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Want to Write a Book? You Can!


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I am a published author. Riversong, my debut novel, was released in April by Booktrope Editions. I have another novel coming out in November. It is an accomplishment I’ve dreamed of for some time. I’m here to tell you it can be done.

All my life I’ve used books to discover anything I’ve ever yearned to see, experience or learn. I’ve travelled to faraway places, learned the history of nations, even felt as if I’d known friends from a different time through the many novels I’ve read over the years.

And, books taught me how to write. It is a well known piece of advice from all successful authors to those still in the aspiring phase: read books in genres you like voraciously, and write every day. Also, read writers who are better than you. The more you read, the better you’ll write. There is no doubt about this. It is true. It must be done.

However, it is not that simple. The craft of writing fiction is just that, a craft. And with every craft there are techniques that can be taught and learned.

I started my adult career studying another craft. I was formally trained as an actress at the University of Southern California’s School of Theatre. After graduation I acted and directed in Seattle but I always had this itch to write. I decided to write a play. And like every other moment in my life when I wanted to learn something new, I went to the bookstore and the library. This time I started with the University of Washington’s bookstore and bought every book on playwriting they had. I studied them intently before beginning my first play, and went back to them again and again.

In 2001, my first full-length play, My Lady’s Hand won first place in a local theatre’s new works festival. After several productions, I looked at my play as critically as I could and decided I was actually a novelist. Not only were novels the right medium to tell the types of stories I wanted to tell, they were also my reading preference of choice by a wide margin.

To me, there is nothing better than a novel and a rainy afternoon to recline on the couch without guilt. I like all genres of novels, but my favorites are well written women’s fiction with distinct and interesting characters.

Read what you love. Write what you love.

I made a deal with myself to finish my first novel by the time I turned 40. I was 38 at the time and had a four year old and a baby. Ambitious, I know. Foolish, probably. But I didn’t let that stop me.

Again, I started with books. I searched for every book on writing fiction ever written. I devoured all of them. I snooped around until I figured out what textbooks universities were using in their MFA Writing programs. I read those too.

And I learned something besides how to craft a novel. I don’t care who tells you otherwise, I know for sure that one can be taught how to write. That is not to say talent doesn’t play into things. It does. Fiction writers must have an innate sense of the nature of man, be an observer of him or herself and others, and have a drive to create, to be heard, to think that what they have to say matters.

But the rest can be taught; grammar, story structure, plotting, dialogue, and all the rest. Not that it’s easy. It isn’t. It’s actually really hard and takes a lot of practice. That’s why you have to feel like you can’t live without it.

There are many ways to approach learning to write: MFA programs for people with or without day jobs, writing coaches and workshops. I used a writing coach for a time and found it most useful for discipline. Knowing I was paying for someone to give me feedback on my work made me that much better at meeting my deadlines.

That said, the best technique for me was self-education because of my age and circumstance. I couldn’t leave my children, for example, while I spent two weeks at an MFA program. I also didn’t have the money to attend graduate school, even if I’d had the time. But I could study on my own, at my own pace and space.

It is also essential that you form a daily habit of working. Start with twenty minutes if you think that’s all you have to spare. Or set a word limit. I have a word goal of 2500 (minimum) every day. That’s how I blog daily, guest blog twice weekly and am working on my third novel. Discipline and perseverance are as important as learning the concepts of technique, for it is at the keyboard, or pen in hand, that true skill is developed. It is the doing of it, over and over, that creates a real writer.

Perhaps your dreams are in another profession. Whatever they are, it is never too late to pursue them. If you have the determination, the drive and the discipline, anything can be learned, no matter your age or circumstance. Start by taking a step into your local library. The answers await you.

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This article was contributed by Tess Hardwick,  a blogger, novelist and playwright. Her debut novel Riversong, published by Booktrope Editions, is available in print and ebook form from Amazon and BN.com. Follow her blog at www.tesshardwick.com

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