How to be a writer when you grow up
Got this in from a reader of Invisible whose Goodreads name is Lemony Snicket:
"Hello. I love this book. My friend was reading it and I thought I should try, and I feel in love with this book. I want to be a writer when I grow up. Do you have any tips for me? I would really appreciate it."
First of all, you've picked a great writer to aspire to. Lemony Snicket is about the best there is. If you keep reading everything people like that have to offer, you'll immediately be wanting to reach lofty heights in your own writing.
Here are my tips for how to be a writer when you grow up. Most of them are things you can do right now. It's a lot of work, but if you are committed enough, you can do it.
Read, read, read.
The more you read, the more you'll learn. The better books you read, the more you'll learn. But you can learn from not-so-good books too, if you take the time to work out what it is that doesn't work about them.
When you read you learn vocabulary, voice, structure, characterisation and plot. But you'll also learn about life and emotion and being a person of integrity, and having adventures and overcoming adversity. You'll need all of these to become a writer.
You'll also learn about story. It's the most potent, powerful force for communication that there is. Give someone a ten point plan about defeating bullies or a bunch of bullet points about how to find your voice and they'll walk away and think, "huh, maybe." Tell someone a story about a young girl who changed her life when she started telling the truth, and people stay with you and say, "Yes!"
Write, write, write
You can't be a writer unless you're actually writing something. And writing is like body building or training for a marathon. You don't lift the heavy weights or make the 26 miles until you've done enough training.
Every little poem or story you write now counts. It might not be good enough to publish, but it's a step in the right direction.
Got a book review to do? Poetry assignment to write? Imagine that you're writing it to send to your favourite author. Pretend you're a real writer with a real contract and you have to submit your best work to a world famous publisher.
Start a blog. It's a no-pressure way of writing regularly. You might not get any readers, but you're writing. Plus it's fun to press 'Publish'. Do it long enough and you'll find your voice. The one that makes you happy. The one that people want to listen to.
Your first go is never the best one. Treat what you do first as a draft, including assignments. (The only time you shouldn't do this is in exams... you might not finish....) Do it. Put it away for a while. Then look at it again. You'll know what has to change. You'll see the gawky bits immediately.
Learn from criticism
This is the hardest thing for me. I've recently had to scrap 20,000 words of my new novel because my writer's group were adamant that the main character wasn't coming across as sympathetic. I hate it when people criticise what I do. But I know I won't be a better writer unless I hear it and change what I'm doing.
My one fear is that I'll think I'm hot stuff when, really, everyone else is feeling sorry for my deluded brain.
Keep going despite rejection
Also a toughy. If I'd given up at 10 rejections, I wouldn't be a writer. Hey, 45+ rejections later I'm still writing and still going. If getting published is easy for you, it's probably because you're JK Rowling's daughter. (Everyone will JUMP to publish her books in 10 years time). You've got to be thick skinned and one-eyed and relentless.
Practice telling jokes
Good joke-telling teaches you suspense, timing and craft, as well as the obvious - humour. If you can tell three jokes in a row to people who really want to hear them, you're becoming a good story teller.
Observe yourself and the world around you
Everything you do, think or feel is fuel for a story. How do I know how it feels when Jazmine sobs her heart out at the end of Invisible? Easy. I've had many, many sobbing experiences. Spend an hour being super-aware of yourself. Stop every thought and examine it. Really feel what your body is saying to you. Analyse your emotions. Why are you feeling this way? If you can get into the tiny details of life, you'll make your stories richer.
Don't forget what it is you want to do
As you get older, life gets more cluttered with things you have to do and things you're doing for no real good reason. Never forget that you want to write. And that you have to make it happen. No one else will clear the hours on your schedule so that you can put words onto a screen. No one else will encourage you to keep writing when it feels boring and annoying and all you can think is that everything you do is rubbish. No one else wants you to be a writer. Only you do. And only you can do it.
So do it. And keep doing it!