Monday, 25 June 2012

Guest Post with Becca Puglisi: Tips for Fledgling Writers

Today I have a special post for you writerly readers. Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse has been kind enough to drop by end give all of you some tips for any beginner writers!

5 Tips for Fledgling Writers

When I think back to my first days as a writer, it’s with a mixture of nostalgia and horror. I remember the excitement, that overflowing feeling of creativity and confidence when I realized that I wanted to be a writer. But it was confusing, too. Was I really going to try and write a book? A whole book?? Yikes.

But you have to face your fears, right? So I jumped into that first story like a lunatic. Wrote it, looked it over once, then started sending it to publishers. Oh yes I did. No feedback, no real revision—I’d decided to become an author and that’s what I would be. Immediately.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things since 2004, things that might I hope might help today’s newbies avoid some of the mistakes I made.

1.  Join a Critique Group. This advice has been given ad nauseum, but only because it’s so true. No one is objective when it comes to their own work. In order to see it clearly from a reader’s perspective, you have to share it with others. Most major writing organizations (like the SCBWI, for example) have critique group coordinators who put these groups together around the world, and you don’t usually have to be a member to join one. Many local libraries host writing groups and can let you know when they meet. And there are also innumerable online groups like Critique Circle and Critters that you could join. It doesn’t really matter where you plug in; just join one, start sharing, and keep an open mind. In my opinion, this is the single most important thing you can do to improve as a writer.
2.  Adopt a Long-haul Perspective. I’ve heard that, on average, it takes ten years to get published. This is an awful thing to say to beginners; it’s an estimate and may or may not take you quite that long. The truth of this statement is that it takes a long time to hone your craft to publishable quality. You have to write a lot to master consistent voice and character arcs and subtext and cohesive story lines. If you go into this writing gig knowing that you’re in it for the long haul, it’s easier to be patient. Better yet, while publication may (or may not) be your end goal, it’s beneficial to set smaller, more achievable goals along the way. For more information on this, check out Luke Reynold’s excellent post on Redefining Success.
3.  Focus on One Problem at a Time. Writing can be daunting when you first start out, because it seems like everything needs work. Make the job of improving your writing manageable by focusing on one problem area at a time. Read craft books on the subject. Ask your critique partners for help with that particular issue. Look for examples in books you’re reading where the author has done it right. When you feel like you can’t possibly soak up another tip on the subject, move on to something else. That cliché about eating an elephant a bite at a time has been quoted to death, but like most clichés, it contains a kernel of truth.
4.  Read, Read, Read. If joining a crit group is the the most important thing you can do to improve as a writer, reading is a close second. A writer who doesn’t read is like a football player who never watches a game, or a singer who doesn’t listen to music. You can only improve as a writer by seeing how writing is done well. See what ideas authors are coming up with and how they’re executed. Know what’s out there so you don’t reinvent the wheel. Be inspired. Store up ideas and characters and phrases so when it’s time for you to write, the things you’ve read pour out of you in a gloriously unique mix to create something new.
5.  Make Writing a Priority. When we first start out, we don’t know exactly what we’re doing or hope to accomplish. Is this a career? A hobby? A pipe dream? The only way to find out is to write. Set realistic goals for yourself: each day, you will write for twenty minutes, or finish two pages, or complete one writing exercise. Whatever your goal, make it reasonable, make it daily, and revisit it often to adjust if necessary. You may not know just what you want to do with this gift (inclination? desire? curse?), but given enough time, you’ll figure it out. Best of luck!

Recommended Books for Fledgling Writers:
The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne and King
Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, David Gerold

Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords, and the PDF can be purchased directly from her blog.

Quote of the Day: Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. - E.L. Doctorow