March 23, 2013

Just Do It

Every so often I get a request from someone saying they want to write a book but don't know how to get started.  I've developed a stock answer...I refer them here to my blog, specifically posts labeled "Writing" and "Indie Publishing," but I admit, I'm a little bit baffled by the question.

Thirty-five years ago, when I decided I wanted to be a novelist, I just...started writing.  I sat down at my typewriter (again, this was in the late 1970s) and got busy, because it was what I wanted to do.  Some people collect stamps.  I wrote.  It fed my creativity.  I wrote one manuscript after another.  When I decided to start submitting my work, I went to the library and looked at the Writer's Market to see who might be interested.  In those days popular African-American fiction just didn't exist--publishers weren't interested in books with black characters unless they were written in literary style.  Still, I tried, and the rejections piled up (in hindsight, I must admit that my early work wasn't much good).  When I felt discouraged, I went back to the library and looked up short story markets.  I wrote some more and started submitting.  I still got rejections...but also a few acceptances from publications with limited audiences (none of which is likely to still be in existence today), and later, the confession magazines.

On the novel front, as everyone knows, eventually Terry McMillan broke through that brick wall, and publishers realized they'd been neglecting a huge market.  That, of course, led to an explosion of African-American novelists by the last years of the 20th Century.  By ten years into the 21st Century, things started to change.  Indie publishing took off, and suddenly it became possible to make it big without the backing of a publishing house.

I started pursuing writing back in the days before the Internet.  My first instinct was to just sit down and write, and when it came time to do something with what I'd created, it was relatively easy to find that information (good thing, too, because at that time there were no authors to email...there wasn't even email).

Today, there is such an influx of readily available information (simply Googling "how to get started in novel writing," brings up a multitude of articles), that I have to question the sincerity and/or motives of those who choose to skip this rather obvious step in favor of looking up writers' (I always suspected these requests are made in aggregate) email addresses to inquire how to get started.  These requests are often littered with spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, which suggest to me that the inquiry might be coming from a storyteller, not a writer.  Successful novel writing only happens when both skills are in play.  To write, you obviously must have a story to tell.  You have to have a passion for writing, to the point where you can't wait to get your words on paper, where you think about it frequently and can't wait to get back to it and work on it some more.  No one should have to ask anyone else how to write a story, and it's no wonder that I'm so puzzled when people do.  I wish I knew how many of the people who have asked me for information over the years have actually written anything...vs. having an idea for a compelling story they have either completed or are close to it.

Something tells me the former is the more frequent scenario...and that same something tells me it's all related to what I said a few paragraphs ago:  That it's now possible to make money writing fiction without the backing of a publisher.  Think about it.  Would people interested in other creative arts go to Paul McCartney's website to ask how to get started in composing, or to Denzel's (no last name needed) to inquire about how to get started in acting (sorry, couldn't think of any artists who aren't already dead.)?  No.  They'd tinker around at the piano or on the guitar, audition for community theater, pick up that paintbrush or charcoal and a blank canvas.  The same way a writer writes.

Okay, so I'm on an uneven plane here; the artists I named are at the top of their respective fields and have been for years (especially Paul), while I am far from it.  But I wouldn't be surprised if top-selling novelists like Stephen King or Nora Roberts get these types of requests all the time.

I can't emphasize this enough:  Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  It takes hard work and dedication, perseverance...and most of all, material that people will want to read.  That material has to be completed before anything else can happen.  So my real answer to the question of how to get started  in writing:

Just do it.