Friday, October 22, 2010

Where does a writer start?

Last night I was at the Lewisville Public Library and had some wonderful questions from the audience, especially young writers. A lot of them asked questions that I was asking myself when I was in high school and college-- how do you become a writer, as in what are the steps? What's next?

First off, I think this is a better time to be a writer than I have seen in my lifetime. When I started writing professionally in college, the opportunities were few and far between. You could write and publish novels, of course, which is every bit as hard now as it was then, though I'm not convinced it's harder now. You could also write comics, and then the rest was basically article-writing: newspapers, magazines, journals. You know what all of these had in common? Paper. It was all done by mailing printouts of paper and the ream of paper that it took to print out a novel.

Is it still hard to break into publishing? Yes. But it was a nightmare 20 years ago. And when I was 20, when I wrote my first fantasy novel for adults, you were completely at the mercy of the accidents of the market. There were no blogs, no twitter, no websites, no way of contacting readers. Now is better. Now is glorious.

There is no reason for a young person to think they can't write professionally. Can they live on their writing? All depends; I tend to think if you use your writing to hold down an awesome marketing job while you write articles and books at night, you're a professional. If you get paid, you are a professional. Can you live on only the writing you really want to do? That's as hard as it was in 1953, I imagine, which is to say that it is a rare thing.

But where do you start, the young people ask. My answers, very simply:

  1. First, know that every publisher, magazine, game company and website wants good work. They have no interest in not publishing good work and they love new voices. There is no question of getting people to take you seriously if the work is good.
  2. Use your time to get some work done.You'll feel better if you get some work done today!
  3. Read any of several fantastic books on launching a writing career-- I'm a huge fan of Stephen King's On Writing and Orson Scott Card's How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction for practical advice.
  4. Write anything you can for anyone who says yes. Pitch articles, games, blog entries, books, scripts, anything. You are not a fantasy writer or a romance writer or a tech analyst. You are writer, a writer, a writer, and you get up in the morning and you write and you go to bed and you write. 
  5. Only you have to be your last best friend. Other people will believe in you or not, they'll be there or they won't, but you are your own champion whether you like it or not. This is a good thing, because it means that you don't have to worry about whether other people believe in you. If one magazine has been buying your work and there's a change and they're not buying your work anymore, remember: they don't have to believe in you. It's all okay. You have the job of believing in you. Other people have their own goals and worries. Look to yourself, and then look to make partners with other people. 
Now is better. Now is always better.

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