So you want to be a published author?
These past few months, I went to a few aspiring author workshops at my local library and historical center. Two brilliant writers with endless wisdom, Cinda Williams Chima and Vivien Chien, were there to discuss tips and tricks.
Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned through the years, heard on podcasts, and gleaned from these powerful workshops.
Read and Write
Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.
First off, reading is a wonderful tool, especially when you read for the purpose of studying another author’s work. What’s important is that you look at how they tell a story. Study the details about what makes the work special. Of course, I’m not saying that you should copy other people’s stories. Instead, find your own voice, but definitely draw inspiration from the works by wielding your pen and mirroring the author’s way with worldbuilding or sentence structure. You should also consider studying how the author handles conflict or character development.
Which leads me to the second part of this point…
Write. Write. And write some more.
I know that sounds like it’s self-explanatory, but sometimes life gets in the way and writing is set on the back burner. Sometimes we don’t feel like writing, whether because of the pressure to be “good enough” or because we instead would rather live in our imaginations and dream about our novel’s world instead of putting it down on paper and giving it life.
It’s fine to do either, except when you want to make a career out of it. If you have a dream to professionally write, then you should be writing. The only way to learn from your mistakes is to actually make them. Get that story down, even if it’s total crap at first.
Reading and writing go hand and hand, and though that sounds simple enough, it’s the most fundamental of all these tips. Keep reading. Keep writing.
Write What You Know (In Other Words, What You Love)
You’ve probably heard this a thousand and one times, but I’m going to say it once more and I’m going to say it in a slightly different way. Sure, “write what you know.” But, when I say this, I don’t mean that you should only write what you’ve experienced. That would be utterly ridiculous. If we all did that, we wouldn’t have world-shattering sci-fi or unbelievably beautiful fantasy novels. So instead, I want you to write what you love. Something that makes that tiny flame in your heart dance with joy and burst until it’s a full-fledged wildfire.
Again, that sounds like common sense, but it’s not. I’ve heard a few people say that instead of writing what they want to write, they tailor their novels to the market. Don’t do that. You aren’t in this for the money, trust me. Instead, you should be in this for the passion.
I’ve heard many authors say similar things, such as the lovely and talented Cinda Williams Chima. She stressed the fact that you should write what you love and what makes you happy. She also mentioned to worldbuild and research but don’t get absorbed in the process. Just keep writing. Cinda had such a wealth of information and was extremely encouraging to all those aspiring to become professional writers. You should definitely check out her website and/or Twitter and attend her workshops, if possible.
Not only should you observe other people’s writing, you should observe other people. Now I know that sounds completely ludicrous, but you learn quite a bit about body language that way.
Here’s my challenge to you. Sit down in a coffee shop, on a park bench, or at your local library and study how people act when they’re alone and act when they’re with other people.
You don’t have to be creepy about it. Bring a book or take in the natural world around you. Make sure to carry around a notebook and take notes. By studying people, you just may get inspiration for a character that doesn’t feel real enough yet. Getting gestures down helps immerse the reader.
Of course, take in all the senses. Does a person’s perfume or cologne overpower your nose and make you sneeze? Is one person’s voice unusually high-pitched and you can’t help but liken it to your grandmother’s cockatoo? Make sure you also take in the location you’re in. If you’re outside, how does the breeze feel on your skin? Does the air smell crisp and clean or is it thick with a heavy, heady smog?
Details. Details. Details.
Set a schedule (a time that always works for you) or at least a designated spot (that one special place that releases that creative flow).
Everyone is different, and some people can pick up their laptop and write in various positions or locations every day. But I’ve come to find that if you can set a schedule and perhaps, wake up an hour earlier to write (if you’re a morning person) or stay up an hour later at night (’ello, night owls), all while keeping it consistent, you’re going to be much more productive. Even setting a time limit helps. Knowing you have a finite period of time to work makes the task much less overwhelming.
If you can’t designate a fixed writing spot (heck, I don’t really even do that), then at least have some kind of familiar ritual. Perhaps, you always drink coffee or tea while writing or maybe you always listen to instrumental music to get your writing flowing. This kind of structure helps the writer to focus on the task at hand. Look here for some proof as to why writing rituals work.
Just remember to create a place or mindset that works for you.
If you don’t have a social media presence, start now. Especially don’t pass up the opportunity that Twitter affords. It’s a space where writers, publishers, agents, and all people in the writing community congregate. You can connect and respectfully engage with them on this platform.
Also, as Vivien Chein mentioned in one of her workshops, if you don’t have a website, make one now. Vivien Chein did not make a website, and when she was signed on for her first book, her editor asked if she had. Vivien kept putting it off until at last she created one. She learned the proper way to go about making a website and said that if she had created one a long time ago, it would have made it a lot easier because then she would have already been established, possibly had an online presence. She also said to make sure to try to get a website, Twitter handle, Facebook page, and Instagram with the name you’re writing under, preferably having all your social handles the same. By doing so, you help construct your brand and make it easier for people to find you.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to her, check out her website and/or Twitter account. She’s all about helping aspiring authors, and her workshops are extremely informative.
Remember, never give up and, as mentioned above, keep writing!