Feb 20 2009

9 Unsolicited Tips for Young Authors

Published by at 8:41 pm under Writing Articles

1.  Read broadly and watch a lot of movies.  If you’re only acquainted with a few well-known works, your stories will probably feel like they were heavily influenced by those stories.

2.  Learn grammar, punctuation and spelling.  It’s basic writing craft.  THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL. It will be extremely difficult (if not totally impossible) to get professionally published if you don’t have a grasp on these basic writing skills.  It’s sort of like showing up for basketball tryouts even though you don’t know how to dribble.  You will be the first one cut.  If your submission has glaring spelling and punctuation mistakes, you will be the first one cut.

3.  Professional publishing is extremely competitive.  Most novel publishers, for example, reject more than 99% of their manuscripts.  If you’re daunted by rejection, this is not a good field for you.  Unless you’re freakishly talented, expect to spend months rewriting before you get published.

4.  Try to major in something other than English or creative writing.  Having knowledge in a field outside of writing will give you more material to draw on, which will give you an edge over other authors.  Even something like history or political science will give you amusing anecdotes you can draw on later.

5.  If you’re really serious about becoming a professional author, I’d recommend attending a private university.  First, their class sizes tend to be smaller across the board, so writing workshops will probably be more instructive.  They also tend to offer more money for undergraduates interested in taking on creative endeavors.

6.  Blogging is good experience. It can help you figure out what attracts an audience and what doesn’t.  It can also help you create and sharpen ideas.  For example, this writing blog has generated at least one book worth of material about how to write well.

7.  Writing fan-fiction is generally not good experience.  It’s better to try creating your own worlds, characters, plot-lines, etc.  The material you generate will be fresher and easier to use later.

8.  In writing, there are no points for effort or personal circumstances.  You’re judged only on the quality of your product.  Please don’t be one of the writers that pleads for the mercy of publishers because they suffer from (usually self-diagnosed) dyslexia or whatever. If something like dyslexia affects your writing, you have three options: overcome the obstacles yourself, have someone else deal with the problem (by proofreading your work, for example), or find a new line of work. Even if you are dyslexic, you will be held to the same standards of readability as everybody else.

9. Writing teachers mean well and can be great sources of advice, but remember to take all advice with a grain of salt.  For example, maybe the teacher doesn’t have a style similar to yours.  If so, his advice might just mean that he’s not a fan of your preferred kind of writing.  For example, we tend to prefer  mass-market comedies and action stories rather than denser, literary works.  If we told you that your work was overwrought and didn’t move quickly enough, one possibility you should consider is that it’s moving fast enough for the kind of book you’re writing.  I’d also recommend looking for literary agents that have experience selling books like yours.

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