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Everyone Starts Someplace

No matter the career path people pursue, they start off knowing next to nothing about it. Carpenters must learn how to pound nails. They may have watched every episode of a particular home improvement show, but until they gain the experience of actually doing it, they will hit the wood as much as the nails and half of those will be bent. The same is true in other professions. Initial exposure is a good grounding, but there is a difference between knowing a thing and knowing the experience of a thing.

This includes writing. It takes time to learn the nuances of the craft; language, characterization, dialog, plot, suspense, comedy, drama and so forth. We all begin by imitating the styles of writers we have read until we develop our own unique voice, much as art students copy masterpieces to get the feel of how the original artists captured light or expressed an emotion. Through this process, writers accumulate techniques they will continue to use. There are those who do pop onto the scene with works of brilliance, however, for most it can take years to master the craft.

Even after reaching that professional level, you will discover that the process of learning never ends. There are always new things to discover. This requires a willingness to continually evaluate yourself as a writer and to examine critiques. They could come from other writers, Professional or learning, or a critique group. A major difference between professionals and neophytes is the ability to override their egos and commit themselves to improvement.

A critique is an examination of how effectively themes or points was expressed. When writers examine critiques about their works, they can gain a better understanding of how to best communicate to readers.

Some new writers can be hypersensitive to accepting critiques. Suggestions may be considered attacks on their character. They may think of their stories as their babies and each word their blood on the page. I have actually heard these words used. Some writers might say that their mother liked their manuscript or their friends enjoyed it. These attitudes are a great impediment to becoming a professional writer. Mothers like everything about their children and friends may not want to point out faults. Writers must look to people involved in writing who are willing to comment on how effective their work is.

Many beginning writers fear that they will run out of material and, therefore, they must jealously guard what they have. In truth, authors have an inexhaustible source of new ideas that they can draw on by just sitting down, writing them out, seeing how they read, and following threads that are suggested by the material. I threw out five times as much text as that retained in one final manuscript. Entire characters, cultures, locations and plot lines were removed because they did not serve the book.

There is a standard answer people in the arts give when a beginner asks about how to break into the business. It goes something like, “Do your best. Send your material out, and if you don’t make it in five years move on.” This is nonsense. What of you needed five years and a month to get you book accepted by a publisher? If you have the determination to work on your material, improve yourself and learn from other writers, continue in your day job and write in the morning or evening. Tom Clancy was just a middle aged insurance salesman while he worked on Hunt for Red October. J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to over 20 publishers. What if she had stopped after 19? Keep writing and learning. What do you have to lose?

Apprentice carpenters begin in near ignorance. They get experience on the job, go to training courses and proceed through the ranks to become master carpenters. There is no shame in not knowing everything at first, but we humans are impatient, even more so in this wired world. We must all be willing to swallow our egos long enough to listen to others and profit from their views and experiences to become masters.

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