How did you start writing?
Several years ago, I scrounged up enough courage to take my first online writing class. The instructor told us, “If you write, you’re a writer.” Sounds simple, but that whole experience was huge for me. Prior to that, I had a few stories taking up memory on several different floppy disks, but I never considered myself a writer. I plodded along, writing when I felt inspired–either late at night after work or when my kids were napping.
Then my sister rocked my world. She became a Golden Heart finalist, the equivalent of an Academy Award nomination for romance writers, and she wanted me to attend the RWA national conference. Wait, I couldn’t possibly go to a writers’ conference–everyone attending was a writer and I’m, well, sort of a writer. Then, someone told me to write what I like to read. That’s when I switched my focus from wholesome middle-grade fiction to steamy, paranormal romance. I found my groove, also known as my writer’s voice, and typed THE END the day before we jumped on the plane.
Can you guess what the moral of this story is–other than me being a little neurotic? Keep trying different things, listen to your sister even if she’s younger than you, and never underestimate the power of a deadline.
Where do you get your story ideas?
Bits and pieces from my normal life–mundane, everyday things–get expanded in my imagination as I ask myself “what if.” I keep a small notebook in my purse–you know, one of those cool ones you find at bookstores with the elastic band to keep the pages neat–and jot down interesting things I see or read or that someone tells me.
For instance, as I drove through my small town the other day, I noticed a teenage girl sitting alone in the middle of the sidewalk. She had a plastic shopping bag from the nearby drugstore and, while she waited for the bus, she was painting her toenails. Not her fingernails, like maybe you or I would do to check out the color we just bought, but her toes! All of them. Right there on the pavement. What kind of a girl would do that? A clueless girl who had no idea that what she was doing was strange? A loner with no friends who didn’t give a crap what anyone thought about her? A girl whose parents don’t allow her to wear polish so she quickly paints them before she gets home? But why the middle of the sidewalk? I mean, you could go on and on. I haven’t used her in a story, but that’s an example of what I’m talking about. I made note of it in my little notebook and maybe someday I’ll use it. I also have notes in there about Brett Favre, a poem about dandelions, and a story from my son’s friend about his dog’s anal glands.
Can you recommend some good books on writing?
I love books about the craft of writing. Not every author’s methods will make sense to you or me, but one little nugget could make all the difference. Here are some of my current favorites.
Plotting and Story Structure
- Save the Cat – Snyder
- Plot and Structure – Bell
- Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – Dixon
- Break into Fiction – Buckham and Love
- Writing the Breakout Novel Handbook – Maass
Revising and Polishing
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne and King
- Manuscript Makeover – Lyon
- Creating Characters – Swain
- Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint – Kress
- Heroes and Heroines – Cowden, LaFever, Viders
- Rodale’s Synonym Finder
- Character Naming Sourcebook- Kenyon
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook – Lunsford and Connors
I want to write, but I'm not sure how to get started.
1. Read. A lot. Both inside and outside your genre. It will help you develop an innate sense of story structure, where you’ll recognize those patterns common to all good stories. Look for the W-plot (Inciting incident, Change of Plans, Point of No Return, Major Set-back, Climax/Resolution) and notice the conflict, rising tension, pacing, and ways the characters change throughout the course of the story.
2. Write every day. You’ve got to exercise your writing chops, make new pathways in the brain. If this means working on your current Work in Progress, great!
If not, why don’t you try journaling like many writers do and get accustomed to getting your thoughts down on paper?
If you’re not into that (I’m not), you can join an online forum with active threads. Many popular books, movies, and tv shows have fan forums where fans get together online to discuss various characters and plot points with each other. Are you passionate about a hobby? I can almost guarantee you there’s an online forum devoted to it. Make sure your posts are thoughtful and avoid netspeak in order to get the most out of the writing practice. (I’m trying to find a Dr. Phil forum for my mom. She loves him. If you know of a good one, let me know!)
Not into online forums? Join Shelfari or Goodreads to interact with other readers and have thoughtful discussions on books you’re passionate about.
Check out the many fan fiction sites online. I don’t write fan fiction, but I have friends who do, and, my gosh, they’ve blossomed into fantastic writers. They use it as a way to polish their writing skills without having to create a story world and characters from scratch. Of course, you can’t profit from it and some don’t allow fanfic of their work, but I can tell you, many best-selling authors started writing this way before they created their own fictional worlds. I’m not listing them here, but if you check out other author websites, many talk about how they used to write fanfic. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised. Star Trek, Jane Austen, Twilight, and Harry Potter fics seem to be particularly popular.
Are you an expert or passionate about a hobby? Are you doing something that others may find interesting (traveling to China, training for a marathon, rehabilitating an injured animal, etc.)? Start a blog. They’re easy and it gets you into the mode of deadlines and regular updates, while honing your writing skills. You’ll need these skills when you become published.
3. Go to author signings and check out the programs at your local library. I’ve gotten some fabulous writing tips from published authors at their signings or free library workshops. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I always come prepared with a few questions I want to ask ahead of time. Even if you haven’t read their work before, you may still get some helpful tips on editing, world-building, writing habits, good craft books, plotting, characterization, the publishing industry, etc. So go!
4. Join a professional writers’ organization. General groups cater to all sorts of writers, like the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association, while specific ones, like Romance Writers of America, focus on a particular genre. No matter what kind of fiction you write, chances are, there’s a professional writers’ organization you can join. Try to find one with an active local chapter, that way you can meet local writers in person.
5. Join an online writers’ forum. Remember I talked about forums earlier? Well, there are forums devoted only to writers. Imagine that! You’ll get scads of tips, support, fun writing prompts, and industry information.