Sunday, April 3, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Writer...Now What?

Almost five years ago, I made the biggest decision in my life next to getting married and having kids. I wanted to write professionally. Of course, that’s easier said than done. I can say I’m a writer, but what makes that so? It has to be more than my verbal announcement.

The decision to write professionally means a lot of changes. Some are fun, and , well, some aren’t. Let me tell you right off the bat: Writing is not easy. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but it’s definitely not as easy as it appears at first.

When I first sat down to crank out my first novel—I had the time of my life. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The words came effortlessly, the story and characters were fun and interesting. Then, thanks to a critique group, all my hopes and dreams were dashed. What was all this about plotting and character arcs? What in the heck is wrong with adverbs? Don’t even get me started on the intricacies of query letters, synopses, and pitches.

There are things that took me awhile to discover on my own, so I thought I’d share my expertise (pfft!) with you. First things first! You’ve made the decision to become a writer. That’s great. Here’s my Top 10 for New Writers (in ascending order):

10. Start to budget for extras. Being a writer comes with its own unique set of expenses. From printer ink and paper to writer conferences, sometimes it isn’t cheap. The sooner you start saving, the more freedom you have later on. (I highly recommend getting yourself down to a good writers conference!)

9. Join local/national writing groups. There’s nothing like a group of like-minded people who get together and cause trouble! There’s also nothing like a good support group when you get stuck—whether it be research, schedule-juggling, or just plain writer’s blues. There are several out there, and for different genres. I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)—a fabulous group with a wealth of information and support, not to mention and kickin’ conference in September!

8. BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard)—sit down and write! Nothing is better for a writer than practice. And we all know that practice makes perfect, or at least as close as we’ll get this side of heaven!

7. Start small, dream big. I first read this concept in Jerry B. Jenkins book, Writing for the Soul, a few years ago. He suggests that a writer start with producing articles and stuff of the like, then moving on to short stories, and finally a novel if they so wish. I don’t necessarily agree with the whole of that concept—I see nothing wrong with writing articles and working on a novel at the same time! I do agree that mastering different types of articles and the art of short stories can do a lot to enhance your skills as a novelist.

6. Join a critique group. Our eyes are only as good as our brains. And what happens when our brains see the same thing day in and day out? They become accustomed to what’s put before them. We cannot be unbiased readers of our own novels. It would be like being an unbiased judge in a cutest baby contest that your child is in. There are several different ways to go about this—several online writing sites have different kinds of critique groups. I belong to one on Writing.Com and have had some really big breakthroughs with them. Some groups, like ACFW, offer critique loops that encourage the formation of unique critique groups. If nothing else, you can advertise that you’re looking for a critique group and see what happens! For a while, I also had a dedicated critique partner. She was a great asset and it was nice because she knew MY writing style and all about my novel!

5. Adjust your schedule to allow time to write. We all have busy lives. Me? I have three young kids (5, 4, and 9 months), a husband who is in the military, active in my church and local playgroups. This year, I also start officially homeschooling two oldest. I have to make writing a priority or I’d never get anything done. This does not mean that I make it more important than my other responsibilities, but I know I have to make certain sacrifices (like TV time, extra time with kids/hubby). With the help of my supportive husband, we work out a schedule that allows me time for writing and for extra stuff like reviews, blogs, and building my platform (yeah, I’ll talk about that eventually!).

4. Don’t give up on reading! Great writers and great readers. If you push reading to the side, then you’ll lose a major area of both enjoyment and opportunities to learn. Read everything—good, bad, and in between. Learn from the masters, learn from the mistakes—what worked? What didn’t? While I wouldn’t go so far as to analyze every book you read, it definitely helps to reflect on what you can learn from it.

3. Write, write, write! Did I mention this before? My mistake…it must be doubly important! You’ll never learn if you don’t try. Trial and error is the best way to find everything from your writing style, to your genre, to your voice.

2. The second most important thing every new writer should do is to read as many books on the craft as you can get your hands on. This is very important. There is so much good advice available to you out there. If you can’t afford to purchase the books, borrow them, check the library—just read! Another great option is to find and follow the blogs of published authors, agents, editors, and other publishing professionals. They are a wealth of information. Just don’t go all stalker on them…

Here's a SHORT list of some great books on writing (both Christian and non) to get you started:

On Writing by Stephen King
Plot and Structure AND The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell
Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamot
Writing the Breakout Novel AND The Fire in Fiction by Donald Mass

And stay tuned on Wednesday for the number one thing that new writers need to do! Yes, I’m completely evil that way. For those of you experienced writers, what do you think of this list? Anything you’d add to it?


  1. Lots of good advice in this post. I know all about having to adjust my schedule...and my expectations.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Thanks for sharing! Writing is like life-a process or learning! I say it,"Embrace and Enjoy it!"

  3. Thanks for stopping by, laides. We writers share a lot of the same experiences when we finally make THE big decision to take our writing seriously. :)

  4. Those are great steps! I'm going to send my hubby over here to look at them!

    I'm very interested in how you are fitting homeschooling into your day. I really want to start Sophie next fall, but am concerned how it will all fit!?

  5. Aurie, next week is all about schedules/routines! You'll have to stop by and see how I plan to make it work--it does take some creative juggling. :)

  6. Wonderful tips! I'm a mother of young kids too. My fourth this side of Heaven is due at the beginning of July. We just started homeschooling this past year. Writing comes fifteen minutes at a time. I look forward to seeing you scheduling ideas!

  7. Great advice! I continually review my writing craft books--some lessons, while in my brain, haven't stuck. :)

  8. Great advice, Ralene. Scheduling time to write has made a big difference to me. I get up before everyone else in the house so I'll have a little peace and quiet. Before that, I would write when I got everything else done. (The other stuff was more important, right?) Prioritizing is everything.

  9. Thanks for stopping by ladies!

    Rebecca--I hear ya! Life is a juggle when you have take what you can get when you can get it!

    Jill--Any suggestions on which books you like to review a lot for the other writers?

    vvdenman--Getting up early is definitely one of the way I try to get ahead, but I think there's a motion sensor in my bedroom b/c the minute I get up, at least one of the other kids gets up as well. Even at 5:45 in the morning!


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