This is a large chunk of my very last post on the Dog, with a bit extra. It's aimed at younger writers because it was written for a youth web site, but no reason why it can't pretty much apply to anyone interested.
I have had an email from a young writer who asked me how to go about being a writer, because, even though she is already running what I think is a wonderful blog on things that matter in this world, what she really wants is to do a novel. She does write fiction, including some pretty good poetry, if the samples she sent me were any example, but says she can’t seem to finish anything. She hoped I might have some tips. I hope she will forgive me for putting it all up here instead of answering personally, because it just seems like something that can apply in general.
Perhaps I’m the last person who should be offering tips on finishing stuff. I have two unfinished novels sitting on my computer. One of them, only a few chapters long, is a mainstream YA novel. The other is a companion volume to Wolfborn and is already longer than the finished book! I’ve put them both away for a while, till I can get a fresh look at them and meanwhile, I’m writing short fiction. I've sold three stories that will be out over the next few months and am working on another one right now. It's not like doing a book, but it makes me feel good not to be doing nothing writing-wise.
In the end, the only way to be a writer is to write. I never go anywhere without a notebook and pen. (People don’t ask me if I have a pen, they say, “Sue, can I borrow your pen?”). Just write. I once read a book on writing that advised you to overcome writer’s block by starting with, “I remember…” It makes sense – you can’t get writer’s block about your own life, can you? And it worked for me; I once wrote fifteen pages after a severe case of writer’s block, using that exercise. One of these days I will use what I wrote that time to do a historical novel.
Why not try short fiction while that unfinished novel is waiting for you to get back to it? Perhaps write a story set in the universe of the novel? This, in its turn, might help you to get a new perspective on the book-length project. And you've got all those handy characters and settings lying around already and if you can sell it, that will raise interest in the novel when it comes out.
There are, by the way, plenty of youth markets out there. Why not try Voiceworks, a Melbourne magazine produced and written by people under 25? It takes poetry as well as fiction and it pays! For more, you can Google. I just looked under “Young writer markets Australia” and a whole pile of web sites popped up. This one – 40 of the Best Websites for Young Writers - seems pretty good. It features links to a lot of other web sites, including Inkpop, the one which my students swear by, an on-line writing community which is run by HarperCollins and where your work may be seen by a real publisher. Writing can be a lonely job, but on-line you can share with people who have the same interests as you do and the same problems.
So – write. And read. You love reading, right? Why else would you be writing? :-) Check your markets by reading, to see what publishers are buying. Join a book-based web site like Goodreads and “friend” as many people as you can. See what they’re reading and share.
If you write, you may never sell anything, but if you don’t write, if you spend your life boring your friends with that “great idea for a book” you mean to write one of these days, you definitely won’t.