This is the last post in a series. The series started here.
Hello again! Did you write today?
Writers write, and there’s a reason you should always be writing. There’s a saying that you need to write a million words to really get good at writing. Some people say that for them it took more. That’s about three or four years of solid writing almost every day. But it’s okay, because you like writing.
Just as you wouldn’t expect to become a doctor or a college professor or an airline pilot or a stockbroker or any other professional after a week, don’t expect to be at a professional level of writing overnight. You’re still a toddler, not a marathon runner.
Now some might say, “Well, I don’t think I need to write that much. I wrote my first story, and I’m already good at this writing stuff. I’m going to send my story to a publisher right now.”
Here’s a test. Take your best story (you have more than one, right?) and do two things with it. First, put a copy of it aside and don’t look at it for the next three months. Put a sticky note up with the date so you won’t forget. No peeking.
In the meantime, do two things. Start writing another story. While you’re doing that, get five people to read your first story. Do not pick people who’ll just tell you it’s awesome (definitely not your mom or your girlfriend). They have to be people who will tell you the cold hard truth. Ask them, “How can I make this better?” and “Is this something you would pay to read?” Then listen to what they say.
If all five tell you it’s perfect and when you go back after the three months to read it for yourself, you still think it’s wonderful, send it away. You have nothing to lose by waiting and checking with others first.
Chances are, though, that just because you wrote a story doesn’t mean it’s something someone else is going to pay to read. It needs to be cleaned up first. This process is called editing.
Now, I’m still in the noob stages when it comes to editing, so I’m not going to go into great detail when it comes to that. Maybe someday I’ll be here writing about editing for the complete noob. But I’ve written over 500,000 words since I started this two years ago, so I think I can talk intelligently about writing.
The idea of editing is that you go through the story and make it better. The ability to edit separates the professional writer from the amateur.
There are some things everyone says to do:
- Put the story aside for at least three months. This helps you to forget what you think about the story so you can see it as it is. In the meantime, write another story. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)
- Decide what you want the story to be about. Why did you write the story in the first place? Make a note somewhere of your thoughts and keep it nearby.
- Read through the story. Where is it boring? Mark that sentence or paragraph.
- Where does it stray from what you’ve decided the story is about? Mark those areas.
- Does each scene have a beginning, middle and ending? Mark the ones that don’t.
- Do the beginning scenes portend the middle and ending in some way? Do the ending scenes wrap up the story, or are there loose ends at “The End”? Mark those areas.
- Is everything spelled right? If not, either fix the spelling right then or mark the misspelled words to do later.
Then comes the fun part. You go back and fix the things you marked.
Then you have your buddies read it again (and you do something nice for them, like take them out to dinner or read their stuff!). Reading someone else’s work with an eye for what needs fixing is called critiquing. You can find writers’ groups in your city or online to help with this. All will ask you to critique their work also. This is something that helps you to see what works and what doesn’t.
Your critique partners will have more ideas, and there’s lots of books that can help you write better (some of which are in my Books On Writing page), but if you do the basic things I mentioned above first, you won’t embarrass yourself by giving someone a boring, typo-ridden story with a bunch of loose ends dangling.
Now you know the basics of writing stories up to novel length, a bit about editing and publishing, and you’ve heard of a critique group. You’ve written at least one story. You’re not a complete noob at writing anymore. Congratulations!
If you have any questions or comments about what I’ve written here, please post them.