Dreams and Schemes of the Writer’s Life

on July 23, 2014

So you want to be a writer? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Before I was a writer I was a reader. And before I was a reader, I was a dreamer. I would make up stories in my head all day long. In fact, the only time I wasn’t making up stories was when I was reading. Suffice it to say—I didn’t talk much, except to myself. And in a family of Irish and Italian talkers, it was remarked upon…a lot. When I finally had my first book published I think everyone finally understood, I just use my words differently.

If you always have your head in the clouds or your nose in a book…you might be a writer at heart!

If you always have your head in the clouds or your nose in a book…you might be a writer at heart!

Writing was not something I thought could be a real career until college, so I always imagined I would be a doctor and a writer, or President of the United States and a writer, or a National Geographic Explorer and a writer. One had to make a living after all. But more than anything, I wish I had had a mentor in my early years. Someone who would have encouraged writing full time and told me to take all the classes I could; and who would recommend what I really needed to read to get my craft into shape. I also wish I had joined Romance Writers of America sooner! That would have changed my life.

Now that I’m relatively grown up, finding the time and discipline to write has become one of the most important goals of my life. That’s also why I really enjoy my one week a year, usually the end of July, when I attend the annual Romance Writers of America conference. For four to five days I get to immerse myself in craft, the latest social media trends and techniques, changes in the publishing industry, inspirational talks from those who have ‘made it’, and my favorite of all—catching up with my fellow writing friends to talk about our writing lives.

This week, I’m going to share daily updates from conference, but I wanted to kick off with the basics.

Not my office! This might be all you can afford as an aspiring writer.

Not my office! This might be all you can afford as an aspiring writer.

I’m often asked about writing mainstream fiction by aspiring writers, and my recommendations have not really changed over the years.

  • If you can still live with your parents while you learn to write and finish your book – do it! Having a day job to pay for rent, mortgage, bills, etc. can really cramp your writing time. Don’t waste those precious “free” years.
  • Take classes specifically on the craft of writing, and put that knowledge to work writing story after story. Keep learning, revising, and have trusted reviewers give you notes.
  • Take the notes! Okay, first make sure you know what the notes mean, but then you very likely should take the note unless it means writing something that clearly goes against every fiber of your character’s being.
  • If you are consistently getting a note about the same thing—like your structure is weak, you tell instead of show—take another class or find someone who can teach you how to fix the issue.
  • Remember your reader is your audience and they are giving hours of their life to you. Don’t waste those hours either.

If you can’t afford schooling, a class, or don’t live near any place that offers writing resources, you can do online classes. Online classes are usually less expensive and can still offer a certain amount of camaraderie and networking opportunities. Check out the person giving the workshop, and see if they have published anything you like or have good ratings from other people who have taken their courses previously. But remember, writing is the most important thing. Most times it’s better to just write, finish the project, then learn what you need to make it great.

There are also three books that I recommend to every writer and aspiring writer. In fact, all three are currently on my bedside table for re-reading.

GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a must read. The sooner you read it the better. This is one of the best books for the basics on character, plot structure and emotional structure. I re-read Debra’s book once a year, usually while I’m in the middle of a manuscript that I’m struggling with. This helps me double check that I have the basics covered. When the basics slip is when I get stuck. Debra also does workshops. I was fortunate to attend one after completing my first manuscript and right after my second book was published. It was great both times. I’ll probably take it a third time very soon.

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

This used to be required reading by Disney development executives. Not every story wants to have this structure, but a lot of the great ones do. This will help fill out some of the plot points and turning points in your story. Once you read it, you will likely recognize this structure in just about every mainstream movie you watch.

The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Carolyn LaFever and Sue Viders

Character, character, character. This book is like reading your personal Myers-Briggs assessment. It is filled with all the classic archetypes along with their typical strengths and flaws. If you are not sure what personality type your hero is, have a gander at your options and this might clarify the vision. And if you can’t understand why you and your current beau aren’t getting along, this might also help you with that! Beware, Tami Cowden also has Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Villain Archetypes. I know what I will be purchasing tomorrow at the book fair!

One final tip for everyone in San Antonio, Texas or vicinity—come to The 2014 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Location: the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in the 3rd floor ballroom. The event is open to the public and free to attend.

This year, proceeds from the Literacy Autographing will benefit ProLiteracy Worldwide, Literacy Texas, Restore Education, and Each One Teach One San Antonio. We are usually able to raise between $50k-$70k in those two hours, but we need our readers.

There will be many of your favorite authors such as Nora Roberts, Barbara O’Neal, Julia Quinn, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Victoria Alexander, Suzanne Brockmann, Gerri Russell, Jayne Ann Krentz, Ally Carter, Simone Elkeles and Angie Fox. In addition, some great authors from L.A. (or who have been part of our L.A. Chapter, LARA), such as Robin Bielman (up for a RITA), Carol Ericson, Linda O. Johnston, and Jeannie Lin. Hopefully I didn’t miss any buddies!

I’ll be there searching out all my favorite YA authors. Wave hello or stop me and say hi if you see me.

Until tomorrow!