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What Comes First

Question of the day: I know I have writing in my blood. I can feel it. How can I turn this urge to write into a career? What steps should I follow?  Once I have an idea for a book, what should I do to make it published?  

Lots of "how do I get started" emails in my in-box right now - must be the New Year's resolutions! :)

How do you turn this urge to write into a career? Well, if you're talking about fiction - which I assume you are since you refer to a book - you need to start writing. Full stop. The end. So many people - too many people - believe that they have books in them. Guess how many of them actually take the time to write said books? Unscientific data tells me that it's at about 1%. Thinking that you have a book in you doesn't equate to anything - sitting down and writing it might. 

Which leads me to your next question: how to get it published. If you're writing a novel, you actually have to have written the entire thing before you can even consider this next step. Once you've banged out, oh, 80k-100k words, and revised them, and revised them again, and maybe even revised them AGAIN (yes, I know, really), then you start looking for an agent. There are hundreds of great agents out there who are eager to sell good fiction, and you can start your search at Agent Query, Publishers Marketplace, google or the acknowledgment pages of your favorite books. You need to put together a bang-up query letter (you can search the blog for examples of some), email it out to dozens and dozens until one says yes. That agent will then likely help you revise the manuscript again, and then take it to publishers, one of whom you will also hope will say yes while offering you a check in return.

But getting back to my first paragraph: the most important element in all of this is sitting down and writing. I have a few close non-writer friends who want to write books - and who I think would all likely write very good ones - but they talk a lot about writing them without every writing them. You're never, ever, ever going to be a published author if you don't first write the book. I know that sounds obvious but for a lot of people, I'm actually not sure that is. Write the book. Worry about the rest of it after that. And good luck!!

Reader Comments (8)

I think sometimes we have to decide if we'd be writing the story even if it wasn't going to get published. Is is nagging at the author? Waking her up in the middle of the night? Are the characters taking on lives and personalities of their own? I would be writing even if publication wasn't an option - maybe not as much or with such intensity - but I'd still be doing it. When someone is just starting if they're only doing it to get published - not for love of storytelling, then I think there could be a problem. Just my two cents, of course.

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramy sue nathan

Perfect advice Allison. The other thing I'd suggest is don't feel you have to write alone. Search out a writing class to learn the craft (yes, there is a method to forming a story), make writer friends, get critiques. Look for classes online, at local writing studios, or community colleges, or connect with other writers on Facebook and Twitter. You don't have to do all the hard work alone!

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Katzenberger

I would, in general, agree that if you want to be a writer then you have to write every day. I would add some caveats though (no, caveats are not some obscure French wines)-
1) Just as we grow and, in a way train our brain to converse with someone(hopefully not getting punched in the face), we have to train our brain to write. Writing, like conversation, is a complex biological process. Now, I'm not saying that the inspiration part is but the writing part is and by writing about anything every day helps train your mind in how to write. Heck, write about picking hair out of your ears.
2) Always carry a pocket notepad and pen with you and always listen with all your senses to the world around you. If a word, phrase, character sketch, or scene sketch comes out of this listening then write it down. Maybe it won't go anywhere or maybe it will go in ways you never thought of and that is inspiration + writing. Most of what you write, you would never want to see any sunlight but maybe one or two will stand out and what to be heard.
3) The genre determines how you write. For me, poetry and short stories are the genres I feel most comfortable in and have been published. But also stretch yourself. For example, I have had an unfinished novel in my desk that I keep avoiding even though my editor wants me to finish it so I am working on it. Maybe it will be crap but by leaving our comfort zone, we see the world slightly differently.
4) For me, since I started in the 70's and chose a University Press, I have the luxury of not needing an agent but in today's world, you need one and here you must bring the same hard work and research to bear as your writing. Some agents only deal in certain genres so research.
5) Rejection- This is a part of life in all its glory. You can either curl up in a ball or learn from the experience and look anew at what you wrote. My 1st poem that I wrote was when I was 20 and it was a Sonnet and really really bad. I was cocky and thought I would set the world on fire and then "SLAM" Rejected. Does it hurt/ Sure but we learn and grow and I took that Sonnet and reworked it and submitted again and it was published.
Finally, writing begins with inspiration then goes to writing then, the most important part editing then submission and possible rejection. John Irving once said that, "If I was 27 and publishing my 1st novel, I would shoot myself" Writing springs from an inner desire to express what is inexpressible and that is what makes us continue to write. Good Luck and sorry about the length.

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertscar1

One more piece of advice that I have to remember to take myself regularly: Be prepared to be wrong. About the story, about the length, about the characters. Because if you're too worried about making it perfect, you lose the experimentation and miss out on so many great things you could have done.

I haven't ever completed a novel, because I've set up this idea of "my first and defining book" in my head that I've lost that creative urge before I've even begun. I like the idea of just writing it thinking it will never be published. Then, if it is, great. If not, at least you enjoyed the heck out of yourself while writing it.

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMridu Khullar

I've got to say that the comments are just as good as the post.......Allision, you've got some terrific readers of this blog!

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Agreed! Writing is like fitness - you need to do it consistently to get results. I don't have the fitness thing down yet, but I know I need to set word goals (1,000 a day or more) to get my book written.

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersarah Pekkanen

It's so stinkin' obvious, isn't it?

If you want to be an author then you have to write the book. And that whole writing thing is where it gets hard and not so glamorous and reality starts to seep in.

Thanks for writing this and reminding me that finding an agent and all that jazz should be the last of my worries if I don't even have a manuscript to show anyone.

January 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Tucker

For what it's worth from the greatest unpublished writer of all time, ha ha, the best way to write is to put my bottom on a chair and my fingers on the computer keys! Writing morning pages also really helped me filter the junk though my brain - there's always a lot - and let the good stuff out. It's a great way of kick starting a regular writing habit.
Also, write first, then read all the 'how to write' manuals. Otherwise, if you're anything like me, you'll be so busy LEARNING how to write, you won't have any time to ACTUALLY write.
After 18 months of full time writing(I have loved every minute) and many rejections, I have just recieved a letter saying one of my stories is 'under consideration'. Whatever happens, I couldn't be more excited. So, get writing and send your stuff out there - it'll help you develop a thick skin and objectivity. Good luck!

January 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina Rossi

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