We’ve been talking writing tips this week and while I welcome the opportunity to chime in, I need you to know I do so with a Ned’s First Primer attitude. I’ve taken my seat in the first row, eager to learn. I also come to the discussion as the non-fiction writer of this porch and yet, precisely because my work is all about telling stories, I listen with great interest as my fellow belles talk about characters, plots, and time lines.
For my part, however, I want to rest the technique tips to try and address the questions I get the most and never feel like I answer well. It’s actually more like one question with interchangeable parts. It may begin with “I think I’m supposed to write”, “I have a great book idea” or even “I’ve written a book…” but it ends with “Where should I start?”
I’m reminded of that reality show, “So, You Think You Can Dance”. It’s a question the show puts before aspiring dancers of all stripes and the audition process usually answers it in no time flat. Some of those auditioning have put in countless hours of time and hard work. It shows. Others look like they walk in with nothing more than a pipe dream, confident they’ll be able to wing it and learn on the go. Those in the second group rarely make it through their routines let alone the first round. Oh, sometimes they discover a standout newbie with incredible, raw talent but that contestant is few and far between. As a rule, the ones with a chance of reaching the finish line come from the dedicated dancers who are (and have been) in it for the long haul.
I wasted a lot of time dancing with the wing it group, so to speak. I spent years dreaming of becoming an author and filing countless rejection slips. Today, I can look back at that dreamer and wince at all of the wasted time and effort I put toward achieving the end goal “getting published” instead of the real goal, “learning the craft of writing.” If I could talk to that earlier version of me I would beg her to scrimp and save, and move whatever mountains necessary to attend a writer’s conference and then I would remind her to go there to learn, learn, and learn some more. I would tell her to read more books on the craft of writing and less on how to get published. I would tell her to spend more time writing stories and less time polishing query letters. Had my goal been to learn to play the violin, I wouldn’t have even considered spending my time auditioning for orchestras, but somehow I thought writing was different. I was wrong.
Ironically, what began to move me towards the goal of becoming a writer was, wait for it…writing. I committed myself to putting words on a page. I made it my mission to write week in and week out and come rain or shine, I began to do just that. The hard truth for us all is that no one can read the words we haven’t written.
My very best and most sincere advice to anyone who wants to be a writer is to write.
Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is known as The Belle of All Things Southern. She is an author, speaker, and radio host in the process of becoming a writer.