The first thing that you need to know about how to write is this: there is no right way. The good news about that is that it means that there’s also no wrong way to write. If words appear on paper (or a screen), you have written. Good job!
- Anyone can practice writing, all you need to do is sit and write, and read as much as you can in the genre you wish to write.
- A bit of talent required, however. There are “writers” who will never write anything worth reading, there are even those who will never write anything readable. It’s just a fact of life.
It is possible for anyone to become a passingly good writer, even if you have no talent. You may never be a beautiful wordsmith or a poet who weaves tapestries with words, but you can easily become someone who is capable of writing a coherent story, which is all that’s needed to sell in this world. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Twilight series: a series of books that contain fantastic stories but terrible writing, and yet the series became a world-wide phenomenon. The reason is because the stories are accessible. You can have the best story in the world, but if the reader’s can’t relate to something it will never sell.
I know that may sound like a simplified version of the facts, but it’s the truth, plain and simple.
What I can share is my own experience with writing and the way that I do things. I’m going to break it into three parts: get a story, figure out how to write it, write it.
Get a story.
Getting a story is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of writing. The first thing that needs to be made clear is this: getting a story does not mean that you need to develop the entire story-line from beginning to end. All stories, at least the great ones, take on a life of their own during the writing process. Steven King, one of the most popular authors of our time, admits in his forward in many of his Dark Tower novels that he didn’t create the story as much as facilitate the story. He claims that it was as if something else was telling the story and here merely let it flow through him.
I’m not saying that there is some mystical force that tells us stories for us to spread to the world. However, the mind is a very complex machine that surpasses scientific understanding in many ways. If an idea occurs to you, run with it. Try some stream-of-consciousness writing, you may develop a good beginning, middle, or end to a story built around (or even beside) the original idea. The novel that I’m currently working on all started with a simple idea: “What would I do if my fiance died?” I fictionalized the setting and the characters, but kept the core of my response the same. That got the first three pages down. After that I’ve let the story run while I walk along behind and piece together the path as best I can.
Whatever you do, I urge you not to use a detailed outline. They can be helpful, but too much planned detail will stifle and kill a story faster than anything in the world. I know plenty of people who use them, and use them successfully, but they have discovered one key point that goes against everything you learned in school: do not outline every point of the story.
Let’s say you want a character to start off in England and go through Traumatic Event A, then travel to Spain to become a bullfighter while working through his problems, only to find peace in the end. Great, that could be a great story. But do not sit and write down his entire life in Spain in your outline, including where he likes to eat or what theater he goes to. If you need to do research on some of those things, do it as you go. If you start off with an outline that details every single step of the journey, your writing will read like a road map. Now, if you have an outline that simply says “Man’s dad dies, Man goes to Spain, Man struggles, Man becomes bull fighter, Man learns life lesson, Man finds peace/love/happiness” you have the opportunity to surprise yourself with what you use to fill in those blanks.
As far as outlines go, they can be a nice aid, but don’t let them stifle you. If you have one and you feel like your story is getting stale, tear the outline into small pieces, take a break from the story for a couple days, then continue writing using nothing but your imagination to guide you. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the outcome.
Figure out how it wants to be written.
This step may seem kind of odd, but I’m someone who thinks that every story wants to be written in it’s own way. I’m speaking strictly of mechanics here, not style or tense or person or any of that. Mechanics. Word processor, special word processor, typewriter, note-cards, journal, legal pad, etc. Many authors have one form of writing that works best for them. I’m in a weird place in my life right now with a lot of unknowns. I’m starting a new job in a week, getting married in less than 6 months, (hopefully) moving into a new place with my fiance in 6 months, and constantly travelling around the area. That may explain why the way I write changes from story to story. Grand Eagle, the novella that is currently being edited, was written completely in Microsoft Word. The novel that I am currently working on is being written with a pen in a journal.
All that really just to say this: there is no one way to write. Do yourself a favor and experiment, experiment a lot. Don’t just use a word processor just because someone else said that’s how you’re supposed to write. Take your time, try using everything that you can get your hands on. I’ll be writing a series of posts here detailing the pros and cons of each type if writing that I’ve experimented with myself, so check back and read through those if you’re interested, perhaps it will give you a place to start.
The title says it all. Once you’ve figured out where to start with your story and you’ve determined how you want to write it, write it! The biggest tip that I can give you here is that there is, again, no right way to write. If you want to start in the middle and work both ways at once, go ahead. If you want to write linearly from beginning to end (or end to beginning), go for it. There is no one way to get the job done.
A very important part of writing is to ensure that you do not spend every waking moment writing. There are some writers for whom that is their forte, but they are the minority. Set up a specific time of the day when you are going to write and stick to the schedule. If you get an idea in the middle of the day, jot a couple of notes or a section of story on a napkin or an email to yourself and save it for your next scheduled writing time. During your off times, make sure to do something that keeps your creative juices flowing. Go to the mall and people watch, take in a movie, read a book, play a game, spend time with people you like. All of these things will help when you’re writing, I promise.
That’s it, a crash course in the process of writing. Keep in mind that all of these things are how I personally go about the art of writing, and I do not mean any of them to be taken as indisputable facts. What works for me could be horrible for others. Take your time and explore the world of writing.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the why of being a writer. Do not become a writer for the money, there are easier, more consistent ways to get money. Do not become a writer for the fame, very few writers achieve broad fame. Do not become a writer because you want to write the next great novel, you will get discouraged too easily. Become a writer for one reason and one reason only: because you must. Because stories run through you and you are hopeless to do anything but share them. If you absolutely need to write, just cannot help it, then welcome to the club.
If you have other tips for writers or a response to any of the ideas I’ve put forth here, please put them in the comments. I’d love to hear how you write!