Writing is a peculiar skill. Not everyone can easily appreciate the beauty to be found in the structure of words in a line, nor is every mind predisposed to weaving an engaging narrative. However, like any other ability, natural talent is not the be all and end all of the matter, and there are ways to get on the right track. The good news is that if someone is interested enough to want to start, chances are he’s taken the initial step already.
The first thing any would-be writer needs to do is read. And copiously, at that. Reading provides a bizarre kind of learning through osmosis. The more one takes in, the more elements of what constitutes good–and bad–literature is absorbed. Overused plots and character types begin to stand out in sharp relief against those that captivate, guiding one toward using something closer to the latter in his own work. The more powerful language and structuring a person comes across also makes an unconscious impact, subconsciously helping to guide a writer’s hand when he begins to set his own words down.
The next thing a writer needs to do is obvious: he needs to write. A lot. And this is where things can get frustrating. Because like any other person who first picks up an instrument or piece of sporting equipment, chances are a new author is going to start off poorly. It’s been said artists need to get 100,000 bad images out of their systems before they start producing professional-level work. Writing is no different. The early stuff will almost certainly be bad. But again, persistence is key. Improvement will occur if the time and effort is put in.
Finally, the writer needs feedback. And I won’t lie, this is the scary part. Be it beta-readers or editors, it’s always stressful to wait for a reaction to something that’s had so much put into it. But there’s no getting around it. The author is always too close to his own stories to view them through an objective lens, and constructive criticism is key to bringing a project to its full potential. For this reason, a writer should always seek beta-readers who are as honest as possible. Yes-men and cheerleaders may stroke egos, but they cripple progress.
If a writer gets to this point, he can worry about getting his work published. An ocean of publishers will have to be waded through, and there will be countless rejection letters in the beginning (and probably even well after that), so a tough skin is something to develop in a hurry. However, just as the writing improves, so will the author’s handle on the submission process. Research and experience will eventually weed out publications and editors that are a poor fit, and at some point, an acceptance letter will appear above all the rejections.
And I promise, there’s no stopping from there.