When I’m introduced as a writer to a group of non-writers I get a wide range of reactions. Some look at me as if I’m from another planet. Others back away as if they might catch a strange disease. In my early days, one person asserted I couldn’t be a writer because I wasn’t published yet. I wondered what all those hours of working on a manuscript made me. Or if a surgeon isn’t really a surgeon until he actually operates on someone. That’s a surgeon I would avoid.
Among the responses I get is “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. How do you do it?”
The first thought I have is a quote from Dorothy Parker, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
But I restrain myself. The angst of writing is something each of us must learn for ourselves. It can’t be taught. It can only be experienced first hand and worked through.
The other simplistic answer is, “One word at a time.” Not very helpful.
Someone once said, “Writing is easy. You take the same 26 letters and rearrange them over and over again.”
So what advice do I give to aspiring writers? First, I encourage them to read and read and read some more.
Then I urge them to take some time, a notepad, and a pen and write about the story they want to tell. “Don’t worry about the form,” I tell them. “Just write.”
What is the story about?
Where does it take place?
When does it take place?
What is the hero like?
What does he or she want?
What stands in the way?
How could they overcome it?
What’s the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story?
Obviously, this won’t all be done in one session. It will take several, but I think it’s crucial for getting the first building blocks of the novel established.
Now they’ve got something to work with.
Beyond this, I urge them to study the craft and to keep reading.
What advice do you give to aspiring writers?