Sunday, February 7, 2010

Do You Really Want to Write?

Many years ago, Redbook magazine did a survey: “If you could do anything else other than the job you’re in, what would it be?” Over 85% checked off Writer. So it’s not surprising that sooner or later, every writer will be asked, “How can I become a writer, too?” Sometimes it’s a wistful “I always wanted to write” or “I used to think I’d be a writer someday.” Sometimes it’s “There must be a secret and if you’d only tell me . . .”

Nor is it surprising that writers, knowing how genuinely lucky we are to earn a living at something we love so deeply, should yield to the temptation to share the things we’ve learned with others. I myself have taught workshops over the years and found it to be exhilarating, humbling, and ultimately so draining that I no longer do it. These days my advice is generally limited to “Don’t start worrying about agents or editors until you’ve finished a manuscript. Period.” Writing takes stamina and if you don’t have the staying power to write 300 pages and shape it into a book, you should probably renew your library card and move on to something else.

If you really want to try, though, and you can’t make it a real workshop or college campus, there are books and online seminars. Among the many excellent books on the subject, two that I can recommend are How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

I would also recommend that you check out and click on Writing Lessons. Author of the popular Amanda Pepper series who has taught at the University of San Francisco and the College of Marin, Gillian Roberts takes beginning writers through the process in a clear step-by-step progression.

A relatively recent addition to teaching is award-winning author Alexandra

Sokoloff (disclaimer: Like Gillian, Alex is a personal friend), who has written a dynamic book, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. You can download it on Kindle or get it for free on her blog,

Both of them have made me look at my own work with fresh, appraising eyes.

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