How to be a Writer

“The next time you kill me,” my five year old grandson’s words caught my attention, “make sure I’m under the ground so I will be buried, ok?”

I turned to my daughter, brows arched in question. She shrugged and continued typing on her laptop.

“Computer game,” she said, “with his brothers.”

I laughed. “Great opening line. Had me hooked.”

Like me, my daughter is a writer, so we commiserate often on the challenges we face pushing forward with our need to put word to paper. With the same goals and the same passion toward our work, our strengths and our methods are very different. The way we write matches our personalities. I am a loose planner and easily distracted. My husband and I joke that our daughter was born with a list in her hand, and she has planned her days ever since.

We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable.― Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Every day, my daughter wakes up early in order to get an hour of writing in before her four energetic boys (is that an oxymoron?) wake up. I do my best work after everyone is in bed at night. 

Kelsey hates finding opening lines for each chapter, I love openings.

She outlines thoroughly, spending weeks writing every detail about her characters and what will happen on a chapter by chapter basis. She also has a schedule of what has to be completed by what date. This is a process she loves doing, and it serves to build her excitement for the story. I do a rough outline (I know where the story is going, but don’t write it out chapter by chapter) and then I fill in the gaps as I go. Sometimes, this will take me in a whole new direction I didn’t initially plan on. I find writing detailed outlines hinders my writing (frankly, it bores me to death) when I am eager to get to work. In my defense, I do spend hours and hours making up backstories and planning what I am going to do. However, this occurs in my head while I am cleaning, driving, or–my most productive–when taking a bath. I never forget the good ideas. I figure the ideas forgotten must not be worth keeping.

Sometimes I struggle with the middle of my tale, my daughter has such detailed outlines, that the middle is where she soars.

Kelsey writes in sequential order. She always knows what’s coming next. I write scenes as they come to me, sometimes in order, sometimes not. When I am stuck on how to move from point A to point B, I write a future scene and often the solution to my missing pieces becomes apparent. 

Her stories are action packed, but she has to work on rounding out her characters and settings. My characters are so vivid I dream about their past and future lives, but I have to push myself to keep the plot action moving and not bog down on the moment.

My daughter writes fantasy and YA, I write Christian historical suspense with a bit of romance.

There are a million and one ways to be a writer, and each of us has to find the method that works for us. Still, there are some rules that every successful writer I know follows.

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.― Louis L’Amour

  1. Read. Read a lot from the genre you write. This helps you internalize the rhythm and flavor that genre holds. Read with a critical eye: what about the story and the way it is written captivates you? Why? What doesn’t work? Why? Read from genres outside your own. This will help round out your imagination, help you be creative and unique. It can push you out of your comfort zone and help you grow.
  2. Learn the craft. Educate yourself. Attend writer’s conferences if you can. Read books and blogs on the art of writing. Take classes. There are an abundance of classes available online, some of them for free. (Some of my favorites: Reedsy Learning or Reedsy on YouTube, The Write Conversation, Writing for Life Workshops) This applies to both fiction writers and non-fiction writers. Unless you are writing a manual, you need to hold your audience’s attention, keep them turning the pages. You want them to tell their friends about you. You want to provide an experience to your reader that draws them into your story. To do so, the words must flow and not be cumbersome. The descriptions and emotions must be real. The characters and plot must be believable–even if the tale is fantastical. These are skills that are not natural to most, and can be learned.
  3. Write. Write. Write. You are not a writer if you do not write. Whether you have time to write only on the weekends, spend most of your day writing, or can only squeeze in fifteen minutes a day, make a schedule and try to stick with it. Without practice you will not improve. And we all can use improvement.
  4. Join a writing community. If you have a local writer’s group, check it out. Be aware that some groups can destroy any confidence you have, others will help you grow. Look for one that will tell you the truth about your work, but does so while encouraging you to keep trying. There are also online writing communities you can join. You need other people to help you grow. You may think your book baby is perfect and join a group expecting to find an agent begging to take you on, but realize that is a pipe dream. As most mothers (and fathers) it is hard for us to see the faults in our own offspring, and those faults are often blatant to other people. Expect to have your story picked apart. If you want to be a published author, you need thick skin and a willingness to never give up. Take the comments people make and learn everything you can from them. You won’t agree with everything, but (especially if several people say the same thing) you will be a better writer by seriously considering the criticisms and seeing what you can do to improve. How badly do you want to write that book? Go ahead and have your cry, then get the paper ( or computer) out and start rewriting. And rewriting… This goes back to #2–learn the craft, but this time with the help of others. (I recently opened an almost finished manuscript I put aside about 10 years ago and am amazed at how much my writing has improved. Back then, I thought it was sooo good. Now, I see it will take a LOT of work to become good enough to publish.)
  5. Pray about what you write. If your words do nothing to honor your Creator, they are not worth writing. I’m not saying everything we write has to be Christian fiction or devotionals, or even overtly “Christian”. We need to remember that when a story is told it impacts the reader, even when its purpose is solely to entertain. Words change people. Words can change the world. Make sure your words are a change for the better.

I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

What is one thing you do that helps you improve as a writer? What is your biggest weakness? Comment below.

Keep writing and keep smiling!

Brenda Gates

Buy my book here.

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