How do I learn to write?

I received an email from a young man the other day, asking me for help in learning to write. He got my name from the local bookstore where some of my books happen to be on sale – and where I used to work so the owners know me well. His question – how do I learn to write?

I’ve had this question from others as well over the years. What I have discovered is that this is not the question most of them want to ask. Anyone can write. Pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and write. That’s all there is to it.

What they really want to know is… How do I get published?

Ah, that’s an entirely different question. And a much harder one to answer. First, you have to know what you want to write. Do you want to write fiction (made-up stories)? Non-fiction (facts)? Poetry? Memoirs? Something else? Once you’ve figured out *what* you want to write, then you can learn *how* to write. Actually, you need to know how for all of these, but each one requires a different skill set. For all of them, though, you need to know words – spelling and meaning. You need to know basic grammar (punctuation, nouns, verbs, etc.). And you need time. A lot of it. Because writing isn’t just putting down words. It’s rewriting. It’s research. It’s having what you write make sense, not just to you, but to anyone who reads it. It’s frustration and hard work. And it’s also amazing when you get that one reader who “gets” you and what you’re trying to say.

How do you get published? You write the best book you possibly can. And you get it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. And you rewrite and revise and polish. If you want to go the traditional route, you submit it to appropriate publishers. If you’re self-publishing, you get it edited and formatted and get cover art done and post it. And you promote. A lot. And you grow a thick skin.

What do I mean by the last? You’re going to get rejected. A lot. Or get bad reviews. Or no sales. And it hurts. A lot. But the way to make it in this profession? Use each of these negatives to learn more about the craft and keep writing. Keep submitting. Keep working at it. Turn the negatives into a positive. Someone didn’t like your characters? Learn about creating better characters. Said you had too many mistakes? Learn spelling/grammar or get a good editor. Said you goofed on facts? Do more research. Use these to get better at what you do. It doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt any less, but eventually, you’ll start getting better reviews and contracts. And that’s when the years – yes, years – of hard work will pay off.

Good luck!

And Happy New Year!

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