hardest things they've ever done. :-)

Priscilla Bettis said...

To "read the good stuff" I'd add, and study it. Outline it, take notes, copy down emotional passages. Read aloud action passages.

You pegged me. I did post Halloween content today.:-) But I also worked on two story outlines, so I don't think I'm THAT predictable!

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Patricia and Priscilla, for chiming in. Be safe this weekend.