Considering I just won six awards at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. Conference, I feel I have a slight edge in this area. Just follow these 7 simple steps and you’re on your way! (Notice I said simple, not fast!)
Secret Number One: Read
Sounds easy, right? But I’m always shocked at how many writers tell me they don’t have time to read. Seriously? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write! Read everything. Pulitzer Prize winners, stuff you think is awful, your favorite genre, and your least favorite genre. From the greats, we learn what greatness looks like. But equally revealing are those novels with plot holes as big as semi-trucks and cardboard characters as floppy as spaghetti. But don’t just say it’s awful and throw the book across the room. Why is it awful? What makes you cringe? Go forth children, and avoidest thou these pitfalls.
Secret Number Two: Start Short
Beginning writers often make the mistake of starting with a novel. Novels are big commitments to take on if you don’t know the territory. Imagine deciding you’re going to be a runner, and getting up the next morning to run a marathon! You’ll learn a lot more about the elements that make a good story, not to mention your own voice and style, by beginning with short works. Also, completing shorter projects can help build the habits, confidence, and endurance you need to tackle longer things.
Secret Number Three: Join a Critique Group
I can’t count the number of instances someone pointed out a typo in my writing and I cried, “but I went over this page ten times!” The same goes for character motivation, world development, conflict, and even plot. Of course it makes sense to you. You’re the writer! Before you send it out, let someone else read it. And not (just) your mother. It can hurt, but if honesty burns, rejection by multiple agents and publishers is hydrochloric acid.
Secret Number Four: Attend Conferences/Network
Some people consider this a waste of time and money, but it’s been immensely helpful for me. In this world of social media, writing is a business and who you know can be just as important as what you know. With most publishing houses closed to unsolicited manuscripts, often times the only time you CAN submit something is if you attend a conference the editor or agent spoke at. Even for self-publishing, with millions of books on the market, how are readers going to know about your book? I’m a face-to-face person, but if you can network and market purely online, that’s great, too.
Secret Number Five: Enter Contests
This is the perfect way for beginning writers to test the waters of their abilities. This year I won first place in a category I had never even tried before, Historical Fiction novel. It’s always fun to try something new, and you might surprise yourself! Also, after getting multiple rejections for my novel Treasure Traitor, I started submitting it to local, state, and national contests. I got some excellent feedback from the judges. Every time I entered, it did better and better until the book finally won an international award, semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. That’s what told me it was ready for publication. Likewise, however, I’ve entered stories that time after time didn’t win anything, and I knew they just weren’t worth it. Which leads to my next point:
Secret Number Six: Don’t Beat a Dead Story
If you don’t particularly like a story to begin with and it just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to abandon it in favor of a new project. There are more ideas where that one came from! The worst thing you can do is work on the same dying project for ten years to the exclusion of everything else.
Secret Number Seven: Butt in the Chair and Write!
This should be a no-brainer, but if you miss this, you miss everything. Give yourself a reasonable, attainable goal, both daily and long-term and write everyday. Maybe you can have 1 day off. But writing needs to be consistent, a daily decision to block out all distractions, focus, and devote a chunk of time, be it 20 minutes or 4 hours, to your writing goal. Remember, start small and build.
So what were those awards I got, exactly? I won first place in Middle Grade novel for Mid-Evil, part II of Dargon the Human Slayer, and first place for Loyalty, my historical fiction novel about a Japanese girl and American girl who become friends on the eve of World War II. I originally wrote it as a short story, but then wrote a synopsis for the rest and turned it in the first 10 pages as if it were a novel. Now that I realize it’s a good story, I think I’ll go ahead and write the whole novel!
I also won second place for Picture Book with ‘Twas the Age of Augustus,” the Christmas story from the Roman’s point of view. My dad and I wrote that together. Then I won third place for Nostagic Prose with “Black Bird,” about my brother’s death and a baby black bird I found in my grandparent’s pine woods in Michigan.
The “Giddy up, Japanese Style!” would have won first, but there were only 9 entries and the judges needed 10 to award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. So “Giddy up!” won Honorable Mention in Western Article. “Burma Born, American Made” was the fictionalized story of my Burmese refugee students, which won 3rd Honorable Mention in Inspirational Article. That was one of the categories with the most entries, so even though it didn’t place, I’m still pretty pleased with how it did. I can edit it and “Giddy Up” for entry again in 2014.
Until next time, keep fighting the good fight (and writing the good write),