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Becoming a Writer

Creative individuals often ask me if becoming a writer is difficult, or if learning to write fiction is possible. The answer is: No, it is not difficult to become a writer, and yes writing can be taught effectively.

If you want to become a published writer, it is well within your control to become one, and you can begin learning on your own. Never before have so many resources been provided as freely as they are today.

Will it be easy? No. Will it be profitable? Not for a long time. Becoming a good writer takes time and requires education, like everything else, but it is a rewarding career that allows you to choose your own hours and follow your interests.

If you've read that paragraph and still believe becoming a writer is a good idea, sit down and write. Scores of people say they want to write, but only a few commit to sitting at the keyboard. If you want to become a writer, don't spend your free time talking about it or doing something else— just write, every day, even if only during your coffee break.

Before my first novel was published, while I was learning to write fiction, a friend and I used to write for 10 minutes a day during our morning coffee break. We each had a notebook and wrote by hand while everyone else went to the coffee room. We called our writing the "coffee break papers" and a surprising amount of good writing came out of these short bursts each day, and some of it ended up in my novel.

It doesn't matter if what you write is good, or if it follows the rules, or if anyone else likes it. If you're serious about becoming a writer, you need the practice. And while you're in this first practice stage, find ways to learn.

  1. Read books on writing
  2. Take writing courses
  3. Visit online sites like this one and read everything you can find.
  4. Read, read, read, but don't make reading an excuse for not writing— make time for both

Write about what you learn, and give yourself practice exercises.

If you read about dialogue, then write a paragraph or scene that is all dialogue and read it aloud into a recording device. Now find a piece of professional dialogue, and read it aloud into a recorder.

Listen to both samples and compare them. Yours may not sound quite as polished as the professional piece. Try to understand why.

  1. Listen to both and make notes.
  2. What do you do that the professional does not?
  3. What does the professional do that you don't?

If you analyze your work as you're learning, you'll get better.

As you analyze published passages, read the entire story or book. Writers write and writers read. Becoming a writer gives you license to read whenever you like and call it work.

Read for enjoyment, and read to learn. If you read fiction alongside books on writing craft, and peruse websites written by professional writers, you'll begin to recognize the particular skills writers need, and you will begin to develop them.

Becoming a writer requires excellent composition skills, such as an understanding of sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation, but it also requires knowledge of writing craft. Without an understanding of craft, it will be difficult to make the shift from "someone who writes" to a "professional writer."

There are many writing websites created by sincere people who have an interest in writing but who have not yet acquired the necessary skills themselves. Story telling is a complex craft, much more complex than most people know. It is a craft that can be learned, and there has never been a better time to learn, provided you have excellent information and teachers. If you were interested in medicine, would you want to learn from practicing doctors, or from a clinician who hopes to someday go to med school? Anyone can write, but only a small percentage of the population understands what is required to write selling fiction.

You want to discover what makes writing sell, and for that you need to learn from professionals.

Good writing doesn't accidentally catch a reader's attention and hold it. Readers become hooked because the author's technique compels them to read forward through the suspenseful anticipation of an ending that answers the reader's questions.

In a well-written book, readers know what each character wants, and they read through to the end to learn if the character succeeds and reaches his or her goal.

You'll learn how to create that suspense as you learn writing craft. You'll also learn:

  1. Which techniques will make characters interesting, and which common errors will leave them as flat as cardboard
  2. How to instantly slow a narrative or speed it up to create good pacing
  3. How something as simple as a few vowels will slow the pace or speed it up, and which specific vowels do which.
  4. Which details improve a story and which ones editors will immediately recognize as amateurish.

Of course there is much more than that to learn, and doing so will put you far ahead of those who "just write." You'll find several good writing books in the writing library on this site. These are books I have used myself and found useful.

Once you become familiar with writing craft, matters of technique become second nature. Instead of thinking always about what to do next, you will feel comfortable enough to experiment and find your own unique style and subject matter.

Originality combined with skillful crafting of fiction will get you noticed. Either one alone will not allow you to stand out from all the other hopeful writers.

If you are like most writers, you will receive many, many rejections before your work is regularly accepted by paying publications. Don't let this discourage you. Many writers start their own blogs while they're waiting for magazines and journals to publish them.

The Internet is the "great equalizer" that allows you to build an audience on your own and begin creating your own audience. Publish pieces of your work in your blog, and before you know it others will comment on it.

You can also join free creative writing sites on the Internet, where others will comment on your work and you can provide critiques of their stories. Critiquing the work of others will teach you more about writing than having your own writing critiqued. See the writing resources page for good writing sites, online journals, research aids and more.

Finally, you will pitch an article idea to a publisher, or send in a short story, and the editor will like your work and want to publish it. Over time, this will happen more regularly, until you are no longer becoming a writer, but are a published author.

Becoming a writer is a slow process. You will need patience, excellent resources, and a talent for perseverance, but if you want to become a writer, and if you put in the time and the effort, there is no reason why you will not get what you want.

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