Over the years, wherever I meet with friends—parties, dinners, weddings, funerals—I've been asked that question. If it's convenient, the person and I will find a quiet corner and talk for a bit. If not, I'll ask for an email address and then the next day send an email.
I always say this: Find, read, and reread the kind of book you want to write. Read a lot of them. But when you write your book add your own bit of uniqueness. Carve out a writing space for yourself at home; sit down and write every day. Finish that first project so you can judge what you have; don't stop in the middle. Join a writing critique group and share your manuscript. Brace yourself for criticism, disappointment, and failure. Subscribe to a writer's magazine such as Reader's Digest. Buy how-to books such as Writing Fiction for Dummies. Attend a writing conference or take an online writing course. If your first project turns out to be garbage, learn from your mistakes. Then sit in front of your computer again and start a second project. The road to publication might take several years, maybe a decade, but don't give up.
After I finish, a person's initial look is most often a frown that implies, "Are you serious?
I don't have time for that."
If I've written an email, I usually get a, "Thank you!" in reply, followed by something like, "I'm going to start soon."
Then I write, "Let me know what kind of progress you're making. Show me some pages." But I never get an answer.
Lately, I've been thinking that published writers don't ask that question: How do I start? I didn't. I think the urge to write—I can't tell you where it comes from—is initially so strong in potential writers that they self start. That is, feeling emotionally pushed, having something to say, they automatically pick up pencil or pen, or plunk themselves down in front of a computer and begin to write. Maybe it's much like a person who picks up a guitar, plucks around on it for a while, loves what he hears, and decides he needs lessons to get better; maybe he needs a mentor. Same thing with writers. Magazine subscriptions, how-too books, critique groups, conferences, writing courses—all are a writer's way of getting better and earning his way to publication.
So maybe this is the way it works: A person possessed with a powerful urge to write simply starts—maybe with a journal or diary, maybe with a short story or the opening scene of a novel. He seeks help, preservers, and eventually, with lots of luck, publishes. He finds his own way, never having asked anyone, "How do I start?" He just does.
After Jon retired as a public high school English at Davenport West High school, he began a career as a young adult author. His credits include eight published YA novels, and he has signed a contract with Red Adept publishing for a ninth YA novel. Jon has been a presenter at the Pen-in-Hand workshops for the Midwest Writing Center, Davenport, IA, and for the David R. Collins Writers' Conference held yearly at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa. He has also published numerous short stories in Woman's World, a leading woman's weekly magazine. Jon and his wife live in Davenport, where their six children and their families also live. When not working on his computer crafting another story, Jon enjoys collecting music from the '40s and '50s playing pool, and spending time with his family.
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