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
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
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]
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