What it takes to be a writer

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Someone asked me this on a message board where I post, and I thought it would be informative for anyone who actually reads this blog as well so I am reposting it here.

I couldn’t tell you how to get picked up by a publisher, because I never had that happen to me despite having a real literary agent and trying hard for several years.
I can tell you how to write a book…or at least how I do it.
First of all, you have to have a story you want to tell. That sounds basic, but I can’t count the number of books I’ve read that don’t seem to have any compelling story the author wants to tell. Things happen, it’s all vaguely connected, but there’s no “sit down by the fire and let me tell you a story” feel to it. You need to have a good tale that’s just bursting to work its way out of your head and onto your keyboard.
Second, you have to come up with characters that people will care about. Again, sounds basic, but it’s even rarer than the first one. A lot of characters in fiction are cardboard cutouts with no depth to them, and only serve as sounding boards or hand puppets for the author. The best characters will write your story for you. It’s happened to me many times…I’d have an idea where I wanted the plot to go, but when some momentous event happened in the story, I’d start thinking not what I’d decided to do next but “what would Jason McKay and Shannon Stark do now?” If you can ask that question of your characters and the answer winds up being different than the plot you outlined, you’ve got some good characters.
Third, you have to be able to slog through the “middle parts.” Writing a beginning is easy. If you’ve done it right, the end writes itself and the big action-filled sequences are fun to write and don’t seem to last long enough. But you still have to get through those parts inbetween where it seems like you’re just killing time between one plot point and the next but what you’re really doing is filling in the parts of the story that connect things and make people care who lives and dies or succeeds and fails by the end of the book. You can’t just cruise through them half-assed, you have to work at them. That’s the real work of writing for me, getting through those “middle parts.”
Last, give your readers closure. Don’t leave plot threads hanging, don’t leave anything unresolved that you’ve made important to the reader. That’s cheating, whether or not you intend there to be another book.

I personally write and sell my own books via self-publishing on Amazon for Kindle and I’ve been fairly successful at it. Stephen King once said that if you can pay a utility bill with what you’ve made writing, you’re a successful author. I could have bought a very nice car with what I’ve made in four years. (Not that I did buy one. My car is an econobox.) The most important part about self publishing is to know your genre and know your market. Things you do to market your books aren’t nearly as important as writing a book for which there is already an established market.

Anyway, good luck. Keep writing and if you can’t find a traditional publisher to buy it, publish it yourself. If nothing else, someone besides you and your friends and family will wind up reading it and you might get some good criticism at least.

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