News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Want To Write A Book--How Do I Begin?

     I belong to several social media groups along with published authors and those waiting to publish. The conversation, all on the Internet, very often turns to questions like: How do I start? In the case of the more optimistic it will be, I'm almost finished with my book so how do I find a publisher, or an agent?
     Understand, I'm on the writer's side. I think everyone should be writing something to keep their mind sharp and stir the adrenaline. We are losing our ability to speak. Live conversation is almost a lost art. Cellphone gibberish is the rule of the day, and the only way you learn to talk is to read and write; otherwise the words won't be there when you need them, and you do need them--to explain your problems to tech support or your doctor, to straighten out your cable bill, to convince your boss you're a budding genius. If you don't think the right words are important, read my blog on the last election.
      Learning how to write a book is a lengthy and sometimes painful experience, but if you do it in the company of a writer's critique group, you will learn how to say the words. It won't happen overnight.
     So what makes me think I can offer advice? Well, I've been at this for fifteen years, attending a writer's critique group once a week, ten months of the year. My mentors taught me to write. I sold my first novel, a Western romance, Maddie's Choice, this year after fifteen years of trying and five completed novels. That is par for the course. You will probably write five books before you sell one. There are cases of instant success, but I'll bet those authors, up until they took pen to paper, led interesting lives full of conversation and varied experience, so it was stored in their brain, ready to come out.
     My first rule. Find a writer's group in your area which meets often, where you will be reading several pages of what you have just written. You will listen to the experienced writers tell you what's wrong and you will make notes and change your manuscript. That is how you learn. There are a bunch of books you can read, but nothing works like a published author telling you what's wrong.
      Pay attention. You will have to learn 'point of view,' and 'sense of place.' Those are what happens when you start a chapter or introduce a character, and they are not negotiable. You will learn that some words, like 'as,' or 'seem,' and probably 'just,' are not used. No more than three 'was' words a page. Do not use the same verb twice on a page. If she looked at him once, the second time she'll glance.  Watch out for sentences that start with noun/verb. Two or three to a page.  This might sound a little nit-picky, but it identifies the novice to an editor instantly. Above all, you will hear, "show, don't tell," every time you read. It is a matter of craft and you will learn it or never get published.
     Get acquainted with Writer's Digest and Writer's Magazine.
     Rule two. Understand the task before you. There are 250 words to a page, 70,000 to 80,000 words to a novel. Yeah. There has to be a lot of stuff going on to cover that ground. You WILL type your manuscript in 12 point type, double spaced, Times Roman font, one inch margins all around. Since most editors use Microsoft Word, it saves a lot of time if you do, too.
     Finally, when you have a finished product, edited several times to make it perfect, you will start the dreary job of writing the dreaded synopsis and query letter and begin submitting to hundreds of agents and publishers in the hope that somebody out there thinks you might have something of value to say.
     If you get this far you'll run smack into "platforms," and social medias, and blogs and web pages. That's for later. If you find out what you're expected to do once you've managed to write the book, you'll never start.
Good luck, and let me know how you're doing.

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