You can write and publish a book, part 3

This next installment on the topic of writing continues with the how part of writing that book. Missed the earlier parts? See part 2 here or go all the way back to part 1. The how relates in part with the what and the why. If you expect to make a living at this, you better know how to write well. Did you major in English? Did you take lots of writing classes in college? Do you already have a day job that entails professional level writing? Then you can probably skip this. Otherwise, you need to develop your writing skills. Many people argue that you can’t teach someone how to write–that one has to learn from doing. OK, but you can teach them grammar, style and other skills. Don’t expect Microsoft Word to adequately deal with that for you. If you are deficient in those areas, catch classes online, at your local adult ed or community college. Don’t want classes? At least pick up some style manuals and a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves in one of its many incarnations.

Many of those same people will tell you that you can learn to be a writer only by reading books, especially books in the genre in which you want to write. Want to write horror/thrillers? Read Dean Koontz, Stephen King and  any number of others you may prefer if you want to be a mass market (i.e., make a living at writing) author. Then, to understand the need to write well and how to get there, read Stephen King’s book On Writing. Or maybe you don’t want to sell books at all. You just want to be a literary success. Then you really need to write well. You could always consider getting an MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) from some creative writing program or going to  some (pricy) writers workshops and conferences. Who am I to say so, but it seems to me that these (especially the MFAs) are for people for whom the writing is most about critical recognition, literary fame and only remotely related to communicating with more than a handful of like-minded people. So I will leave this discussion at that and move on to the value of interacting with fellow writers.

Regardless of whether you believe writing can be taught, it is fair to say that you can learn from what others think of your writing. You can do that, pre-publication, by joining a writer’s circle or group. A small (4-6 people is a good number; many more and discussion/participation becomes limited while less may be too limited in scope). You can find them at local libraries or assemble them from among fellow attendees at writing classes you attend. I think face to face is better but you can do this online as well. The basics are simple: each person brings a few/several pages of writing to share at a periodic meeting (once or twice a month is typical) of a couple hours. You must have consensus on sensible and courteous rules for critiques. Slamming is not helpful. Vague comments are useless. Extensive suggested rewrites are overly intrusive. What is useful are honest reactions and assessments of how well the writer shows rather than tells his or  her story. Also helpful is pointing out instances where something is missing that would advance the narrative or situations where a character appears to say or do something out of character.

More later, in part 4.