Hi. My name’s Tony, and I’m a failed writer.
I have a confession to make: I used to want to be a writer. Actually, I still want to be a writer. There are plenty of reasons why I’m not getting paid to do what I love right now, but I’m taking steps to get myself back on track.
This is not a twelve-step program or anything, but I do have a list of suggestions for you, if you’re a former fiction writer, poet, or essayist who wants to get back on track. This list will even work if you’re just getting started. Here it is:
- Set a goal. This is your reason for writing. Do you want to get published? Do you want your work to appear on a specific blog or magazine? Do you want to write a bestseller? Figure out what you’re trying to do, and then research the best way to accomplish it.
- Get into a routine. Set aside a time and a place to write. Sometimes a word count goal helps, too. (I’m learning this from Camp NaNoWriMo.) If you make writing a habit, your spouse/children/roommate/friends will be more likely to catch on to your writing schedule, and they will know when to leave you alone, thus reducing distractions. They may even help hold you accountable: “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be writing now?” When you make your routine, it had better include writing every day!
- Have a plan for your work. I’m learning this the hard way right now. I had a poorly developed outline for my novel, and when I get done with it, I’m going to have to rewrite a lot of parts because I did not set up for events that needed to happen later. I’m not saying you need to have a fully comprehensive outline and an extensive bio for each character, but you should know your story and know your world as fully as possible before you start because it will save you a lot of work in the long run.
- Edit your work. When you finish your work, you will want to put it aside for long enough to get it out of your mind. That way, when you come back to it, you can approach with an editorial mind. You should fix grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Read critically to see if your story has plot holes and logic problems, if there are scenes that need to be rewritten, scenes that need to be removed, and parts that could be improved. Don’t hesitate to cut everything that is unnecessary, and if you can say something in fewer words, rewrite it with fewer words.
- Read a lot. You can’t expect to produce a product that you don’t know, so read to be familiar with literature. Don’t just read whatever kitsch falls into your lap, either. What you read will influence your style, so read the things that you wish you had written.
- Find a mentor. This doesn’t just apply to writing; this applies to every endeavor. Before you even started, someone broke the ground. You may be able to dig even deeper, but not getting advice from experts will often lead you to painfully reinvent the wheel. Social media and blogs are great places to find experienced writers who can answer your questions and provide support and encouragement. Also, many writers have written books about writing. See if your favorite author has any advice floating around out there.
- Learn the business. This is one that I overlooked in my college days. Networking and marketing are vital skills for any writer. Even if you’re not planning to self-publish, you still need to get the attention of that agent or publisher who will handle the rest of the business for you. Protocols exist, and it helps to learn them and to make friends or build rapport with people who can help you succeed.
- Figure out what works for you. Nobody can tell you the right way to write; you have to figure it out for yourself. Some writers carry a notebook to record their good ideas and inspirations, while others prefer to rely on their memory to filter good ideas from the bad. Some writers start at the beginning of their story and work to the end. Others write the climax first. Find what brings you success and stick with it.