Sunday, September 2, 2018

I am (or want to be) a writer; can you please tell me…

These are questions frequently asked — or rather, concerns frequently raised— by kids who want to write, and adults who want to write, and kids and adults who are already writing, or have already written.

I'm trying to write a book, but it's not coming out anything like I planned.

Yes, that's normal. They never come out anything like we plan. That's part of the excitement. When J.R.R. Tolkien was writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he sometimes read bits of it aloud to his friends. (One of his friends was C.S. Lewis, who was writing the Narnia books.) And if his friends asked him a question about the characters or the story, he'd say "I don't know, but I'll find out."

He didn't say he'd think about it, he said he'd find out. You see the difference there? We don't invent our stories as we write. We discover them.

I start out and write a couple chapters and then I get stuck.

Me too. Every writer has to find out his or her own way around the Stuck Point. (For me, there's a second Stuck Point around 30,000 words into each book.) I made a list of things that help me get past the Stuck Point. It's posted here.

One way to reduce the number of Stuck Points is to do lots of planning. I've posted about that here, here and here.

I find it easier to write girl characters than boy characters (or vice versa).

Nearly every writer finds one gender easier to write than another. One solution is to leave the "difficult" gender out of your story entirely (looking at you, Mr. Tolkien!) but that can get a bit boring. A more practical solution is to think of your character as a person first and forget all about his or her gender. Then later, when you show your writing to your critique group or critique partner, they'll tell you whether the character works or not.

I want to have a book published by the time I'm 14 (or 20, or 30, or 65). How can I make sure that that happens?

Well, you can't make sure it happens, really. You can only write the best book you possibly can. After that, it's up to the publishers whether they want to publish it. And they're very picky. So focus on the things you can control: the writing and revising. If you write something you like, that's success. Don't stake your happiness on something that's out of your control (i.e. whether or not a publisher wants to publish your book).

What about self-publishing?

I don't know much about it. It's emerging as a separate field; there are certain skills needed to succeed in it and I can't really tell you how it all works.

Be aware of two things. One is that there are some scams out there.

The other is that while there are self-published authors who are doing well and making a living, they are all writing for adults. So if you want to write for children, take that into consideration. 

Two links for more information:

I want to be a writer. What should I do? 


And read. 

There’s a saying that you have to write a million words before you’re ready to be published. And it’s true. So get started now. Write a lot. It may take a while before you actually finish anything, but if you keep at it, eventually you will. Read your work aloud, to yourself if you can’t find anyone else. Listen to the words and sentences. Develop an ear for what sounds right.

If you have friends or siblings or cousins who are interested in writing, share your stories with each other. You don’t have to talk about each other’s writing, but if you decide to do so, be very tactful. Telling someone you don’t like their writing is like telling them you don’t like their nose. 

So learn to say tactful things like “I really like the way these two characters talk to each other. Maybe you should put it after the sword fight, so that we’re not distracted.” (Instead of blunt things like “This is dumb. Nobody would stop in the middle of a sword fight to have a conversation.”)

Read a lot of books, especially books that you like. Figure out what makes you want to keep reading in a story. What makes you like or dislike a character? What does the author do to keep you turning pages and to make you care about the people in the story? How can you do these things in your own writing?

Read poetry aloud. This will help you learn rhythm and cadence, which is important in fiction too. If you can’t stand poetry, read the archy & mehitabel books by Don Marquis.

One other thing. Plan on being something else as well. Just being a writer isn’t enough. See next question.

Are you rich? How rich do authors get?

This is one of the most FAQs I get from kids, who are clearly more practical than adults. Usually an adult shushes the asker before I can answer. Very properly; it’s not a polite question. But I’m going to be impolite and answer it, because I know some kids reading here want to be writers. And those kids should know the Awful Truth.

Hardly any authors are rich. J.K. Rowling is rich. (I love her books, don’t you?) Rick Riordan is probably rich. Hm, maybe only authors who start with R are rich. This year, I’m middle class, and I'm just hoping to stay that way next year.

It took me many, many years to become a middle class writer. During some of those years, I was a middle class teacher. During others of those years, I was a flat broke writer. Being flat broke is a common affliction of writers.

No writer makes enough to live on when they first start out. It takes years.

So if you’re going to be a writer, you absolutely need a Plan B. Plan B will actually be Plan A. It will be how you make a living until the writing starts to pay. It might be 5 years, it might be 20, it might be 50. It’s completely unpredictable.

My Plan B was becoming an ESL teacher; which was a job I loved. Make your Plan B, and follow through on it. Get educated for a good job where you can be happy, do some good, and make a living. Writers need to eat before they can write.

And then once you have that Plan B job, don’t forget to keep writing.

I've written a story. Will you read it and tell me if it's good enough?

I'm very sorry to say that I do not have time to do this. Occasionally authors (including me) will sell a manuscript critique as part of a charity auction. These tend to go for several hundred dollars (all for the charity!) so this is something you might save up for, but meanwhile a critique group is a much better (and cheaper) way to grow as a writer.

How do you find a critique group? Often they meet at public libraries. Ask the librarian— it's likely to be called a Writers' Group. There are some critique groups online. If you write for children, you may be able to find a critique group through SCBWI.

Or you can start your own group.

No comments:

Post a Comment