A lot of people think that writers are born knowing what they want to do—that it’s something ingrained deep within them all their lives. But plenty of writers don’t start out thinking of themselves that way at all. They’re just people who, while they adore books, could never imagine writing stories of their own.
I was a voracious reader long before I ever contemplated writing for a living. I went through plenty of dreams—acting, singing, marine biology, becoming a ninja—before I realized I wanted to be a writer. But through all these other goals and aspirations, I always read. I tore through book after book—sometimes more than one in a single weekend. My favorite love stories, science fiction, and fantasy books introduced me to new worlds to explore and characters who became friends. These novels taught me about what I admired most in people, and in turn, the sort of person I wanted to be.
Then I got the itch. I had fallen so head over heels in love with books by this point that I desperately wanted to be able to write one of my own. So I know from experience how overwhelming and downright terrifying it can be to make the jump from reader to author. Many years later, having written two published novels (one of which you can read right here on Fictionate.Me) and a heap of yet-to-be-published rough drafts, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that will hopefully help all you readers out there make that leap as well.
You have probably already read tons of books. You may own so many that you’ve got stacks of books on your floor, or you pulled a Rory from Gilmore Girls and filled your drawers with them. But it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read—once you decide you want to try your hand at writing, you need to read more.
For one thing, you start reading differently once you’re doing so with a writerly eye. You will begin to notice turns of phrase or delightful bits of dialogue in ways you never did before. Suddenly you’ll find yourself not just admiring the story, but the craftsmanship behind all the elements that make that story great.
So read as much as you can. Try to learn techniques authors use to build your favorite worlds, develop your favorite characters, and weave your favorite plots. This isn’t the easiest thing to do on a first reading, so I would suggest reading your favorites more than once. This post on rereading will help you learn what to look for as you dive back into stories for the second, third, or twenty-fourth time. All this reading and rereading will help to sharpen your writing skills for the road ahead.
Start an Idea Farm
One of the most overwhelming parts of deciding to write a book is coming up with an idea. It’s what stops a lot of would-be writers in their tracks before they even start. Part of what makes coming up with your idea so scary is that many think an idea magically comes to a writer fully formed, with a perfect beginning, middle, and end already in place.
In my experience, that is not at all how ideas work. Instead, they come to me in bits and pieces over time—often several months or even years. Vita and the Monsters of Moorhouse began with me becoming fascinated by a particular building near my apartment, and the spark for one of my most recently completed manuscripts came from hearing a particular Django Reinhardt song for the first time.
Great stories can come out of the tiniest bits of inspiration. Maybe you’ll grow attached to a particular tree near your office, or really want to write something having to do with zombies. Just jot down these simple ideas in a document (your Idea Farm) and refer back to it from time to time. Odds are, you will start coming up with ways to expand your ideas. Not every idea will grow into a fully developed concept, but if you keep at it, it won’t be long before you come up with at least one idea you want to follow into a novel-sized story.
For more tips on how to start your Idea Farm and other ways to come up with an idea for your novel, check out this post on brainstorming.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Here’s the cold, hard fact you have to face when embarking on any new endeavor: You’re going to have to do it a lot. Then do it more. Then do it even more. You’ve probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule—that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. This rule gets mentioned a lot because it’s true.
Everyone loves stories of natural talent where an athlete can kick a football flawlessly on their first try, or a gifted painter’s first attempt at a still life is a masterpiece. But people with that kind of raw talent are very rare, and there’s often more practice and dedication involved behind the scenes than you might think in even their stories. The Beatles practiced together for thousands of hours before they ever became international superstars. Most of your favorite authors—including icons like J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King—toiled through years of writing and rejections before they were able to produce some of their greatest works.
So just write, write, write. Set aside time each week to dedicate to your craft. If you’ve got a busy schedule, cranking out flash fiction stories or short scenes when you can will still help to give you the practice you need.
Don’t Rush It
As you’re reading over all that writing you’ve been doing, you might start to become frustrated. You know the sorts of stories you love to read, and your work isn’t measuring up. Your story is nowhere near as exciting as The Hunger Games, and its world lacks the inventiveness and scope of Harry Potter.
You need to stop comparing yourself to the greats. Of course you’re not at their level yet—you just started! And even once you get through your 10,000 hours, you still won’t be Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling. You’ll be someone even better—you’ll be you. While you can certainly look to other writers as role models, you shouldn’t strive to become exactly like them. You have your own writerly path ahead of you, and you don’t need to rush through it.
Take things at your own pace—there’s no need to be in such a hurry to master your craft. If you’re lucky, you’ll keep growing as a writer your whole life long. So just sit back and enjoy the journey ahead.
Make the Leap!
While you shouldn’t rush things, you also shouldn’t wait forever to finally make that leap. No one’s ever ready—as said, there will always be space to improve. So once you’ve got a concrete idea and have spent some time practicing, go ahead and take the plunge! Submit to a literary magazine, query an agent, or start posting your novel online. Making the leap for some may be as simple as showing work to a friend (sometimes having people you know read your stuff can be a lot scarier than strangers).
You’ll probably run into rejection, but don’t get discouraged. That’s all part of the journey! Try to learn from each setback and move forward. Because you’re working and trying to be the best writer you can be, you will have successfully made that leap from reader to writer.