The Most-Asked Writing Question

I often get questions from aspiring writers who want to improve and/or get published. I love to help when I can, but it’s hard to give specific advice without spending a lot of time diving into the writer’s work. Still, there are some basics that apply to everyone.

And the questions usually aren’t specific anyway. In fact, they are pretty broad. The most common one goes something like this: “I want to write a book. How do I get started?”

The most helpful advice I can give—and it may be disappointing since it isn’t a magic key that unlocks the publishing door right away—is this:

1. Start. This really is the closest thing to a “key” to getting started. It’s to actually start. Sit down and write something—anything—even if it isn’t good. Most people who ask this question are waiting to have exactly the right thoughts that will pour out in exactly the right way on the page. That won’t happen unless you sit down and start typing. Even if you don’t know where to begin, just begin. Whatever comes out won’t be your finished product, but it will be a lot closer to the finished product than the thoughts in your head. The hardest part about writing (for me) is ramping up into it. Once you get started, you get on a roll. And momentum is half the battle.

2. Read. A lot. One of the best ways to get good writing into you is to read good writing. You won’t want to copy someone else’s style, but you do want to learn from it. You don’t have to analyze it. Just read it. Let it sink in. It becomes part of you and somehow helps whatever is in you to flow out in a more writerly kind of way.

3. Dream big, start small. Very few people publish a book for their first project. They publish magazine articles, blogs, newspaper columns, and lots of other little things. They build up a word bank—published material and not—that becomes the source of larger works. They hone their craft in the process, and they also overcome a significant obstacle in getting a book published, since one question book publishers always ask is, “What else have you published?” “Nothing” is not a helpful answer.

4. Build a platform. This is closely related to point #3. Like it or not, the primary question on the mind of a publisher isn’t, “Is this a good book?” The bigger question is, “Are people going to buy this book?” They want it to be a good book, of course, but they have to keep the company solvent and feed their own kids. They can’t continually publish great literature at a loss. So you have to have a following of some sort. And in the days of social media, you can be building one now. Even if you’re going to self-publish, which is a much more viable option than it used to be, you’re going to need a platform unless you just have lots of money to spend on a book that few people know about. So as you’re writing articles, blogs, etc., cultivate your readership.

None of those satisfy the get-published-quick-and-hit-the-big-time desire that often fuels us as writers, but they are enormously important. And over time, they can open the doors for the book that is in you to get out of you and into the hands of others.

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Jann Pinnick 21.08.2013 11:39  
Yes No   I would add prayer. Prayer changes us. Out of the abundance of our hearts, we write (speak). We can ask Him for guidance, and trust Him to lead us and open doors for us.  
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