So you’ve had aspirations to write a novel since college, but the flow of life took you down a career path where your dream of writing had no place in your busy career.
Now, after years of climbing that virtual ladder of success, you experience one of two things: 1) you’ve decided you don’t want to climb any higher on the ladder because you have no desire to reach for that next rung, or 2) you’ve realized you’re climbing the wrong ladder.
Either way, you wonder if you can actually pull it off. Sure, you wrote all of those short stories in school and worked as a beat reporter for the college newspaper or editor for the literary magazine, but that edge has dulled due to inactivity over the years.
The first hurdle is, how do I “sharpen the blade” to gain confidence in writing a full length novel?
Second, how can I organize my idea for an interesting story into a coherent plot with engaging characters?
And third, how should I go about spreading the word about my book to the world?
The answer to all of these questions begins with putting yourself out there amidst a community of writers of varying accomplishments.
For purposes of this post, I’ll focus on question number one.
You start by dusting off those dormant and/or atrophied writing skills.
But even before you do that: read. Read books by well-respected and best-selling authors on subjects and in genres that excite you. For me, is was international espionage thrillers and epic fantasies like A Song of Ice and Fire. You will begin to rekindle those old writing skills and develop new ones by osmosis. After you finish each book, read it again, but this time read it “actively”. Pay attention to how each author builds their plot, develops their characters and describes the world they have imagined as the backdrop for the story. When something in the story happens that affects you emotionally, take note of it. This includes memorable descriptive language, important revelations, action scenes and engaging dialogue. Through the process of active reading, you will learn to recognize the methods good authors use to write their stories.
Don’t be afraid to emulate them. All those authors, famous or otherwise, do it. The differences are two-fold. First they learned to add their own spin on the same story. Second, they have a well-oiled marketing platform in place that can spread the word about their latest books that new authors simply do not have.
Your mindset should be: “I loved what author ‘X’ did, but I can write it even better!” Don’t psyche yourself out into believing that all the great stories have been written already. This is the opportunity to infuse your own life experiences into your writing that will make your story unique—which is precisely what you want. Story tropes, or as I like to say–story-length clichés–are something you should feel okay about copying.
The next step is to become part of as many writer communities as you have time for. You do not need to enter these communities with manuscripts in hand. The point is to develop relationships, whether they be in person or online, so that you become a familiar presence. For me, it was nanowrimo.org that supports both.
These online communities are wonderful because they are filled with supportive participants who answer a broad range of writing questions about grammar, character and plotting. When you feel comfortable, reply to particular questions.
Many writer’s websites such as wattpad.com ask for online critiques, that everyone should learn to provide. Don’t think that just because you haven’t written anything yet, you can’t reply with a helpful critique. As long as you can read, your opinion is valuable. Just remember to be diplomatic in these forums because someday, you will want someone to critique your writing.
As for live workshops, different groups work in different ways. There are also different levels of writer development in each one’s group members. On the informal end, there are groups of friends who get together to read each other’s works whenever they feel like meeting. Others set weekly meetings made up of seasoned published authors. Most are somewhere in between. For example, a published author’s group will require that you have published a book with a name publisher. Some schedule one author per session where participants are emailed the featured writer’s chapter before critiquing it at the meeting. Others require each participant read a chapter out loud during the meeting. And so on. As your local librarian about workshops in your local community. Join several to find out which ones feel most comfortable to you.
By joining supporting communities, you will have created a foundation for your own social media platform—and you haven’t even started writing!