There is an abundance of guidance available–books, blogs, hand-outs–that illuminate the steps or “rules” to becoming a successful writer. Be warned, however, as NYT Best-Selling Author Steve Berry says, “The first rule is, there are no rules.”
Similarly, there’s a plethora of material out there for novice writers, whether wannabe novelists or nonfiction authors, that expound upon the snares hidden along the path to publication. That is, the mistakes that can be made.
But there is one mistake that beginning writers make I think is key. I know, because I made it.
It’s this: attempting on your own, in isolation, to become a traditionally published author. In other words, attempting to achieve success without the benefit of interacting with other writers is a lost cause. Under the heading of interacting I include such things as belonging to a critique group, having a critique partner, hiring an editor, attending conferences, or pursing an MFA.
To be blunt, I’ve read material written by friends who dived into the writing pool without bothering to take swimming lessons. Some of it wasn’t bad; none of it was commercially viable.
On the other hand, I’ve been around writers who have improved month after month, year after year, as they suffer, for example, the slings and arrows of critique groups. These are writers who are in it for the long haul, determined to get better, and who eventually land publishing contracts. By the way, a critique needn’t be harsh, but it must be truthful. And as we all know, truth sometimes hurts.
The craft of professional writing can’t be learned without receiving feedback. I initially tried to go it on my own, and the stuff I wrote–that at the time I thought was pretty good–was, in retrospect, best kept from human consumption.
A writer has to earn his way to publication. That means he (or she) is going to get a Purple Heart, or two or three, along the way. It’s not an easy path. A novice scribe has to fight his way through free-fire zones and minefields, each representing a learning experience. But when an author finally sees that first book with his name on it . . . wow. It was all worth it.
In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to remind rookie writers of one of the best writing conferences around: The Southeastern Writers Association Workshop on St. Simons Island, Georgia, in June. It’s a gorgeous venue with some of the best instructors and biggest names in the business. AND, it’s got its own agent-in-residence. You can check it out here.