So, you want to write a story? A novel? An epic fantasy seven-book monstrosity? Awesome. I mean that, really. Deciding that you have a story, and that you want to bring it to life, is a good thing. The reality is that millions of people around the world want to write a novel. There are a myriad of reasons given why they don’t. That’s a topic for a whole series of posts in itself. If you are one of those people that decide you’re going to sit down and write your story/novel/epic, the time commitment involved will make you retreat further and further into your own little writing world.
This is something you MUST NOT DO.
Writing in a vacuum is easy. There is no one there to tell us that our characters are flat. No one says a thing about that pesky plot hole that we just accelerated past rather than tie up. No one presents any type of feedback (positive or negative) about the work and we believe it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. If you’ve written a story and it’s sitting around having been looked at by no one, it’s doing you no good. If you take this to publication before it’s looked at, not even the best cover art will save you.
If ever I could suggest an amendment to Heinlein’s Rules for Writers, it would be “Someone Else Must Look At Your Work.” Why? Simple. As the writer, you are too close to the story. Your brain breezes past typographical errors, the plot you developed in your head is always perfect and without error, and you simply cannot see the error of your ways. Someone else will do that for you. Be that a first reader, a writing group, or an online critique workshop, having “another set of eyes” on your work helps with grammar, skill, and the most important piece of equipment in a writer’s arsenal: a thick skin.
If you’re writing in a vacuum because you’re afraid to have anyone see or critique your work, you probably are in pursuit of the wrong hobby. Putting your work out there for others to see is scary as hell, that’s no lie. There will be times when you make a significant error and show your work to someone who immediately picks up on that and bashes you for it (whether the stupid find/replace function working too well was your fault or not, for personal example). Guess what? Everyone makes mistakes. Bestselling authors still send their work to a small group of friends to read and critique prior to publication. Up and coming authors trade each other favors or “crits” to work on their craft. Every single one of my writing friends would help me with a look at a story (based on their time and availability) and I would do the same. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not all wine and roses.
If you want to hear “This is a perfect story and I loved it,” save your work for your family and those closest to you. If you want to write for publication – that is where someone wants to PAY you for your work – then you’re going to have to hear criticism. Some of it is hard to stomach. The sooner you put your work out there for others to look at before you attempt to publish it, the better.
In the coming weeks, I’ll post a resource page for writers. If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you can go ahead and take a look at the Online Writing Workshop. I have several friends active there.