Let’s say someone decides they’d like to be a professional writer. Even though they don’t have much experience, there’s this one story idea that’s been hounding them for years. They pick up a pen and a notebook and write it down, day after day, scene by scene. After putting “the end” on their manuscript, it’s done! That’s all there is to it, right?
But no one wants to publish or represent their book, and those who read it don’t like it but don’t know exactly why. And if no one knows why they don’t like it, how can the writer possibly fix it?
There’s the obvious solution of hiring an editor to polish things up, and that might help the work feel more polished, but editing can only do so much. Sometimes, it can’t fix what’s really wrong with a story. Sometimes, you have to change your mindset more than the words on the page.
First of all, a story isn’t just a bunch of scenes put together. Secondly, being a professional writer isn’t just writing every day and publishing what you finish.
If you believe you can be a writer, and be really good at it without proper training, you have a lot to learn. Literally.
Most of us didn’t get degrees in writing. I certainly didn’t. Still, while you don’t need a degree to be an author, that doesn’t make the actual writing any easier or simple to accomplish. Just because we don’t go to a school dedicated to this job, doesn’t mean we can coast on what we already know and depend on learning everything else by experience on the job.
The truth is, even though you don’t need a fancy piece of paper to prove you’re qualified, you do need to act like you’re earning one. Writing is like any other field: You have to study it in depth in order to become a professional. That means you have to learn how to make a story work on purpose, and yes, it’s harder than it sounds.
If cool ideas aren’t enough to get you through a writing career, how do you build up an understanding of the nuances needed for this craft?
1. Attend writing conferences
Unfortunately, conferences cost money. That’s the biggest reason self-employed people like us don’t attend them. The price may not be ideal, but if you want your career to succeed, you need to think of it as a business. All business conferences cost money because they are essential to making sure you’re constantly learning to be better at your job. If you don’t think proper training and retraining is worth it, then it might be time to admit to yourself that you’re not quite ready to be a professional.
There are plenty of conferences to get you started that cost less than $300, especially in Utah, such as LTUE ($65 in 2020), Storymakers ($245 in 2019, not yet listed for 2020), and Fyrecon ($40 in 2019, not yet listed for 2020). Find and pick a conference where you live, or find a way to get to one farther away if it fits better in your budget. Places like these are where established authors impart their knowledge of how to make stories work, and where you can glean from that knowledge and apply it to your own work.
2. Find a good writing goup
Last week, Bree said a writing group is like a lifeline. That support is so important, but what you can learn from other authors is just as important even if they’re at the same stage in their careers as you are. Alone, you may know a bit about writing, but together--with people living different experiences--you’ll have a lot more knowledge to draw from.
3. Study up on writing
There are plenty of books out there on everything you need to know in order to be a good writer. This is the point I want to stress most. If you do not study up on what makes a good plot structure, characters, or story, it’s like throwing darts while wearing a blindfold; you may know the direction the dartboard’s in, but your aim will be off. Reading books about writing will make you more aware of your weaknesses, help you fix them, and point out the things you’re already doing well.
Lately, I’ve been studying “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, and “Dynamic Story Creation” by Maxwell Alexander Drake. The first covers the plot structure of the hero’s journey, and the second discusses expectations that create satisfaction in your readers.
4. Read other books
While you’re studying how to create solid stories that make your readers hungry for more, don’t forget to read other books. Lots of them. And not just in your genre. Read a bit of everything, and you’ll start to see tools used in certain books that aren’t used in others. You’ll probably see some things outside your genre that you can put into it to make it better.
We may not need a degree to prove we’re great at writing. But we do need dedication. We need to study writing like people who go to college study for their degrees.
There are thousands of writers out there. Think about that for a second. Thousands. Though it’s not really a competition, each one is vying for their work to catch the attention of new readers. The way to stand out from the rest is to show you know what you’re doing. Study hard, apply it to the amazing ideas you already have, and it’ll pay off.
Keep trying! We’re rooting for you.
Rachel V. White has lived in Utah all her life, and has been writing fiction nearly as long. “Starsworn” is her debut published work, but as long as her husband, three children, and over-anxious dog cooperate, there will certainly be more to come. Be sure to watch for "Shattered Snow," her first audiobook narration project, coming soon!
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.