Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Letters Written to Writer Fans

Hello! I am thrilled that you like my books and I am equally thrilled to know that you want to write books, too. If I tried to explain how to get published ((with lots of details as you have requested)) it would take me a year or two. Really, it would. And I wouldn't be giving you the advice you need now.

So here it is:
Don't worry about how to get published yet. Throw all your energy into writing better. When you can fit it in with schoolwork, write. Every summer, write another book. If you have to get jobs to make money, write at night or early in the morning. Don't use the first ideas that pop into your head. Use the BEST ones. It takes time to get good at writing. It takes a LONG time. Every successful author I know wrote for 10-15 years before they were published. Some started in grade school. I did. Some were in their thirties or older before they could find the time to really get good at it. Some of them graduated from universities with degrees in writing and literature. Others found different ways to learn.


Each book you write will teach your something. It will be better than the one before it. Check out 100 books about writing from the library (not all at once, of course) and read them all carefully. I did. Practice making the words sing. Practice making the reader see what you are seeing in your mind. Practice creating characters that are so real the reader will cry when something bad happens...and be overjoyed when something good happens. Don't rush. Just love writing and keep writing.

Pay attention to the world. Listen to people talk. Notice how they pause, when they lower their voices and when they glance away. Notice everything. Feel the rain and hear the sounds in the forests and the cities. Absorb life and keep journals. Pay attention to your own feelings. READ a lot of great books and try to see all the ways the writer made the story work well (or failed to!)
That's it. Truly.

If you want to be published, if you want people to love your books...first, learn to write really, really well. It takes years of effort. I think it's fabulous that you are so young and already working on a book. Even if you decide not to be a professional writer, learning to write will teach you about people,about life. Your books will be treasured by you, by your family, your kids, your friends, even if you don't get published. Writing is a way to hand down what we learn about the world and being human. Writing time is never wasted.


And if you do end up as a professional writer, you will get letters like the one you wrote me...and they will all make you smile. I am delighted that you like my books. I hope someday I get to read yours.
I wish you all good things!
kathleen



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ANOTHER letter to a fan just graduating high school.


So: 


I read it.
It's a mess, yes, but I can feel the sparks. That's GREAT news! You have a long way to go--this is more a duo of two omniscient-voice character sketches than the beginning of a story, and you don't understand character VP and many, many other things...but it is engaging, and I was not bored.


(Let me repeat that. I, who live chest-deep in story soup, was NOT bored) 


I think you might have the story instincts that, with MUCH work, can become the craft...and with more work...the art...of writing. (...perhaps not in that order, it varies) I absolutely encourage you to continue. I think you can learn to write well if you are willing to work at it. I NEVER say that to anyone if I don't believe it and I am not kidding when I say *work*.


From the day you get serious, you are typically facing a 5-10 year intensive learning curve, after which you will continue to learn, usually at a somewhat slower rate. Writing, done well, is difficult, eternally challenging--it never gets easy. (Easier, yes, easy, never). This is why I love it.  My job will never allow me to be on auto-pilot emotionally or intellectually.


Anyone can get "published" now. Things on the business end are changing in almost violent, relentless, fascinating ways. Don't rush anything. First learn to write. If your early work sucks, that's because you are one of us. ALL our early work sucks. Once we actually know how to write, most of our work still sucks in first drafts (and often longer than that.) as we carve the thing out, nail it together.


Go back and forth to your library. Check out and read every single book on writing they have this summer. Some will be stupid. Some will try to sell you on the idiotic idea that there is a template to follow that guarantees success. Some will be so arty-farty that you want to kill the author with a pitch fork....but you will learn something from all of them if you are trying to learn. None of them will paint the whole picture. None of them will fit you perfectly, you will build your own way to write as you go on. But read them all and while you do that, keep writing so you can try things on for size...


And....find a writing/critique group. There might be some in your school, your town. 


Check out http://www.scbwi.org/
They have world wide regional chapters that bring in authors, agents, real editors, etc. I speak at lot of these every year. It has become almost a "guild" structure and I treasure it. So many people helped me, with their presentations and speeches, and with their off hand comments standing in the bathroom line. So many have become good friends. SCBWI will help you form a community of writers to lean on, a vast pool of thoughtful beta-readers. They can help teach you to write well if you are serious about learning--and you will help them, too, if they are serious. The membership and the conferences are not free. That's because they are good. 


I hope this helps, I hope you keep writing. I really did feel the sparks.


6 comments:

Jocelyn Rish said...

Excellent advice - I'd be much further along in my writing journey if I'd read this twenty years ago.

Amanda said...

Words of wisdom :))

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Lovely! :) e

molga_muses said...

What a wonderful way to state the God's honest truth. I hope the letter writer prints this out and tapes it to a wall. Brilliant words, Kathleen!

Zantippy Skiphop said...

I love this letter! You got right to the soul of writing! It's really sweet and made my throat get tight.

"Feel the rain and hear the sounds in the forests and the cities" :) :) :) :)

* :) * me said...

The second letter was actually written to me :) and I just wanted to tell the world, how many busy authors would do that? Seriously, my dregs of a story sucked... but I still got a long and HELPFUL piece of advice. Now I'm a tad embarrassed, I didn't realize there were so many aspiring writers nudging her.