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So, You Want to be a Writer

By Debbie Elicksen

Being a writer is like being an actor. The Al Pacinos and Meryl Streeps paid their dues by working other jobs, showing up for auditions, and grabbing whatever experience they could to shape their resumes. They even worked for free.

One of the most successful modern writers, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was an unemployed single mother, living on pubic assistance, when she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She penned the bulk of her novel at a café table during her daughter’s naps. The manuscript was rejected by at least one agent before another company took it on, and then it was sent to several publishers before Bloomsbury accepted it and ended up with a huge phenomenon on its hands.

Unfortunately, despite the example of J.K. Rowling, there is no get-rich-quick scheme for becoming a writer. It’s about the process. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting started. For many, that’s the biggest challenge of all.

If you want to be a writer, there’s only one thing to do. Write. Write every day. Start a journal. Don’t worry about style and flow at the beginning. Just get in the habit of writing. Write what you know. Coming up with book ideas starts in your own backyard. Jill Lublin is the author of Guerrilla Publicity and Networking Magic. She is a renowned strategist and international speaker, CEO of the strategic consulting firm Promising Promotion, and the founder of GoodNews Media, a company specializing in positive news. She is currently the host of the nationally syndicated radio show Do the Dream, on which she interviews celebrities who have achieved their dreams. Jill also has a television pilot, GoodNews TV.

“I came up with the idea for my book because I was an expert in publicity and actually doing it for people for over 20 years,” says Jill. “I wanted to put all of my information into a book form to make it simple for other business people, entrepreneurs, speakers, and authors to do their own publicity without spending a fortune.”

Sometimes book ideas are clear in the author’s mind. Other times, “writer’s block” sets in. There are several books that can help you get started. For example, books like What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter and A Writer’s Workbook by Caroline Sharp contain simple exercises to help you tap into your own experiences and use your creativity to write in descriptive detail.   

Even if you have an idea for a book, you may not know how to get started. To get unstuck, read. Read both fiction and nonfiction, regardless of which direction you intend to go in your own writing. Reading allows you to become more creative with your thoughts and expression. It gives you ideas.

Take note of other writers’ styles when you read. Look at their opening lines. Do they grab your attention with the first sentence or do you have to read to page 100 before you can get into the story? How do they close a chapter? How do they shape their introduction?

Keep notebooks handy, especially beside your bed or in the car. When an idea comes to you, you must write it down immediately — even if it’s 3 a.m. If you don’t, it’s gone. You’ll never get it back. Some of my best ideas have come in the middle of the night or in the shower. It can be an opening sentence, a title, or an idea for a book. It’s tough when it happens in the shower. I’ll repeat it over and over until I get out, and then I’ll write it down, even if I’m dripping wet.

A pocket tape recorder works well in lieu of a notepad. Such a recorder costs between $40 and $60 and the micro cassette tapes are quite inexpensive. Keep it with you everywhere to record ideas as they occur to you.

When you do have an idea for a book, don’t wait until you have it all mapped out before you start writing. Keep in mind that, just as movies aren’t filmed in sequence, books aren’t generally researched or written in chapter order. Just make sure you get everything down “on paper” first. As you’re researching a particular part of the book, or thinking about a particular scene in a novel, you might have a brainwave about how to present it. Start writing. You can’t be sure of remembering the bright idea when you get to that part of the book.

If writing stuff down seems overwhelming, or if your hectic schedule makes it hard to sit down at your computer, use a pocket tape recorder and speak the chapters into it. Stockpile the tapes until you’re ready to transcribe. You may have to do more than the usual amount of editing, but what matters is getting started.

Don’t forget to back up everything you write on your computer. It’s nearly impossible to rewrite from memory. Back up onto two separate disks and print off a hard copy. One of the disks should be stored offsite. After all, what good is a backup if the house burns down or a hurricane hits? You might even take the step of e-mailing the manuscript to yourself every time you update it. That way, if the worst happens, you can access your e-mail offsite.

Also, be sure to save your work as you go. I usually save after every paragraph or couple of sentences. It’s not that tedious when you think about what might happen should the power suddenly go off. Call it preventive medicine. That extra second it takes to mouse your pointer to the SAVE icon or hit CTRL-S will save you endless grief.

Besides backing up your work, you must protect your intellectual property at all times by having the most up-to-date antivirus software protection, firewall protection, and spyware protection. Even with the most up-to-date protection, gremlins can still get in, so it’s important to scan your computer regularly for worms, viruses, and other nasties.

[Excerpt from bestselling Self-Publishing 101 by Debbie Elicksen, Self-Counsel Press]

Read other articles and learn more about Debbie Elicksen.

[Contact the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]

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