Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh, the Books That You'll Write - Step One

This article was updated on September 5, 2016.

Writing, It's the ultimate dream, right? (Okay, maybe not as ultimate as being a rock star or a famous athlete or owning your own island, but for some of us, the thought of being a writer is

Still, it's scary, too. Maybe just thinking about sitting down at a computer, staring at an empty screen and wondering how to type the first word (let alone finishing a masterpiece) makes you want to curl into a fetal ball and suck your thumb.

Hey, not to worry. I've been there. Sometimes, even after many, many years and many, many books, I'm still there. It's okay. Because if the thought of sitting down to begin your first book makes your palm sweat at the same time that it fills you with yearning, don't worry. That's perfectly normal, and in my opinion, it's exactly the right feeling for the occasion. You're about to do something millions of people would like--no, would love--to do. This is a big day and a big deal and it will change your life.

Still, we're going to start slowly. Today, we're just putting our toes into the water. So here, based on my own path to becoming a multi-published author who has never been out of print for the past 17 years, here are some of the first steps you can take. Here are some keys to crossing the busy road, getting to the next step and becoming a person who has written a book as opposed to a person who merely would like to have written a book are these:

Step 1. Be a reader. I know life is busy, but if you don't read, you won't know what it is that people want to read. You won't know what it is about winning books that grab readers by the throat and capture their attention. Consider it necessary research. To do your writing job, you need to read. A lot. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it. If not...why on earth do you want to be a writer? Just take my word for it. This is a step you cannot skip. Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Make it fun. Choose things you like because that's most likely what you'll end up writing (we'll get to that later).

Step 2. Now that you've read to see what people are buying, read one more thing. Pick up something inspiring from people who are published and successful outside of the "How to Write" business, but who have also published books about the writing experience. Some of my favorites (and there are many others) are written by:

Lawrence Block, an acclaimed crime and short story writer who also wrote a column for
Writer's Digest for 20 years. Great books for writers. (Go to his Books link).

Anne Lamott, who writes great fiction and non-fiction. Try Bird by Bird: Some Instructions
on Writing and Life

Step 3. This is a fun step. Get involved with other writers, especially a group that has a mix of published and aspiring writers. It's all right to hide in your cave and slave away anonymously. You don't have to tell the world that you intend to be a writer (in fact, I recommend that you don't. There's nothing worse than having well-meaning people asking you how the book is going, especially if the book isn't going well. Who needs that kind of pressure)? A writer's group, however is something different. These are people who know your pain. They understand your fears, and they often know things about the business that you don't know. They'll share their firsthand experiences with you, and that kind of support is invaluable. You don't have to go there, but I would recommend that you at least give it a try. To find other writers, check local libraries for groups or contact any of these to see if they have nearby local chapters:

Romance Writers of America
Mystery Writers of America
Sisters in Crime
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
There is an organization for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. However, I believe you must already be published (someone please correct me if I'm wrong on that). If Sci Fi or Fantasy is your area, you may want to get involved with one of the groups listed above if there is overlap.

Step 4. Attend a writers' conference and prepare to be wowed and amazed. This is what I did before I even knew that there were writers' organizations in my area, and it was a life-changing and exhilarating experience. If you are a member of one of the groups listed above, you will already have access to many conferences. If not, check out the listings here or find groups via your local library or via

Shaw Guides to Writers' Conferences and Workshops
(Note: the above will also connect you with many writers' groups)

Of course, for those who wish to indie publish or who wish to be a hybrid of part traditional publishing and part indie publishing, there are many avenues to meet with other authors following the same path (groups on Facebook, Yahoo groups and, of course, the boards on Amazon).

Step 5. Decide what you want to write. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's a difficult decision for many people. I flailed around for a long time, writing poetry, short stories, greeting card verse. Any writing is good for you and those are all fine areas, I even sold a little of my poetry and a fair amount of greeting card verse, but they're not what I write today, because they weren't a best fit for me. So, if you're still deciding what to write, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I like to read?
What would I feel comfortable writing? (for example, a mystery or crime writer might be called upon to write some violent scenes; many romances require love scenes; science fiction requires a grasp of yes, science). This is where all that step 1 stuff comes in. By now, you already know what is required of different genres. Use that information to guide you in making your decision.
Does my writing fit into a niche and is there a demand for it? That's not to say that you shouldn't write what you wish to write, but if you also want to be published, it's good to know if there is a market for your material. Publishers want to be able to classify their books. Booksellers want to know what shelf a book belongs on, and they prefer it to be readily apparent. So, if you choose to cross genres, at least make sure that you're going in with your eyes open.

Step 6. Begin to dip your toes into the water. Take a few minutes of each day (or at least several days a week) and write something, even if it's just a single paragraph. Even if it's not what you eventually intend to publish. Get in the habit of being at your work. Make time for this. Make it a habit. Become comfortable with the empty screen.

All right now, you've loosened up. You've set the framework. You're writing. You're moving. You're...not screaming.

It seems that Elvis has left the building. He's gone home, is sitting at his computer and he's ready to write a book.

Oh, and so are you.

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