In March of 2015 I taught a workshop at the Tucson Festival of Books entitled Getting Started – Your First Book. Fifty budding authors attended, and they had many great questions. The following are my bullet points for the presentation.
TEN SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BEGINNING WRITER
1. A test to determine if you should you write a book:
Shut yourself in a room with no distractions and write for four hours. Don’t worry about the quality of the writing; the quality will improve with time. If you enjoyed those four hours, you passed the test.
It takes a lot of time to write a good book. Why bother if you don’t enjoy it?
2. Keep Writing.
To become a good writer you must practice—a lot. Write as often as possible and for as long as possible. Write everyday if you can. You will enjoy this time. It doesn’t feel like work.
3. Read a lot.
Stop watching television and read. Read good books and bad books. Read your genre and other genres. Read literary greats and popular fiction greats.
Read about writing. Read grammar books, books about writing by authors, books on the craft of writing. Read anything that doesn’t bore you.
There are some great books that teach the elements of fiction writing: Character, Plot, Description, and Dialogue. Read these books to learn about technique. Improve your craft by working through the exercises.
Some writers of popular fiction forget to bring the reader into the scene. This is critical. Readers read to escape; they want to feel as if they are living the story.
Include enough description to pull them into the scene but not so much as to put them off. Use all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Dialogue is magic for bringing the reader into the scene. When a character starts talking the reader pays attention. Make the conversation worthy of eavesdropping.
6. Finish the first draft.
The magic of writing comes with revision, but without the first draft there will never be a second draft, third draft, or final draft.
Don’t worry that it’s bad—keep pushing until you get that first draft done!
7. Rewrite each scene until it shines.
- Keep revising until you’re making few or no changes with each subsequent pass.
- Keep revising until you really like the way it reads.
- Read it out loud or in your head. If part of a sentence reads awkwardly, revise it.
- Great prose should sound lyrical; it should flow like classical music.
8. Beta readers and writing groups.
Ask someone else to read your work, but wait until you’ve polished away all the awkward sentences. An inexperienced critic will not know what to tell you, but their encouragement will renew your strength.
Writing groups have various agendas. Try one if you want and keep attending if it works for you; if you don’t learn from the group, quit and use that time for writing.
An experienced, qualified editor is essential to writing a good book. Warning: this can get expensive, and the feedback can be painful. A good editor will be a great teacher; she will force you to elevate your writing and help you to write a better book.
Lean on whatever inspires you to continue the journey.
You may never be a great writer like Tolstoy or Faulkner, but you should know this: if you love to write, and you work hard enough and long enough, you will write a good book.
Along the way I read some good books on writing. Three suggestions:
- For detailed instruction on the elements of writing I used the Write Great Fiction Series, which includes separate books for Plot, Character, Setting, and Dialogue.
- I enjoyed Stephen King’s book, On Writing.
- Francine Prose’s book, Reading like a Writer, will encourage you to continually strive to become a better writer.
As always your questions and comments are greatly appreciated.