Saturday, September 1, 2012

So You Wanna be a Writer.

You wanna be a writer? Why not? Why not you? How hard can it be right? It's not hard. Or at least no harder than becoming an astronaut or a brain surgeon and plenty of people do that, right? So, if it's what you want to do, go for it.

And because I like the look of you, I'm gonna do everything I can to help you, but only you. Okay.

The first thing you have to do to be a writer is to write something. If you want to get a novel published you have to write a novel. Not always. If you are Stephen King or Stephanie Meyers or if your Daddy owns a publishing company and you're in his good books, you only have to write a letter talking about the idea for your book and you'll get a contract. But for the rest of us we have to write the book, and hopefully that will be the fun part because if you’re doing it for fame and riches, those bits might not come at all. For most people, even published ones, they don’t.

Once you’ve written your book the next thing you should do is throw it away, or maybe burn it or use it to write your next book on the back of. Because the first book is almost certainly going to be awful.  I know mine was.

I’m not being pessimistic here or doubting your ability. I’m just saying, this is how things usually work. Olympic sprinters had to learn how to walk once. Their first race at kindergarten probably wasn’t all that spectacular. Your brain surgeon couldn’t use a knife and fork once upon a time. They might have been pretty bright at high school and even watched enough of ER to have got a pretty good idea about doctoring, but we don’t really want to let them lose in our craniums until they’ve finished med school.

Statistics show that it takes, on average, about nine years to master any complex skill. So be prepared. If you don’t throw out that first novel, you will rewrite it so many times it will be a different novel by the time it is publishable.  Because that is how you are going to master your skill, by practicing it. Writing, and rewriting. Page after page after page. Which is how every skill is mastered, through practice, making mistakes and learning from them. Now it is a lot easier to do this if we get some training to help guide our practice. If you want to play golf you can watch a couple of games on TV and then get on the course and start making like Happy Gilmore. Or you can get a golf pro to teach you.

Many budding authors think because they have read books they know how to write them, and depending on one’s innate ability, one may indeed achieve a lot in this way, but your chances of achieving anything are much greater if you get guidance. If you can enrol in a class with a good teacher or find an established writer or editor to give you some feedback or mentorship, you will progress much more swiftly and surely than if you are trying to reinvent the wheel all by yourself.

There is no substitute for being an avid reader. You should read widely, in your genre and outside it. Read the classics. This stretches your vocabulary and helps you to think creatively about language. And you should read as much about the industry as possible. Research the basic information on how to format your book, how to structure it and prepare it for submission. That way, your first book might not be quite as terrible as most first novels and it will definitely be a darn sight better than mine.

I think it is a very wise move for any serious writer to submit their work for professional assessment at some point. If you are blessed with any wisdom you will realise that you are a developing writer embarked upon an ambitious project and you want to get some idea of how close you are to achieving your goal. A good assessment will tell you that. Have realistic expectations though when you send your work in and be prepared to be directed back to the drawing board. Look at how much work you have put in. How far into your expected nine-year journey are you? Have you read up on the industry? Have you done classes or workshops? How much have you actually read and how much have you written? Your assessment should tell you if the work shows promise or not. It should tell you what the strengths and weaknesses are. Sometimes an author discovers that the aspects of the work they were most concerned about are fine but there are other aspects they didn’t even think of that need attention. The important thing, though, is that when you go back to that drawing board, you’ll be much better armed to continue with the task, or start a fresh project on a firmer footing.

The assessment should be part of your training. It will be like a tutorial via correspondence with someone who has read your ms thoroughly, analysing and making notes as they go, on everything from your grasp of grammar to the solidity of your plot and the believability of your characters.

I started assessing manuscripts in 1997 and I’ve assessed hundreds since then, freelancing for other agencies and running my own. I’ve had the pleasure of assessing a couple of manuscripts that needed nothing but my recommendation to publishers that they be published.  Such as Scheherazade by Anthony O’ Neil (published by HarperCollins), and Mishaps by Nansi Kunze (published by Random House). But most needed some work. Some a lot. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with author’s like Chris Ride whose The Schumann Frequency seemed to me to have the promise of being a bestseller although it needed a lot of work. I worked with Chris for a year after my initial assessment (which was Chris’s fourth) before the Schumann Frequency was ready for publication. Chris has just released his third book The Inca Curse which will, hopefully also hit the bestseller lists.

What every author I have seen succeed has in common, in addition to talent, is an incredible work ethic. I know no one who succeeded with their first novel unless they rewrote it over many years. They also tend to be humble and willing to learn. They realise how difficult it is to write well. Their realistic expectations prepare them for the journey ahead and sustain them through the hard patches. In the following blogs I’m going to be going into more detail on how the assessment process can help authors refine their art and gain success. I’ll be going into how to choose an assessor and how to get the most out of the process.

Down the track we’ll also be looking at many of the skills of writing, because the best way to get the most out of an assessment it to submit a promising ms. So I’ll be mentoring you with the basics so that you have all that covered and the assessor can concentrate on anything that might have somehow eluded you. Hey, this is exciting. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Til next time.

But in the meantime, if you think you may be ready for an assessment now, check out my website at

And if you want to read one of my novels. Well, here's one I just published on Amazon which is being made into a film for release in 2013. It's a short one so I'm only charging $5.95. Lucky you.