Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Fiction Writing: A Labor of Love

An Overview of Developing Your Craft

By Shane P. Carr

ฉ2001, Shane P. Carr 

Writing is an art form. Most folks who choose fiction writing as a career do so because of a compulsive need to write. Others choose writing as a way of expressing themselves. I was drawn into writing at an early age. It was one of the few things I enjoyed in school, and the only thing in school I wasn’t intimidated by. I felt it was the one thing I had control over. I could create any story I wanted, and the only rules I had to follow were those of English grammar.  At the time I was a voracious reader of anything from vintage science fiction and fantasy to literary classics. These stories would help spawn ideas for stories of my own, and I would write them in my spare time. As I moved through high school, guidance counselors tried their best to focus me on a career path, but I found none that really sparked my interest. One counselor finally asked me what I was interested in. I was stumped. I really had no idea. I told her I would think about it and get back to her the next day.

That night I went home and thought about what career I would enjoy in life. I liked to help people, so I considered the emergency services field. It seemed exciting enough. I sat down that night after thinking about it, and began writing a story about a mystical healer in some far off land. I went to bed with the characters and world I created for that story dancing in my mind.  When I got to school the next day I told my counselor I was interested in the emergency services field. She was happy to hear that and helped guide me toward my goal. 

The point I am trying to make is that I never actually thought of writing as a career. It was something I did to pass time and escape a rather mundane life. It was something I enjoyed immensely, but I never considered actually making money from it. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I discovered people could actually make a living from writing stories. I had read an article on Stephen King in which he mentioned that a publishing contract had been signed that included a six-figure advance. Even though I had read Mr. King’s work and considered myself a fan, for some reason the thought never entered my mind that he made a great deal of money off these fantastic stories.

I was ready to beat my head against the wall. I had been making up stories for years and never once thought of selling one. It was at that moment I first considered writing as a long-term career goal. I immediately found a creative writing workshop to fine-tune my skills. On the first night of class, the instructor asked us why we wanted to write. I explained how I had been writing my whole life, and just discovered that I might actually make money doing it. She seemed impressed with this statement, and asked me if I knew for a fact I would never make a dime, would I continue writing anyway? My answer was that I always have been writing anyway. She smiled and told the class that I had the most important quality needed to be a professional writer—the simple desire to write.

That is the real key to becoming a professional writer. You must sit down and seriously ask yourself what your reasons are for wanting to be a writer. If it's money and fame you are seeking…forget it. Choose another career, because to be honest ninety-eight percent of us will never see that six figure advance Stephen King receives from publishers. In fact, even if you do manage to get lucky and publish a novel, you may still have trouble paying your rent on your studio apartment.

Now if you're like me, and have been writing anyway,  and think that a royalty check will be a nice fringe benefit, then maybe writing is for you. Writing is a labor of love, and as with any loving relationship, it involves a strong commitment and some sacrifice. The first step is to make sure you have a reliable day job or career to help keep food on your table and coffee in the coffee pot. The next thing is to schedule time around your job, family, and friends to actually sit down and write. Chances are, if you’ve been writing for the fun of it, you already have this time set aside. Now comes the really fun part-ญญญ- write something. Whether it is a short story or the first chapter of a novel, start writing it.

Once you have a tangible piece of work, you can move on to a more humbling experience: getting your story critiqued. You can go to just about any bookstore, college campus, or library and find a writer’s group. You can also find about a million or so such groups on the Internet. These groups consist mainly of people like you who like to write and are trying to fine-tune their skills for publication.  Basically, you trade pieces of your writing for critiquing purposes. You read each other’s work and discuss how to improve it. It is a very humbling experience but is also very enlightening. Since most writers are avid readers as well, they are perfect for finding flaws in your writing. They can tell you if your story is paced too slow, if the characters are boring, or if your grammar is horrible. Listen to the advice no matter how brutal it sounds, even if you don’t agree with it. Nearly all critiques are useful, and you will get to see how some readers might view your work. Although the critique might sound rough, most fellow writers aren’t being malicious.  So take all critiques into consideration, and you may even find something useful in the one you completely disagree with. Trust me -- it is better to get a harsh critique in your writer's group than to hear it from a new agent, editor, or publisher.

Once you begin getting some feedback in your writer’s group, considering taking a class to help improve the areas fellow writers keep pointing out as weaknesses in your work. There are plenty of places on the Internet that offer free workshops, as well as paid classes in all aspects of writing. You may also find some great classes at your local community college, and some of the major bookstores often have seminars or workshops to help you fine tune things.

Finally, educate yourself with books about writing. As with any subject, there are good books and bad ones. Read as many as you can. Even if it’s a bad one, you may come away with some good advice that you haven’t found elsewhere. I have numerous books I have read that cover every aspect of writing and publishing., I have always found something useful in each.

I also found that reading author biographies and memoirs is very useful and enlightening. They give you a first hand view of what the writer’s life is like. Most also offer advice to aspiring authors. In fact Stephen King’s ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ is a fascinating look at the writer’s life that also offers a section full of advice on writing and getting published.

Once you have compiled the mass of advice from your writing group and books, and fine-tuned things with a writing class or two, you will be ready to type out that final draft. Next, you have to take that plunge and actually submit it to an agent or publisher. (If it’s a short story for a magazine, it goes directly to the editor. Check the magazine for submission guidelines). Ironically, for a lot of writers this is the hardest part. I have countless stories I have never submitted anywhere, mostly out of fear of rejection. This fear is something that is most frequently encountered by writers considering submitting for the first time. The fear of rejection can be almost paralyzing. Yet you will never get published if you never submit anything. The best thing you can do is to be persistent. If one editor doesn’t like your work, submit to as many others as you can find. If you end up with a huge stack of rejection notices for the same story, maybe its time to consider that this story isn’t going to sell. Maybe you did everything right, but it just wasn’t the story that was going to catch an editor’s attention. The best thing you can do now is start writing the next story. You are a writer; chances are you’ve already started that next story. Remember, you write because you like to write, not because you want to sell. Selling is only a fringe benefit. As long as you keep that in mind you’ll be content.

The real key is to keep yourself motivated to sit down and write the best possible story you can each time. Convince yourself that each story will be your best. Pour your heart and energy into the story; love it like it's your child. If you can do this each and every single time, eventually you will achieve publication. Editors can tell when a story has that much devotion. It comes across in the writing. It will make them look deeper into the story and find what brought out such devotion from the author. When the editor finds it, you will get published. So go on…start writing…and give it your all.