The curious thing about ‘writing advice’ is how often it applies only to the person who’s giving the advice. I once read an entire book of ‘how to write’ by a well-known, very-published author and at the end it seemed to resolve down to: “Be me! I’m rich and famous, you should totally do that!”
Thanks, very helpful.
Anyway, here are some steps that I’ve found useful, and maybe you will too:
By which I mean write stuff down.
You’ll have ideas. Make a note of them. You might wake up at 3AM with the world’s greatest plot, but you can’t fall for the old lie: “this is so awesome that I’m sure to remember!”
You won’t remember. Get it on paper, tap it into your ‘phone, whatever.
I have a stack of notebooks this high (indicates a pile about the level of a toddler reaching for a shelf he shouldn’t be touching, hey, leave that alone…) and I still do carry around a Moleskine commonplace book in which to record the occasional this and that.
Mostly though I’m using the Evernote app because it’s clear, it’s simple, it’s organised. Plus it gets away from that whole handwriting issue. I don’t know what your handwriting is like when you’re in the full flow of creativity, but mine has been described as “two spiders fighting in a hall of mirrors”. (I turned it into a font. Mistake.)
For anyone similarly afflicted, taking notes on an app removes the danger of returning six weeks later and wondering what some blue-ink squiggles and a line of numbers means.
I mean, get the story written.
If I have a style of working, it’s probably best described as get the story down on paper as quickly as possible. Usually when I say down-on-paper I mean typed-on-a-computer but, once again, whatever works for you.
You can outline, if you need to, or play it by ear, if that’s how you roll.
Stephen King seems to favour throwing a bunch of characters together and then unleashing hell on them with no clear end in sight. That might be where you want to go, it may not.
The great thing is you can do both, neither or either. Mix and match, switch back and forth; whatever you need, when you need it.
Create a highly detailed moment-by-moment for each and every character and plot point… and then skip the rails and run riot when another notion takes you.
Start page one line one with no idea who this character is or why she’s holding that bloody knife… then realise you want to plot every step of that long desperate walk from one side of the city to another.
Up to you. Get from start to finish any way you can, just get it done.
Three: Write (again)
It’s possible your first draft will be the purity of form that makes the angels weep.
But if it isn’t perfection—and maybe even if it is—set it aside for a while. Let it rest. De-spool, re-engage with society and company or whatever it is you do when you’re not chained to the craft… or get back on the horse (not a real horse; unless you have a horse, I guess) and write something else.
Return, at last, to that thing you created earlier.
Give it a once over with fresh eyes. Does it sing and soar and scintillate? Are there lumpy patches to straighten out, ragged edges to smooth? Get to work on that.
You may need advice from disinterested third parties. Family can be helpful, but there are other people who might be prepared to be more honest.
You can find writers’ resources and forums online, or maybe a local group where you can share your work and hone your ability. Take time to learn new tricks and sharpen your skills. All of this is positive stuff.
When you’re willing to offer your work to the wider world, find a suitable target—publisher, agent, market—and send it out, and then loiter by the email inbox bemoaning your fate. This could take a while, so bring a book to read; any book at all, something great so you know what to aim for, something terrible so you think: “I can do better!”
Keep reading, keep writing.
This is, unfortunately, the only real way to get published. Until such times as agents and editors roam the street in feral packs, hoking through bins for suitable manuscripts, you’ll need to do the best you can and then risk it all on the whims of fate by sending it out there to be read.
Easy (and terrifying) as that.