Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I would like to give a warm welcome to Debbi! Hi Debbi! Thanks for stopping by on your book/blog tour :) It's my pleasure hosting you. Here we go!
Question 10: What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Thank you for asking that question, Kaitlyn. And thank you for hosting me on your blog Kaitlyn in Bookland. I know a lot of people wonder exactly how to get started in the writing business. I’ll give you the benefit of what I've learned as I've made my way through the process.
My first suggestion is to read everything you can. Get your hands on the kind of books you'd like to write. Read voraciously. It doesn't take all that much. Just a half an hour or so at night before you go to sleep. (That's what I do. Well, maybe an hour …) You'll learn a lot from reading other writers in your genre of interest. You'll learn what works and what doesn't. You may even get inspiration from the authors you read. And when I say "inspiration," I don't mean you should simply copy their style or recreate what they've already done. All you'll end up with in that case is a pale imitation of [fill in the blank with your favorite author's name].
Secondly, take a writing class. Depending on your local resources, you may be able to do this through a community college's adult education program (I did). There may also be places devoted to writers' needs, such as The Writers Center in Bethesda, MD. I've heard they put on some awesome classes there. And the nice thing about classes is that you get to meet people. These people often form writers critique groups. (My first writers critique group was comprised of people in the adult education class I mentioned earlier. I'll return to this point in a moment.)
Third, another great way to meet people and expand your network of writing resources is to join organizations. I'm in several writers organizations at this point. One of the most significant for me has been Sisters in Crime. It's due to the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime that my first mystery fiction was published. The chapter decided to do a short story anthology called CHESAPEAKE CRIMES. I submitted a short story and was chosen in a blind submission process (so newbies would have an equal shot at being included as published authors). So, I owe it to Sisters in Crime for helping to jumpstart my writing career.
I'm in several other organizations that have provided other opportunities, as well. Groups like Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, American Independent Writers, Maryland Writers Association and the National Writers Union. Each of these groups have been the source of some kind of benefit, in terms of networking, educational opportunities, meeting authors and other people in the publishing industry, enhancing my professional profile (like the opportunity to judge the short story category for the Shamus Awards) and simply connecting with kindred spirits. (The organizations I named are, in part, based on genre. You'll want to keep that in mind as you decide which ones to join.)
Fourth, become involved. For a few years, I was the newsletter writer for the local Sisters in Crime chapter. It was a great way to keep abreast of what other people were up to, as well as interesting events that were taking place. I ended up becoming an information repository. (And knowledge is power, after all. :) ) I was the one people sought out if they had good news to share. People in the chapter got to know me through these efforts. I became more than just another name on the roster. (Remember, it's participation that can make a difference. Look for opportunities and jump at them. But govern your time carefully, because your mileage can vary.)
Fifth, get to know writing and the business. Remember, there are two aspects to this pursuit. There's writing and there's publishing. They are, in fact, two very different, but related, things.
On the writing side, learn about proper story structure. That's the point of taking those classes I mentioned. You can also learn about it from books like HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION by Carolyn Wheat. (This suggestion clearly only applies to mystery and thriller writers. There are many other books on this subject you can read.)
I personally found it extremely useful to study basic screenwriting format. Why? Because good story is at the heart of every good film. Movies take the storytelling format and strip it as bare as possible. Films are (generally) structured around a basic three-act format. This format can be recreated in novels, too. And it can work just as well as in movies.
Two books I've read on the subject of storytelling that can apply to novels as well as movies include SCREENPLAY by Syd Field (a classic) and SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder (which takes the three-act structure and breaks it down into a 12-step process).
Now, it is essential that you learn the writing craft. Not only does this involve learning through classes and books, but it involves sitting down and writing every day. If not every day, then at least on a regular basis. What I mean, is that you need to carve out an hour (or two or three, whatever you can spare) on a regular basis (every day, two or three times a week or whatever works), sit down at your computer (or notepad or whatever) and write something. And keep doing it. Don't make excuses. Don't say, "Well, I'm not inspired. I can't write." Force yourself to sit down and write, even if you don't feel like it.
Another thing: just write. Don't edit yourself. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. Just do it. Get the words on the page. There will be time later to do the editing. Here's where being in a writers group can really help. They'll give (impartial) suggestions about what's working and what isn't. They'll give you the incentive to keep at it, so you'll have something for them to review.
Writing is a learning process, and it's never ending. Even people who've written for years are still learning their craft and the best ones improve with each effort.
Jeez! There's so much to the writing business I'd love to talk about, but I think I've taken enough of your time.
The main thing in the beginning is to focus on the writing and getting to know people (people who can guide you, provide contacts, be your critique partners and support group).
One final thing: don't write to trends. Don't write vampire novels simply because they're big. The conventional wisdom is that once a trend is spotted, it's too late to take advantage. However, I have another reason for not following trends.
Writing is about pursuing your passion. Write about what you're passionate about. Sometimes it's about "what you know." Sometimes it's about what you'd like to learn. The main thing is to follow your passion.
In that way, your writing will necessarily express that part of you that's unique. The part of you that can only come from you. The thing that people in the business call your "voice."
Your voice will be what sets you apart from the pack. And it springs from your passion.
After all, if you can't write something you really care about, why go through all this, anyway?
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Thanks for reading, everyone! Don't forget to leave a comment with your email address if you'd like to enter the drawing for the 10 autographed copies of IDENTITY CRISIS I'm giving away. (One entry per person, but comment as often as you like.)
The drawing will be held on my blog My Life on the Mid-List after the tour is finished. Check my blog for the entire tour schedule.
And please join me at my next stop tomorrow: Fiction for Dessert
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Debbi Mack is the author of IDENTITY CRISIS, a hardboiled mystery and the first in a series featuring lawyer Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae. She's also a short story writer whose ebook anthology, FIVE UNEASY PIECES, includes the Derringer-nominated "The Right to Remain Silent," originally published in The Back Alley Webzine. Debbi's work has also appeared in two of the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES anthologies.
Be on the lookout for her next Sam McRae novel, LEAST WANTED, which will be published soon (in print and ebook versions).
Debbi practiced law for nine years before becoming a freelance writer/researcher and fiction author. She's also worked as a news wire reporter covering the legal beat in Washington, D.C. and as a reference librarian at the Federal Trade Commission. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three cats.