- Writing is like playing an instrument or painting: it’s a craft to be learned, and the only way to get better is to practice. So the most important thing is to write. If you’re intimidated by starting a novel, try writing short stories, or journal entries, or whatever excites you.
- If you find yourself starting lots of projects and not finishing any of them, push yourself to complete something, even if the process becomes much less enjoyable than it was at the beginning. Don’t worry about how “good” it is. It’s helpful to prove to yourself that you can finish a draft. And you can. I promise.
- Read a lot, both in and out of the genre you’re writing. The rhythm and pacing of story and language have a way of seeping inside our bones. Analyze why you like certain books, and why you don’t like others. Take apart successful plots and figure out how the writers constructed them. Think about what makes you connect with certain characters, and feel distant from others.
- Read a book or two on craft. When I was starting out, I read What’s Your Story? by Marion Dane Bauer and Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb. After I had a handle on the basics of narrative, I learned a great deal from Story by Robert McKee and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. During the revision process, I love Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
- When you feel ready, find other writers to share your work with. Join a critique group, either online or in person. And open yourself up to constructive criticism. There is almost always a TON of revising to be done between the first draft and the final draft; don’t be put off if it seems like a lot of work. Revising is every bit as important as the first draft. That’s when the real story is revealed.
- If you have the resources and access, take a class – at a local college, or adult education center, or online. I know great writers who teach at www.mediabistro.com and www.writers.com.
- BE PATIENT! The writing process is a sloooow one, and so is publishing (if that’s your goal). Do yourself a favor and don’t be in a hurry. The only thing rushing will lead to is frustration.
Some helpful resources:
- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Verla Kay’s Blueboard (a discussion forum for children’s writers)
- Verla Kay’s Blueboard for young writers (a discussion forum for young writers – accessible through the regular Blueboard site)
- Figment (online community for young writers)
- Author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website (information about writing and publishing children’s books)
- Editor Harold Underdown’s website (information about writing and publishing children’s books)
Over the years, some authors and books I’ve absolutely loved (but haven’t necessarily returned to) are: Daphne Du Maurier, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Julio Cortázar, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Munro, Shirley Jackson, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, and The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway.