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I really enjoy your books. I was thinking about writing stories of my own but I don’t know how to start them. Can you give me tips on writing a story?


  1. -Summer

How do I become a writer?


How do I get published?” See below.


This is a question I get fairly often, and here, in a very large nutshell, is my response. (Here’s an interview I did on the subject as well. >>)


WRITE

Write anything.In the last three decades, I’ve written a gazillion research papers for high school, college and grad school; I edited two books; I wrote museum wall plaques; I wrote installation manuals for a manufacturing company; I copy-edited magazine ads; I wrote grant proposals for an architectural firm; I wrote a catalog for a pool-supply company; I wrote ten screenplays, with multiple drafts of each script . . . the fact is, I wrote a lot. And every single one of these experiences made me a better writer. If you can explain how to assemble a gizmo so that anyone can follow your written directions, you’re that much better off the next time you to have to compose a descriptive paragraph.

So write. Write a letter to the editor every week, and try to get it published. Write for your school newspaper, yearbook, clubs. Write a blog. Write a screenplay (my own favorite writing experience). It won’t be very good – my scripts were horrible at first, then with experience they became slightly less horrible – but I learned so much. Write letters to friends. Write directions. If you wanted to become an amazing runner, how would you start? By running, duh. Same applies here.


READ

Of course you should read the type of books you’d like to write, but I recommend reading them several times. Savor the author’s accomplishment. How did the author build suspense, create romance, construct sympathetic characters? What about the dialog appeals to you? What would you change? Writers learn from other writers.


LISTEN

Criticism, painful as it may be to hear, will only make your writing better. Anyone who makes the effort to think about your writing – to question a particular word, to wonder about dialog, to scratch their head at your conclusion – must be taken seriously. Trust me, it’s far easier for a reader to mutter “oh, it’s fine” and be done with it. That’s what someone who doesn’t care would tell you.


DISCARD

It’s such a thrill to write something and say, “Look! I wrote it! It’s done!” Unfortunately the act of putting words down is only the first step. What really matters is the far more painful process of editing those words. And a huge part of editing, I’m sorry to say, is throwing some of those words away. Including – especially including – the words you like most. Or don’t toss it but simply put it in a “prose I still love” file so that losing it won’t be quite so painful.


STUDY

Learning the rudiments of grammar and spelling will only work to your advantage. This doesn’t mean you have to turn into a total nerd, but the more you know about writing fundamentals such as it’s and they’re, the better off you’ll be on any job you eventually acquire (and the smarter you’ll sound in your emails now).


How do I get published?

My biggest concern with aspiring authors – and here I’m addressing adults as much as teens — is that the writer tends to move too quickly. “I’ve written a book; how do I get it published?” misses the critical step of: “I’ve written a book; now how do I make it the very best book it can possibly be?” I happen to believe that a great story will make its own way to publication. Think about it: would a publishing house ever say, “Oh, we just read this fantastic manuscript and we’d love to print it but the writer’s a nobody so we won’t. Ha ha.” Every published author was a nobody once. Publishers love finding great new voices. How else would they stay in business?

The problem is that no publisher or literary agent will take the time to say, “your manuscript is halfway there, now you need to do THIS.” What faith do they have that you can make your book twice as good? So your job is to make the book twice as good on your own, because the closer it is to perfect, the more likely it is that an editor or an agent will want you.

Beg your friends, family, teachers, postmen for criticism. So many readers belittle their own reactions: “I didn’t get it so I must be dumb, I must have missed something.” Odds are that the writer — you — missed something instead. So fix it. Search out writers’ groups. Start your own. Some writing professionals will critique for pay, but first make sure they’re legit and that your story is worth spending money on. The further you can get it before that paid critic sees it, the further they’ll take it from there.

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