Guest blog by Dan Sherman
Few things can match the satisfaction a writer feels at capturing, in words, their mind’s vision. Even the description of an actual place or event gives a kind of permanent record through which the author’s style and insight shines through.
For these reasons, and perhaps as many others as there are writers, a great many of us find pleasure in writing. Some will simply record daily events to keep the juices flowing, but most who partake in this endeavor have gripping stories to tell. The stories may be short or long and of any genre, fiction or non-fiction. All the same, each tale is told in the unique voice of the author.
Unfortunately, many writers never pursue their craft. Some might make an initial stab, but wind up shelving it, unsure how to proceed. How many writers have the intention to “get back to it at some point”? Sadly, they can put this wonderful endeavor off until retirement, or forever.
So, how does one walk down the road as a writer? If you follow the path I give, you will both develop your craft and have a body of finished work to show for it.
Determine your medium
For some writers, determining their medium is a simple matter. They always think in terms of a grand plot that will take at least a couple hundred pages to give its due; or the reverse, of shorter and separate plots, each its own work. A specific genre, such as action or mystery, may even be preferred.
The purpose here is not to limit you. If you look over the careers of your favorite authors, very few novelists do not have at least one collection of short stories, and the best short story writers have tried their hand at full-length work. And who is to say that a novel would not also make a good theatrical play or a good screenplay, or vice versa?
No, the purpose here is to get started. Examine your ideas. Choose the vehicle that best places them on the written page. Be sure you are familiar with the medium you select – an old-fashioned trip to the library brings one to the best teachers, whether of novels, short stories, screenplays, etc.
Outline a project
Depending on your project’s length, and depending on your own style, your outline will vary in length and maybe format. At the very least, it is important that you delineate what will happen in each chapter or section of a book. This will remind you what to include as you write, as well as guide you on your path of the plot.
With short stories, treat each as you would a full-length novel, even if you wish to complete a good many. Give each one its own heading in your outline, along with any notes you think necessary.
There is no need to follow a formal structure, as the outline is a communication from you, to you. You just need to draw your road map, so that you can write your book without interruption.
Complete your writing project
This advice may seem comical in its apparent simplicity. Now, we’ve hit the pen to the paper phase. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. There’s no way around it, you need to convert your idea into words; it’s the great make-break moment for any writer. Have no fear though. You have your outline, your vision for the course your story will take.
If you find you never have the time to complete your book or you struggle to make productive use of the time you allot, please refer my wife’s article, Writing Tips: How to Avoid Distractions. She gives a lot of good advice on how to keep on a steady path.
The bottom line is that you’ll need to sort out your own ways of handling challenges you encounter. Under what circumstances do you produce the most? When you find yourself getting stuck, what frees your mind up and gets you rolling again? Those will be your go-to strategies.
Continue with the project you have outlined until you are finished. If you must change elements of the plot as you proceed, or even find you must go back to alter some earlier portion, do so. Just limit these impulses as much as possible. Remember, the goal is to have a completed product.
Where to go next
Once you complete your first draft, you will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Many experience a huge feeling of being unburdened. Save editing for a later time; give yourself time to enjoy the moment: you’ve completed your first book! The process you just went through of developing a plot, creating and resolving a conflict, and describing your ideas in words, has improved you as a writer. No dissertation on the subject can substitute. After a week or two, take the time to review the manuscript for edits and begin that whole process.
When you have completed your book, I’m sure you’ll have a few new projects ready to consider. Every step, from the initial spark of inspiration to the final written word, will become more grooved in with experience. You are well on the path to creating a good body of personal work.
Dan Sherman has been a ghostwriter for two decades. He specializes in fiction and memoirs. He welcomes emails from all his readers.