I’m often asked this during school visits and by aspiring writers. The answer is surprisingly straightforward.
1. Read (a lot)
2. Write (a lot)
There is no magic. It boils down to hard work. No one can teach you how to write a book. You learn by doing.
Author Brian Doyle (The Plover) sums it up nicely. He says, “If you wish to be a writer, write. There are people who talk about writing and then there are people who sit down and type. Writing is fast typing. Also, you must read like you are starving for ink. Read widely. Read everything… ”
He adds, “A piece is not finished until it is off your desk and onto an editor’s desk. Write hard and then edit yourself hard. Look carefully at your verbs to see if they can be energized… You do not need a sabbatical or a grant to write a book. Write a little bit every day. You will be surprised how deep the muck gets at the end of the year, but at that point you can cut out the dull parts, elevate your verbs…find the right title, and send it off to be published.”
I might add one more thing to Doyle’s wisdom…
3. Get feedback.
A writing critique group (or partner) is critical to help you find those dull parts. This shouldn’t be your romantic partner or best friend, they will spare your feelings and tell you that your work is brilliant. It’s not. Every writer needs constructive feedback and editing.
Writing classes can’t teach you how to write your book, but they can get you warmed up through the use of writing exercises and assignments so sign up for one if you can’t get started.
No two writers approach their work in the same manner. There is no right or wrong way. Some outline in detail. Some revise as they’re going along. Some just sit and write madly until the first draft is complete, and then go back and revise.
Whichever approach works for you, just do it. Turn off the TV. Unplug (or set to vibrate) the phone, and put your fingers on the keys.
Oh, one more thing. Please invite me to the launch party.
Cartoon credit: Calvin and Hobbes