To Write a Book Someday, Share Your Writing Now

8139708904_9a1d1783d4_bSome people will tell you the defining characteristic of a writer is that he or she is someone who writes. There is truth to that perspective, but it fails to offer a complete picture. It also gives many “aspiring writers” an excuse to be nothing more than journal keepers: diligently plucking away at Moleskine memoirs or first-novel manuscripts that have zero chance of getting published, ever.

The point here is not a matter of quality. It’s about privacy.

The reason why many written works-in-progress will never see the light of publishing day is that they are stowed, always and forever, in a drawer or on a hard drive where they have no risk of being evaluated by a second person. The writers of these works will never be writers because they will never have readers. They exist completely outside the writing market, and the only critical eye they allow to view their work is their own.

If you think that one day you’d like for people to read your writing, then you should begin by inviting people to read your writing now. Here are five ways readers can strengthen your writing and make it even more worth reading:

Readers help you get over yourself. It’s not uncommon for writers to feel uncertain or insecure about what they’ve written. Will this technique work here? Am I being clear? Am I using a marketable concept? Does anybody else care about the subject? Without readers to help confirm where and how a piece of writing is hitting its target (and where and how it’s missing its mark), these uncertainties and insecurities often grow and fester. But when you prioritize feedback, typically you get it. As a result you might find that your sinking suspicions will be confirmed. Some of your assumptions might be challenged. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by rave reviews. Whatever the case, you won’t be stuck wondering anymore, and that will help light a clear way forward.

Readers identify strengths in your work. Encouragement and affirmation give extra fuel when you’re trying to produce a manuscript. So ask your readers to note the places where they laugh out loud, hold their breath with anticipation, get caught by surprise, can’t stop turning pages, or are struck speechless. That paragraph you’re thinking about deleting? It might be your readers’ favorite part. Give them a chance to tell you so.

Readers identify weaknesses in your work. That poetic metaphor you’ve taken days and months to craft? It might be so complex that it’s confusing your readers. The story you’ve built a whole chapter around? Your readers might be bored out of their minds.

As the writer of a work, you will undoubtedly feel more attached to it than your readers will. Because of your heightened emotional attachment, you’ll probably miss seeing some of your writing’s flaws. You might even be blind to enormous holes in the work. Let your readers open your eyes to the problems you don’t see, so you can take the opportunity to fix them.

Readers expand your perspective. You are only one person, so your outlook on the world is limited and skewed. You have strange views about certain things, and some of your views simply haven’t been challenged in a way that forces you to clarify them well or charitably. Readers can help you identify the odd little points in a draft, the ones that either are or seem arrogant, stingy, dismissive, hyper-emotional, you name it. Points like these will jut out in unseemly ways, always subtracting and distracting from good work, unless someone will be so kind as to call your attention to them, so you can know to improve them.

Readers make the process realistic. If your writing aspirations are real, then you’re going to have to accept the reality of readers at some point. Get used to feedback now, and critiques won’t make you crazy later. Write with readers in mind now, and it won’t feel strange when they’re a part of the process later. Start learning what readers are interested in now, and then when your defining moments as a writer come, you’ll be prepared to deliver for your readers.

YOUR TURN: Respond in the comments: How have readers helped your writing? What kind of readers give the best feedback? What keeps you from pursuing readers?

Photo credit: cogdogblog cc

How to Get Started Writing: Hamster Wheels and Hurdles

type lettersOf all that a writer can and should do—how, actually, does one get started?

It would be possible, in assembling writing advice from just a handful of the people who are giving it, to come away with the impression that making it in this business requires doing everything all the time.

You must, people say, build and maintain a platform. Start or re-start your website. Pin to boards. Make things that other people will pin to boards. Attend conferences and conventions. Join groups. Pitch ideas. Hone your message. Know your audience. Study writing books. Edit incessantly. Post blogs. Find a writing schedule that works. Tweet and re-tweet updates about all of this. Plus string tens of thousands of words together and hope somebody will see fit to make a book of it. That’s just phase one.

Phase two is its own hamster wheel. With a book in publication you must, people say, promote like crazy. Speak at events. Do interviews. Pursue interviews. Write accompanying articles. Track reviews. Deal with disapproval. Build friendships with booksellers. Have catchy marketing stuff. Improve on sales. Aim for bestseller lists. Figure out your next project. Pin, post, platform-build, edit, update, and speak some more. Promise to tweet and re-tweet, always and forever.

The general question: Who can possibly manage all that?

The specific question: How, possibly, can I?

The general answer is that likely nobody can manage it all, when trying all of it at once. The other answer is that you, specifically you, can work toward all of this by doing so incrementally.

You will not start out on bestseller lists. You’ll begin at the beginning, with the whole unrelenting shebang left to do. Tweet This

There will be potential failures and rejections at every corner and turn. But if you begin—if you sit at a computer or a typewriter or even a small slip of paper, and if you start putting words down and then keep putting words down, you will be writing. Often it is as simple as that.

hurdleHere is a personal example. After having published three books by 30 (two as author, one as collaborator), late last year I didn’t have a single writing project to speak of. I wasn’t sure I wanted any, because being submerged in the mire again—see above paragraphs—seemed exhausting. Other concerns demanded my focus and time too, namely: my husband was on a seven-month combat deployment to Afghanistan, we had moved our lives across the country twice in less than a year, and I had just given birth to a baby, our first. Some days, accomplishing just laundry and dishes seemed out of my league.

But I knew that God had given me a love for writing and the opportunity to publish. He was percolating words in me that I wanted to put down. So on one harried morning, I dared draft an article query. On another day I bravely emailed some book ideas to my agent. It was just a baby toe stepped back into the pool, but from where I stood it was the all-important start, a jump at the big, looming hurdle.

That was trajectory, finally, and in a matter of weeks and months I was actually writing again: ideas flowing, plenty of potential projects on hand, a few materializing, and even (always miraculously) another book contract waiting in the wings. Perhaps more importantly, I was learning to chip away at this job, little by little, reminding myself that it would not be accomplished in a single swing. The laundry and dishes were waiting longer than before, but I figured I could deal with that.

Have you wondered, frustrated, how to get started writing? The solution can be as simple as a little trajectory. Tweet This

Stop trying to figure out how to start writing; instead, start. Aim at a goal and have the courage to start imperfectly and incompletely. As you get a handle on one area, add another. You will likely surprise yourself with all that can be attempted and accomplished. Writing is far more doable when you’re doing it.

Memoir Makes It Better

5 ways practicing memoir will improve both writer and writing.

There is fiction, and there is nonfiction; then somewhere in between lies memoir, their mutant spawn.

The last decade or so has been a heyday of sorts for memoir. Much of what makes the genre appealing to readers is that it combines the artfulness of fiction with the real-life validity of non-fiction. It’s the refined, literary version of reality TV.

But what appeals to memoir readers is often the same thing that confounds memoir writers. To piece together a good memoir, the tenets of fiction must be employed within the constraints of non-fiction. Likewise, the aims of non-fiction must be achieved through elements of fiction.

Still, this blurring of lines is precisely what makes memoir a worthy and worthwhile effort for any writer. Here are a few of the lessons you might find yourself picking up in the practice:

1. You Aren’t So Wonderful

In a world of bad characters and good ones, most of us would seat ourselves in the “good” group. But memoir might suggest we are being too generous in this. Try turning yourself into a protagonist: take a recent conflict in your life and record what your thoughts, actions, and interactions were in it. Leave out your motives and intentions, and instead write what actually happened. How did you respond when given a backhanded compliment, when annoyed in the check-out lane, when cut off in traffic, when insulted or demoted or hurt? Write it honestly.

I thought of myself as a capable and accomplished person, more or less—a kind one too, until I had to become a character in my memoir. The character-me was not nearly so magnanimous as the “me” that I had perceived myself to be. Seeing my unedited self on paper was startling. There was far more sin and selfishness than I would’ve been willing to admit. But that awareness made me better: more repentant, less proud, more forgiving, less afraid of making mistakes. I became newly grateful for what I have been given because I could see like never before that I don’t deserve it. And grateful is a great place from which any writer can start.

2. Characters are Complicated

Walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, as the saying goes. Real people have real complexities; this is impossible to ignore when writing memoir because the subjects you’re writing about are displaying their complexities all the time, from head to toe. Let this be a lesson. The people in your stories will be stronger subjects if you’re willing to appreciate nuance and even paradox in them. That means creating/presenting subjects who have dimension: likeable and unlikeable qualities, consistencies and inconsistencies, weaknesses and strengths alike.

3. Story Is Good

Setting, plot, characters, conflict, rising action, falling action, dialogue. Fiction writers tend to be experienced in weaving together these elements in their writing, while many non-fiction writers spend little time developing their story muscle. The result is often a non-fiction writer with a profound writing weakness: four parts tell for every one part show. Take a crack at memoir, and you’ll see that story can make a point on its own. Events and truths don’t necessarily require further explanation from an omniscient author voice. When the story you’re telling is complete, resolution is already there.

4. Reality is Simple

To keep things fair, here’s one for the fiction folks. You have zero limitations on the creativity you can bring to your story lines, which is likely why the rest of us so thoroughly enjoy your work. But memoir can remind you that most happenings in life are not extraordinary, at least not at first glance. While it can be tempting to rely on spectacular details to move your story along, often that’s an easy way out. It might take more effort and more practice in writing to instead craft a more plausible storyline that has every bit as much resonance.

5. “Interesting” is Necessary

But it should also be said that spectacular things resonate spectacularly. Few people will want to read your work if nothing in it drums up any interest. Far too often we let ourselves settle for an existence that is boring and wimpy. Ask yourself: In the last year, have I changed? Have I pursued something? Have I discovered something? Have I been part of something that matters?

We are creatures made in the image of a bold, reckless, zealous God, the One whose story grips people and sets their lives on an entirely new course. If there is nothing in your life that seems worth writing about, let memoir be an alarm that wakes you up to live bravely. Chase after something. Commit to something. Let go of something. Be moved to action. Give generously. Receive graciously. Love with tenacity. Or write some memoir, if you dare.

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