Many people have emailed Rod asking what advice he might offer to an aspiring writer. Here are a few thoughts.
Read, read, read. Read widely and voraciously. Since you’re looking at Rod’s web site, you may have an interest in science fiction. Seek out the best in the field. Read the classics, as well as new material, both SF and other.
Practice, practice, practice writing. Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skills. You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong. Short stories are a good training ground and an easier market to break into.
If you’re wondering about a course to pursue in college, and you think you want a career in writing, choose the school that you think will give you the best all-around experience. Much of what I learned in college I learned outside the classroom. Study what interests you (though it doesn’t hurt to get some training for work that pays a salary!). What do you feel passionate about? Pursue it! You don’t need a certificate to write; you do need self-discipline and inner fire.
Write from the soul, not from some notion about what you think the marketplace wants. The market is fickle; the soul is eternal.
If you can stand the thought of not writing, don’t attempt a career as a writer. It’s difficult and often painful. Don’t subject yourself to it unless you are driven by a passion for it. If you find this too discouraging, you probably shouldn’t aim to be a professional writer. But nothing says you can’t be a happy amateur. (remember, the root of the word “amateur” is amare, to love).
Don’t plan on making a lot of money from your writing. A survey by The Authors Guild a few years ago found that the average author earned about £2,000 a year from his or her writing. That was a general survey, but even in the genres, there are plenty of people struggling–many of them quite good writers. If you make it into print, you are doing well. If you succeed in breaking out commercially, you’ll be among the extremely fortunate few.
Seek out constructive feedback on your work. Take suggestions seriously, and learn from them.
Not all criticisms will be on the mark, but even those that aren’t can help you spot problems that need attention. You must decide for yourself which suggestions to take, and which to leave. Writing workshops can be invaluable–not just to the aspiring writer but also to the working professional. I have belonged to a local writing group for over fifteen years, and they critique every piece of work I do before it goes to a publisher. My writing is far better for it. There are numerous online workshops available, both on the Internet and on the big commercial services. See my recommended reading list for a guidebook to writing workshops.
If your work is of publishable quality, sooner or later it will sell. Probably. But that’s what keeps us going–the belief that what we are doing is worth it. Please note: many people think their work is of publishable quality when it isn’t, at least not yet. That’s why it’s so important to get good, objective feedback–and to act on the feedback to improve your work. Only you can decide whether your faith in your own abilities is enough to get you through the learning curve.
Seek out good sources of information. There are many fine books on writing, some of them general and some genre specific. I have listed a few helpful books and websites at the bottom of the page.
Be determined, and be thick-skinned. I collected rejection letters for 10 years before I finally managed to get my first novel accepted. Why did I keep going? Was I crazy? Probably. I was convinced I could do it, and I refused to take no for an answer.
Once you decide you’re ready to begin submitting to publishers or agents, I suggest the following rule:
Always have the next publisher or agent in mind. If your story comes back with a rejection letter, don’t take it personally or stew about it. GET IT IN THE POST TO ANOTHER ONE THAT SAME DAY (then you can go back to whatever it is you were doing, preferably writing the next story).
Writers’ & Artists’ Year Book foreword by Ian Rankin – A & C Black Publishers Ltd
Writers’ Handbook by Barry Turner – Macmillan
On Writing by Stephen King – New English Library Ltd
The Creative Writing Coursebook (40 Authors) – Pan Books
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N Frey – St Martin’s Press
What If? Writing Exercises for fiction writers by Anne Bernays – HarperCollins
The Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Rachael Stock – White
www.newwritingnorth.com – Writing development agency for the North East
www.literaturenortheast.co.uk – What’s happening in literature in the North East
www.northernpublishers.co.uk – Umbrella organisation for publishers in North East
www.thewriterssite.com – Writing tips and advice
www.thenextbigwriter.com – Dedicated to discovering undiscovered writing talent
www.writethismoment.com – Jobs and opportunities for writers
www.writersandartists.co.uk – The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook