Ten Tips on Getting Started

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Tuscan sunlight, fresh fruit, Virginia Woolf and a writing journal: The Book Doctor's inspirations in Italy.
Tuscan sunlight, fresh fruit, Virginia Woolf and a writing journal: The Book Doctor’s inspirations in Italy.


So you want to write a book. . . 

Earlier this year Adventures by the Book founder Susan McBeth, organized a lunchtime discussion for Qualcomm employees who wanted to write books. Five authors, all members of Writing Women of San Diego, formed a panel with Susan moderating. One of the wonderful things about such gatherings is how quickly we discover that writers, accomplished or fledgling, are pretty much alike. Curious. Insecure. Creative. Self-deprecating—and always in need of constructive criticism and support.

From my perch as a veteran writer, writing coach and editor, I offered the Qualcomm group Ten Tips on Getting Started. The energy was high and the feedback was good, so here are my ten. There are dozens more, and I’ll be sharing them on this blog throughout the coming months. Hope these get you going.

Start. It doesn’t matter where – a scene, a bit of dialogue, a character sketch, even a story idea or theme or overview. The important thing is to get your dream book out of your head and onto the page. You need to see what you’ve imagined in words.
Keep Going. Try not to judge or interfere with the flow of your writing; perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor as Anne Lamott says. Buy her Bird by Bird to learn more about her helpful and hilarious concept of “the shitty first draft.” Everyone has an internal censor ready to pounce on first efforts. If that voice in you is super strong, buy The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron…and do the wonderful exercises that will help you release the writer in you, despite the carping.
Take a class at UCSD Extension or Writers, Ink. It might be on dialogue, or plot structure, or tone, or building a scene. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is learning that writing, like engineering, involves solving technical problems. And classes help you find comfort in the presence of other novice or struggling writers.
Buy these books: The old standard is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, and while you are at it, dust off your The Elements of Style by Strunke and White. Both are classics, filled with wise and practical advice about writing.
Cultivate positive relationships with other writers. Make a writer friend, or a bit later, form a read-and-critique group. Look for more experienced writers from whom you can learn. Just be careful that each member is constructive. No rotten apples to spoil the group dynamic.
Keep Going.
Create a writing journal. In addition to keeping a daily journal, keep a separate one for your book project. Here you can jot down ideas, but also monitor your progress as you find your voice and the book finds its shape.
Develop compassion for yourself. It took James Joyce 17 years to write Ulysses. Most good literary novels require three to five years to fully develop and as much as two more to be edited and brought to market traditionally. Even lighter works and genre fiction take time. So cut your writer-self some slack.
Remember: Writing is rewriting. Try to enjoy editing and making larger changes as much as the bursts of inspiration that created the text that needs revising and then layers of editing.
Respect your process. Some days even great writers feel blocked. Still, try to exercise your writerly muscles every day so they’ll be ready to flex and release when inspiration—and with it, the singular joy of creation—does return.

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