Tips for the Newborn Writer

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When did I become a writer?  Truthfully, I don’t know.  I am just the kid who never stopped telling stories.  I was homeschooled, out in the Athens, GA countryside, making up tales (many involving pretending I was a wild horse).  Later, as a teenager, I changed to people-based stories.  Also,  my sister and I would act out episodes of SeaQuest DSV, Earth 2, The X-Files, and Chicago Hope — episodes we made up as we acted them out.

I trace my ‘real’ writing career as beginning in Nov. 1997 (I had really written down only a couple of little stories before that point).  I attended Michael Hauge’s two-day screenwriting class in Atlanta and then set to work to prove to myself I could make it to page 100.  I did.  Another screenplay followed and then, in 2002, I came into the world of novels.

But I found myself wondering — what would I tell myself if I could meet 15-years-ago me?  Or, conversely, what has kept me on the path and getting better all this time?  And so, without further ado —

Tips for the New Born Writer

  1. Trust Yourself.  Learn all you can, never stop learning, but also NEVER let anyone tell you something about yourself, your writing, or your characters that you know to be untrue.  It’s your world, you built it, and you have to defend it from people who want to make it more like their worlds.  Follow your heart; it will lead you right every time.  And if it doesn’t lead you right, it will still lead you into a great story.
  2. Don’t Worry About Getting Better — Just Get Better.  The answer to every problem in the first few years is ‘Write more’.  Or ‘Read more (more fiction and non-fiction) and write more’.  I truly believe ‘talent’ is just love + time.  Keep writing, keep learning, and with all your heart and intelligence keep picking the next perfect words.  You are talented, you know it.  Just start walking the road toward your amazing destiny.
  3. Be Unfaithful (to Your Genre).  Probably the best thing you can do is soak up a million different inspirations.  Let’s say you want to write young adult fantasy.  Great — but DO NOT only read young adult fantasy.  I want the story you write to also be influenced (consciously and subconsciously) by your love of samurai movies, building model boats, reality shows about cooks, old Superman cartoons, the Best Picture winners from the ’70s, Bach, the Muppets, and the Gormenghast trilogy.  Get inspiration from as many sources as possible and I guarantee your story will be better for it.
  4. Follow the Passion, not the Path.  You might (and probably will) wake up one day and find yourself less enthused with what you use to love.  Or maybe you start a novel version of your screenplay idea and think “This is it, this is where I belong”.  It happened to me.  There’s no right or wrong career choice, except the one that doesn’t fill you with excitement.
  5. Finish Things.  Now this is a tricky one, because I haven’t finished everything and I’m not telling you to either.  But, I have learned the most, moved the farthest forward, and been the proudest of the things I’ve finished, even the ‘just okay’ screenplays.   I’ve known people who keep making beginnings and never ends.  Now that is their path, but I encourage you to finish at least some things — you’ll feel a multifold of benefits.
  6. Soak It All In.  Now, this is kind of like the advice people give you to ‘Read, read, and read some more’, except that I can’t say that.  Why?  Because I don’t read all that much.  I love what I do read, but I actually learn about characters and scenes a lot more often through TV and films.  And there are games and music too, to consider.  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it inspires you and encourages your work.
  7. Don’t Worry If It Takes Time.  As people always say, the time will pass anyway.
  8. Look for the Right Writing Book (or Teacher) for Right Now.  As a youngin’, I picked up Bird by Bird, read a few pages, and thought to myself — “Why doesn’t she stop yammering about her father?  I just want to know how to write.”  Later, I realised the book was brilliant, but back then I was looking for simple rules and ideas, and the subtlety was a little over my head.  But believe me, the right book for right now is out there.
  9. Join the Athens, GA Novel Writers Group cia 2002.  If this proves impossible, find the closest possible thing.  Now, the wrong group can hurt you, but I learned so much from these guys that I really believe that it’s worth looking for the right group.  And you get to watch yourself go from noob to old hand as the members come and go.  And, in case you were wondering — we had 8 novelists, met twice a month, and read four people’s chapters aloud each meeting.
  10. Read This Quote From PBS’s Ira Glass.

Basically, if you can’t stop writing, you’re going to make it, and if you can’t stop thinking, dreaming, and improving your craft — you’re going to make people really excited.  I can’t wait to read your work.

Always feel free to drop me a line at katherinecerulean AT gmail DOT com

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