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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How Does A Beginning Writer Get Started?

I am pre-published in fiction, but I’ve progressed a few steps along on the writing life. I still hold a day job that has nothing to do with writing, but it seems my every spare moment not taken up with raising puppy, taking care of household, church and other things is spent on writing my westerns.

In western parlance, you could say there are three levels of writers:

The greenhorns who don’t know the first thing about writing except the basics they learned in grade school;

Those who make a fair hand;

Those who are considered an old hand – experienced, knowledgeable, and wise.

Of course I doubt even writers who are old hands at the craft consider themselves fully knowledgeable – the moment an author figures they already know it all is about the time their writing starts to go south.

Myself? I’m a fair hand but I’ve still got a whole lot left to learn. But one of the things I’ve learned is that I’ve gained enough experience in the hard knocks of the writing life that I can be a mentor or advisor to others. I often come across people in my daily life who have at some point harbored the dream of writing the Great American Novel. But most of those you can write off because it never grows past a mere brief thought – they are not interested in the work it takes to get there.

But once in a while, I will run into someone who is more serious about it. They may not be ready to give up life and limb like the hard core writers, but they’re ready to start digging in and find out just what it takes to write. This is a delicate time for a new writer – a time when they can have the pants scared off of them if they read about too many writing classes or read the glut of books on writing craft.

Writing is very much like tennis in this respect. Tennis requires an extraordinary amount of discipline and physical training and skill and talent. But it is also a largely mental game. Many great tennis players have been naturally endowed with God-given talent, but if they aren’t as mentally tough as they are physically tough, they can mentally defeat themselves and lose matches they should have easily won.

Writing requires discipline, skill and constant training too. But writers can also easily derail themselves, especially new writers.

“A novel is just so daunting,” they might say. “I just don’t know how to get started. How do I piece this huge bucket of ideas together?”

And pretty soon, they start to tell themselves there are too many craft books to know which one they need, the task is too daunting, and maybe they’ll wait a few more years before they think about writing that novel.

Or they’ll delay writing in favor of learning more about the craft:

“I think I should enroll in that writing class first.” Or “I think I’ll read those 50 books on writing I checked out at the library. Then I’ll think about starting my story.”

And the one piece of advice I’ve given new and aspiring writers is this – don’t delay the actual task of writing by hiding behind classes and craft books. I know. I’ve wasted a lot of valuable time in my life hiding behind just those things. Only to find out that all the classes, all the craft texts in the world won’t help me IF I DO NOT SIT DOWN IN MY CHAIR AND WRITE!

I am NOT saying writing classes and books on writing are a bad thing. Far from it! They are valuable supplementary tools. But they cannot take the place of actually plopping yourself in your chair and writing. Your real training doesn’t start until you start writing.

Here we are, halfway through the second month of the year already. Did you make yourself a promise, goal, or resolution to start the Great American Novel this year? Don’t defeat yourself without even getting started. Don’t hem & haw about the best method to learn the craft of writing – you are wasting valuable time. Instead, launch into it. Get your feet wet. Write by trial and error. And pretty soon it will become more clear to you what classes, books, or writing groups you need to help you on your lifelong writing journey.

The time is now. Who knows how God can use the stories you craft to reach others!

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