As a mother of four all of whom are now walking, I’ve seen four different approaches to first steps. My eldest, Kath, waited for her entire family to be gathered in one room to take her first steps on Christmas Eve. My oldest son MJ took his time. He’d coast from one object to another, taking care with every movement so he wouldn’t fall. The twins’ first year is a blur, but I remember Chunk was cautious and Cupcake was forthright. Within a month of their first steps, all of them were practically running. Now as a write-at-home mom, I’m looking back at the baby steps I’ve been taking in my writing. Here’s what I’ve learned.
First step. Read books in the genre you want to write. I’ve heard people say that they’re going to write a romance novel when they’re proud to announce they’ve never read a romance novel in their lives. Other people think science fiction is the genre for them although they’ve never read Heinlein, Asimov or any other sci-fi writer. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but each writing genre has nuances about that individual genre that makes it different from other genres. Even romance writing has different categories within the genre: series contemporary, single title contemporary, erotica, historical, inspirational, fiction with strong romantic elements, paranormal, young adult, and new adult. Reading the genre you want to write will help you develop tools by knowing the different tropes and different writing styles unique to each.
Second step. Read books about craft. There are some writing books that transcend certain genres. Stephen King’s On Writing and Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey are two books highly touted by writers of different genres. Then there are books that can help within your genre. For romance writers, Deb Dixon’s GMC book is a must have and a must-read. I’ve recently also purchased Jane Porter’s new book about writing romance and have begun reading it. The pep talk chapter (Ready, Set, Go) is worth the price of the book alone. I’ve also downloaded Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View and look forward to exploring more about that aspect of craft soon.
Third step. Write your book. The most important advice to give a writer is to write. How many people have said that they would love to write a book? Lots. The best way to get that book written is to sit down and write, whether it’s by using a computer or longhand. It’s harder than it looks, but until you start, you don’t know whether you can or not.
Fourth step. Get feedback. I wrote my first book all by myself, without attending any seminars, without reading any books about craft, without any critiques, and without any beta readers. It’s now under the bed and is going to stay there. After my “maternity leave,” I started attending conferences and found Georgia Romance Writers where the wonderful Tanya Michaels gave me my first critique. Did I mention how wonderful she was? I totally mean it because she gave me great advice: learn about craft, read your work to look out for word repetition, check your paragraphs to make sure you don’t start every paragraph with the same word, read your work to make sure that a scene is told from one point of view and not from multiple points of view in the same paragraph (otherwise known as head hopping). Without this critique, I wouldn’t have known how I needed to hone my writing to (hopefully) improve it. Since then, I’ve learned to exchange WIPs with prospective critique partners in hopes of getting good feedback. I want to get better, and if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I can’t improve.
Fifth step. Discover your voice and start running. I love cozy mysteries. I’ve curled up with many a wonderful mystery author from Carolyn Hart to Joan Hess to Rita Mae Brown. Each of these authors has a gift for crafting an engaging mystery. Each of these authors also has a gift for discerning which genre and which category to hone their craft and have done so in a masterful manner. While I love a good mystery, I’ve listened to the characters in my head and discovered that I like writing Southern contemporary romance. And that is what I am writing.
As each of my four children walked in their own fashion, in their own time, in their own inimitable style, so too is every writing journey different. These five steps are the first five baby steps in what I hope will become a writing career. There are writers who will fashion their own books in a different manner. There are writers who can weave magic without ever having picked up a book about craft. These are just my first baby steps on my writing journey.
What about you? What baby steps did you take to get started with your hobby, livelihood or career? Let me know.