Tuesday, October 23, 2007
My next question in the queue is from none other than Sarah Kiesche, my very own little sister. Proof of her relation to me is evident in the fact that she now has the writing bug, which makes me proud.
Her question: Do you (meaning me, James Dashner) have any advice for beginning writers?
This is a good one since I get it without fail no matter where I go. When all else fails, people either ask, 1) Where do you get your ideas? or 2) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Although a good question, it's also very difficult to answer. It'd be like me going up to an artist and asking him or her if they have any advice on how to paint portraits. I'll start by sharing something I learned from Stephen King that is very wise: you can either write, or you cannot. You either have the talent or you do not. While you can become a BETTER writer, you cannot BECOME a writer.
So, first, ask yourself honestly if you think you might have a knack for it. (And no, Sarah, I'm not trying to give you a hint. I've seen your writing, and you have talent.) There's no magical formula. There's no checklist. Pick up something you've written and read it again. Is it okay? Passable? Not THAT bad? If so, then you're on the right path.
Next, you need to work your bootie off. I'm not sure why, but many people seem to think writing is different from any other talent. They think you just do it, and your skill level never changes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Writing is like basketball. Writing is like dancing. Writing is like playing the piano. You must practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write. Everytime you do, you will improve. Don't worry about how good it is yet. Just write. Then write some more. By doing this alone, you will improve drastically. That is, if, like I said earlier, you have the raw talent.
In the midst of all these obsessive compulsive writing fits, read a few books on writing. Go to the Reference section of a bookstore and you'll see a ton of them. If anyone reading this blog has suggestions on good ones, please leave a comment. Read some books and make sure you're sound on the technical aspects of our craft.
Go to writer's conferences. You won't believe how many of them are out there, some cheap, some not. Google for them and attend one. I guarantee there's one within 100 miles of you in the next 6 months. Unless you live in the boondocks or on a boat in the middle of the ocean, like a character in my upcoming book. (BAM! I figured out a way to throw in some shameless promotion!)
Write a novel from beginning to end. I mean it. I don't care if it's the worst book in history, write a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and everything in between. You won't believe the magical power that will come over you once you've accomplished this task. Is it easy? No. Will it win the National Book Award? Probably not. Do I hate when people ask rhetorical questions over and over? Yes.
If you write and finish a complete book, you will suddenly find it much easier to do the next one. It's like a marathon, I suppose, though I've never done it. (Though I did come in 12th place in my neighborhood 5k. Yah, that's right.) I imagine the first marathon is brutal and full of wanna-give-ups. But once you KNOW you can do it, the 2nd time around becomes much easier. I'm guessing.
It took me 3 years to write my first book. The second one, 9 months. My last one, 7 weeks. I'm talking first drafts, here.
Write a complete book. If it's pretty decent, rewrite and rework. If it stinks, trash it and start another one.
Finally, FIND YOURSELF A CRITIQUE GROUP. Notice the annoying usage of all-caps there. A critique group will change your life. Week in and week out you can meet with a few friends who also like to write, people who understand you, people who are as weird as you, people who are as oblivious as you are to the pundits who say you can't do it. Help each other, read aloud, be honest, grow thick skin, push each other. Start searching for these whackos today.
Well, I don't know what else to say. I'd love to hear from anyone else if they have advice. Please comment and help us out.
Once you, New Writer, have some good material, THEN you can worry about how to get published. That day is down the road, in the future. For now, just start writing. Then write some more.
I know I haven't given a lot of tangible, take-away-point-ish type of advice here. But I guess that's what you get with such a broad question. A broad answer. Feel free to follow up with more specific inquiries. Ooh, such a big word.
Q&A will be a regular part of this blog. If you ever have a question, just post it in the comments, and I will save it in my file until it's your turn.
Now go write!!!!!! 1000 words, tonight. No matter what. Promise me. I don't care if it's about Snuffalupagus, just do it.
Have a great day.
Posted by James Dashner at 3:53 PM