I'm often asked what advice I have for beginning writers. For what it's worth, this is what I tell people.
Read widely and critically. My personal preference is to read in many genres, but certainly within a genre, read more widely than you write. If you find a book that really works for you, study it. How does the author develop the plot? How does she make the characters seem real to you? How are scenes presented? What makes the dialogue sound natural? It's sometimes helpful to study a book that doesn't work, as well. Ask yourself the same types of questions. Then sit back and imagine a scene in your book. How would writer A, the writer you liked, handle it? How about writer B, the one that didn't work for you, what would her approach be?
Writing is like anything else—we get better the more we do it. If you're not ready to start a novel, you might try a short story (they are actually more difficult to write than novels!). Or simply try your hand at scenes, dialogue, description. The important thing is to work those "writing muscles." Too many would-be writers think they'll write "some day." I know, I was there for a time. But it doesn't happen unless you actually put pen to paper—or more aptly these days, your fingers to the keyboard. And the more you write, the more "flexibility and strength" you have as a writer. It's for this reason that many writers, myself included, try to write a little almost every day. It helps keep in shape.
Live life with your eyes and ears (and heart and soul) wide open and finely attuned to what goes on around you. Observe, ponder, experience. Writers draw on what they know or have experienced. This doesn't mean you can write only what really happened to you (I swear, I've never killed anyone, solved a crime, been accused of a crime, been shot, or even lived some of the better adventures of my characters). But there's a part of me and my experience in every character I create and every scene I write. Writers also cull characters from the world around them. It's what Lora Roberts once referred to as the Mr. Potato Head method of creating characters. You take a trait from one person, a quirk from another, a personality peculiarity from another. But the character becomes authentic because you're drawing on what you know and have experienced yourself.
There's no shortage of books about writing available. You can find them on-line or in your local book store. Writer's Digest publishes a number of helpful books on a range of subjects, but they by no means have a monopoly on the market. Some are of a general nature, even philisophical, some focused on mystery fiction. Some cover the spectrum of topics while others focus more narrowly on plot or character, for example. Some are better than others, none will give you "the ultimate word" on how to succeed. Almost all of them have at least something to offer, however. Even if it's just a new way to approach a task, or something new to think about. Take to heart what makes sense to you and disregard the rest.
There are also classes you can take—university extension classes, adult ed, writing workshops, even some on-line classes. These vary in quality and scope as well, but again, you'll come away from almost all of them with something. I find simply being around people who are discussing writing gives me new energy. I always come away from a lecture or a class raring to tackle my project anew.
Conferences are also a good idea. Most of these (but not all) are fan oriented. Still, you'll hear authors talk about how they approach a book, why they write what they do, and so on. Most also have a forensics track where you can glean useful information from professionals in the field.
To paraphrase a popular commercial slogan—Just do it. And keep at it.
© Jonnie Jacobs. Web site by interbridge.