You’ve decided you want to be a writer. Okay. So…now what? – Part One

I have been writing—actively writing complete books—since the age of twelve.

Creating stories has always been who I am from as far back as I can remember, even before I knew the written word, I would commit them to paper using pictures.

But I didn’t know, really know that this was who I was and what I was meant to do with my life, until grade five and I was asked to put together a five chapter “novel” for a school assignment.

Then it clicked. And I’ve never looked back or wavered from that moment.

Now, here I am at twenty-eight and I’d made the very real decision a couple of years ago that this wasn’t just going to be something I did for me, but something I did, period.

I was going to get published.

And as I’ve made various steps and missteps, I am astounded by how many people I meet who say they’d love to write a book, or have always wanted to, but just didn’t know where to start.

Admittedly, neither did I, but that never stopped me from writing. Each book, each character, each plot and scene developed me into the writer I feel I am now becoming. I suppose I was lucky to make this connection so young, and to have the sort of overactive imagination that just compelled me to do something about it, but what about those who don’t?

Here are my thoughts:

First step? Write.

Doesn’t matter what about, just write. And write often. I try to do a little bit every day, not because I feel I must but because there’s always something in me to write about.

Presently, I am in varying stages of writing twelve—yes twelve—novels, all interconnected. If one isn’t calling to me, I move on to the one that is, and if none of them are, I’ll go through and read/rewrite and tweak scenes that are rough as sandpaper.

Write. Even if you’re not sure what you’re saying, or where the story is going.

Write!

And don’t stop.

Second, read.

A writer who doesn’t read is like an architect who’s never been in a building. It’s insane. And you’d be astounded that many of these people I’ve met who claim to aspire to write NEVER read. Ever.

If you don’t read, and I mean voraciously, you can just forget about having the faintest foggy f@ck about how to write. Not only is it impractical, it’s insulting to those who actually take their craft seriously.

Third, it takes a village to raise a baby, and community to shape a writer.

One thing I wish I had discovered sooner was that there was a whole world devoted to writing!

Here in Toronto there are so many writing groups, communities and chapters that you can join! And through these chapters you meet other writers, some who are just taking off on their path and others who are published dozen of times over.

You could even rub shoulders and find writers who share your genre or creative mindset that can act as a BETA reader (someone to read your book with the purposes of proofreading and providing suggestions on story development, etc.)

As I’d said above, I knew at 12 I wanted to write, but didn’t know the first thing about ‘how’ to write. And in High school there was a creative writing classes open to OAC students, which I’d begged every single year to join. I was denied over and over again because I wasn’t ‘old’ enough, only to have the class canceled when I was heading into grade 12. After that, I thought that was it. Not realizing – which I am embarrassed slightly to admit now – that there were so many options out there! I didn’t even realize you could take creative writing in university.

Draw upon these resources and USE them to learn, grow and hone your skills. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you find yourself spinning in a right-handed circle wondering which way is ‘left’.

Four, put yourself out there.

How? Conferences, contests and courses are opportunities for tremendous growth and inspiration.

My first conference I’d attended was almost five years ago (Ontario Writers’ Conference) and it was the best decision I’d ever made. I couldn’t believe the caliber of writers I had the fortune to meet, the workshops that opened my mind and helped break many of my bad habits. I left that full day conference with my mind humming in a way that it hadn’t in years and it helped reaffirm that writing wasn’t just my passion, but my vocation.

This year I submitted one of my manuscripts to three separate writing contests (that I learned about through my writing group Toronto Romance Writers). Now, these weren’t my first time entering into a contest, but what was unique about these ones is that instead of a standard rejection, I would have all judges score sheets (many of whom boast some pretty impressive credentials) and comments returned to me. This provided so much needed and valuable insight into my WIP, and gave me objective feedback as far as whether or not I had what it takes to be a successful writer, because lets face it, our family and friends will think anything we write is awesome.

Courses: I knew editing my own work was always an area of weakness for me. Writing? Sure. No problem. But going back to trying to weed through for mistakes? Uh… So this is where courses are invaluable. My first creative writing class had us do a series of pieces that were not allowed to exceed 500 words. Not 505, not even 501 was allowed. 500. Period. For the first time in my life I had to adhere to a word count. And 500 isn’t a whole heck of a lot. It forced me to examine every AND, IF, BUT and everything in between to determine was it important? Necessary? Vital? Could I say the exact same thing without it? I cannot tell you how much that class changed me as well as the way I write. And that was just ONE.

Five, tools of the trade.

This would be a rather extensive list to cover, so I’ll keep to my ‘Can’t-live-without’s:

Computer/Laptop – I think this one is pretty self-explanatory and I am sure almost everyone these days has their own personal computer, but if you don’t and you plan on writing – then I suggest you get on it. Pen and paper writing is a one-way ticket to Carpal tunnel city. As is a computer, so also look into an ergonomic keyboard while you’re at it. Game changer.

Keep a hand written journal/notebook or (for the more tech savvy) file away a bunch of draft emails/ word docs filled with your story thoughts, notes and ideas. Or do both (as I do). Doesn’t matter which you choose or whatever combination there of, so long as you have something on hand for when inspiration strikes. Don’t let those stray wisps of creative genius slip away because I guarantee, if you save it for later you WILL forget.

Google Drive, or iCloud – invest in online storage to back up your stuff because just as you’re pages away from completing a work of sheer brilliance is when your computer is going to take a trip to Never Never Land and die. And while you’re at it, toss in an extra copy stored on a USB key. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared or overly cautious, it does, however, hurt to see everything you’ve slaved over for days, weeks or months, disappear behind a blue screen with running code or a ‘sad MAC’ face, never to be seen or heard from again.

Take it from someone how had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Have your eyes started to glaze over yet? Are they spinning inside your head with anxiety? Well, strap in, buttercup, because we’re just getting started.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

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