1. TablaSaura
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    TablaSaura New Member

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    Getting Started Writing, How Important Is An Education?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TablaSaura, Nov 14, 2013.

    I would like to start writing fiction professionally but I have zero experience. I love to learn and consider myself to be a very knowledgeable individual. I have the time and the drive and am ready to seriously pursue a career in writing.

    I am not new to writing or methodically delivering information to a target audience. The problem is all of it is non-fiction based experience. I am unsure on how to approach learning to write. I am not an avid fiction reader and therefore don't really have any hard-coded writing style or methodolgy to mimic based on observation or familiarity.

    So far I plan to start writing 1,000 words a day of fiction for the practice. But other than that, I'm very conflicted on how to start. In the past I have always been able to learn the skills I need from books. However, the more I research books about writing the less I thinking writing is something that can be taught. At least in the traditional sense.

    My biggest worry is that in trying to learn writing I may be teaching myself bad habits or filling my head with incorrect information. I am looking for advice on how to move forward with an education. What is essential reading? If not direct book recommendations, what types of books on writing should I consider solid teaching material?
     
  2. TablaSaura
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    TablaSaura New Member

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    What Writing Skills Do I Possess? (read only if interested)
    1. I have no formal writing education. I earned my GED over 10 years ago, scoring 99% in English. During High School, English was a subject I hated and paid little attention to. I can't tell you what a verb, pronoun, adjective, compound sentence, etc... is. I simply don't know.
    2. I don't read fiction books. I've been a TV and movie junkie all my life. I enjoy comic books from time to time. I've listened to a few audio books and read a handful of fiction novels throughout my life. On the other hand I have read truck loads of non-fiction. I am ready to change this about myself but want to point out that I've never made reading fiction a priority.
    3. I speak very well. Many people tell me they can tell I am intelligent simply by the way I speak. I assume this is a mixture of my vocabulary, the way I word my sentences, and perhaps the variety of topics I speak about. I love to learn and turn around and pass the highlights onto others.
    4. I write even better than I speak. No one ever points out problematic grammar though I don't exactly hang out with English Teachers and Copy Editors.
    5. I do not write for fun. There is always a purpose or a goal in mind. Over the last couple of years I've gotten into Tabletop Roleplaying (as a GM) and found I really enjoy crafting stories, setting, and characters. I've written quite a bit for this activity, though none of it is traditional story writing.
    Over the last 14 years I have spent thousands of hours working on various online projects that involve heavy writing. Website administration (content creation + regular posting), I've written over 20 extensive FAQs for various professional websites and software developers, managed numerous fan based projects, and more forum based activity than I can honestly quantify. All of which was non-profit, volunteer, and in my free time.
     
  3. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    It's probably not the perfect solution you were looking for but my advice, and I think the advice of many others here would be to just write.

    Practice makes perfect and you can do as much reading as you like, but you won't become a better writer without putting words on paper/screen. As far as I'm aware, it's impossible to teach yourself "bad habits". You'll look back on your writing and notice all these stupid (and they'll look stupid from your future perspective) errors. You'll learn from them.

    I've written about 110k words of novel(s). That's not really that much, but even I can see that my latest 10k is far, far better than my first 10k. I'll probably be in a similar situation in another 100k words time, looking back on my current 10k.

    tl;dr: Just Write!
     
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  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG will be a great help with reading material on fiction. He's got awesome advice.

    Well, it seems you got lots of experience in writing properly in English.
    That can easily be a huge setback for some.
    Fiction writing, though, is very different from other types of writing.

    Don't worry about not having learned your English perfectly in school.
    This is my third language and I went to a French school so all my knowledge of the language is self-taught through experience and daily life.
    And high school, at least for me, taught me diddly squat on fiction writing. I wouldn't be surprised if that was not a core focus in your education as well.
    As long as you got the grammar and structure down, you can easily write and learn style, prose, presentation and all that for fiction writing.

    Since you seem to have no experience in fiction, even from reading, I highly suggest looking into a how-to just to get more intimate with it.

    My other advice, write yourself a short little story and THEN read the advice from those books.
    Like that, you will have a personal example of your work to compare it to a professionals and thus be able to understand the why of it and what you need to work on.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    First, the good news is that you don't a degree of any kind to be a good writer. It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Second, if you want to write fiction, you need to start reading fiction. If you're having trouble finding books, think about what movie or TV shows you like to watch and look for books in similar genres.

    As for books on writing, I only recommend getting a good grammar guide because that's all you really need. Strunk and White's The Element of Style is a classic, and it's fairly cheap (less than $10). Of course, grammar rules can be found online as well; you just need to know which sources are legit and which ones are not.
     
  6. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    My advice is to pick up at least one book in the same style as what you would like to write and start reading it. It does not have to be long or very interesting. The point is to get you familiar with how it is generally done. Once you have an idea on how to do it, you can then start to write your own. I am going to go against the general consensus and say you do not have to read all that much. Once you have the foundation, the extra reading is just to give you an idea of what people like to ready, and possibly provide inspiration. That is not to say that more reading is not beneficial, but as the saying goes, theory does not hold a candle to practice.

    Do not rely on past writing experience so much either if it is not of the same type. Plenty of people excel writing in one form, such as poetry and short stories, but struggle in others, such as novels and essays. Do not worry about your English not being perfect. As you write, it will drastically improve for certain.
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say several things. First, you're going to need some feedback on what you've written, because writing in a vacuum isn't going to do you any good. See if you can find a local writer's group, or some sort of in person class that's taught by someone who has an MFA and has been published. They'll run a class in a way similar to a critique group, and they'll be able to keep you on track, give you some prompts and some ideas, and give you some initial feedback.

    If there isn't anything at all local to you, you could try to find an online group -- make sure it's one that is reputable, and don't spend a huge amount.

    Also, check this site for threads on favorite books on writing. There have been several and you should be able to find them via a search. I like one called Self Editing for Fiction Writers and one that's put out by the Gotham Writers Workshop. You can find them on amazon.

    Another thing you must do, if you want to write fiction, is read fiction. Read as much as you possibly can, especially books that are similar to the one you hope to write, or could at least be in the same general category.

    Next, is just practice, practice, practice.

    Look through some writing sites, try to talk with folks on sites you find friendly (personally I like this one -- I'm only on this one and one other).

    Also, check out Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines. They have some interesting articles and have some good information on writing conferences and contests. You can also follow writers, authors, editors, publishers, agents, and other writing-related groups on twitter. I have found a lot of good information there.

    Welcome to the world of writing! I find it a lot of fun. I hope you do, too.
     
  8. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    A few good books would suffice.

    [/quote
    Have you considered screenwriting?
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You say you don't read fiction. That is a problem that stands out. Step one, I think, is to read good fiction. Lots of it. If you're having a hard time figuring out beforehand what qualifies as good fiction, you could start by looking at the short lists for the Man Booker Prize and the Pulitzer Prize over the past twenty or thirty years or so. Of course, there are a great many more books than those you'll find on those lists, but that's a good place to start.

    As others have said, read lots in the genre you want to write in.

    Read a few books on writing. As @chicagoliz said above, we have some threads on this forum discussing some of these books. Pick the ones that seem like they'll do you the most good.

    Judging by your first posts in this thread, you don't need much help with grammar, so you can skip those books. Focus on the things you need.
     
  10. LeighAnn
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    LeighAnn Member

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    Have you noticed how virtually everyone has mentioned reading? Please take note. If you're not an avid reader of fiction, you can't reasonably expect to produce it. Make your writing life easier and start with reading.
     
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  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    An education is necessary for a writer. Do not confuse this with a school or a diploma.

    There is only one way to gain an education, and that is to actively pursue knowledge and understanding. An education is never given. The best teacher in the world can only serve as a guide to knowledge.

    As others have said, reading is important for a writer. How can you learn about any field of study without examining the embodiment of that field?
     
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  12. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I have a BFA in Photography and Film and I write. I am not a published author but I do have a goal to write and publish a book. I am on the forums here asking questions and advise and I do take them into consideration. Many books I have read the authors were not writing majors. They wrote a novel because they wanted to.

    Reading is an absolute plus! Ever since I started getting heavily involved in reading (1 book a week), I learned not only how the writer writes and their writing style, but also how to TELL a story. In film school I learned the process of storyboarding and how to convey a message through media, rarely through words. Reading should be a skill and a must. It also allows you to ask questions like "Why did the writer write like this?" "Why do I like this book? Is it because of the story line or the characters? Why do I hate this book? Is it because of the way the writer wrote or because I have no interest in the story/character?"

    Growing up I was poor when it comes to Reading and Writing. I hated the books the teachers would make us read or when I had the option to choose the book, the books that were published for my reading level were bland. It was not until high school where my professors showed us what Real Literature is. In college I was placed in a class for students who were not cookie cutter types when it comes to literature choice, and who had alternative ways of thinking. My college professor, to whom I stuck with for all my four years, exposed me to works that I or any of my high school teachers have ever heard of. It opened the doors to a new room of knowledge and literature.

    Still to this day, I am an okay writer. Reading books did help me alot with finding the words and phrases to express my thoughts. However; reading, exposure to literature and education is only a small fraction. You need to write. I have 2 novel ideas I am still working on and off of and constantly changing them as well. On the side, I do write short stories for fun. This gives me practice as well as allow me to get a feel for ideas in my head.

    An exercise that my script writing professor recommended was watching an episode from a television show and then write a story based upon the story of the episode. This allowed me to practice direction and description of characters as well as dialogue.

    Very few people can write a novel and have it become a masterpiece.
     
  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Here's an online update to that book that's both pretty good and free.
     
  14. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    This is how I believe education in writing fiction should be given: Examination of the field. Personally, I think college creative/fiction writing courses are a bunch of blowhard bullshit that turns out nothing but cookie cutter writers. Remember, while there are rules for grammar and structure, there are NO rules for voice, flow, and content, regardless of what some people on this forum may tell you. Yet if you go to a course or read a how-to book all they will tell you are the "rules": include tension in every scene, question and answer every third sentence, never start with an MC waking up, never write a dream, don't ever use slang, and blah, blah, blah...

    My best advice is to get your spelling and grammar up to par, then read, read, read every fiction piece you can get your hands on from a variety of authors, most of whom break every "rule" in the book at some point or another.

    Bear in mind I have been published both in periodicals and online journals, as well as publishing my own blog all without even having my GED. I dropped out in 9th grade and taught myself the rest until I reached the age of 18 and took English 101 at my local Jr. College to polish my grammar. Beyond that, I have zero formal writing education.
     
  15. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    That works against you in that all your trained writing reflexes, practiced until they feel intuitive, are nonfiction techniques, designed to dispassionately inform. They're author-centric and fact-based. But we read for entertainment, and what to identify with a given scene's protagonist. We also want the writing to manipulate us emotionally. So the writing should be character-centric and emotion based. The focus is on (and this reads like a tongue twister) making the reader react to the protagonist's reaction to the plot events rather than the events, themselves. In other words, if it's a ghost story we want to scare the crap out of the reader, not make them know scary things happened.

    I think you're researching the wrong books. There are a lot of them that focus on style, which can't really be taught. I've seen too many that say, "Here, read this chapter from my novel and I'll tell you why it's so great."

    What you want is fist, the terminology so you can ask intelligent questions. Then you need to know structural issues., like what a scene is and how it differs from a scene on stage and screen. You need to know the goals of the scene, the elements and questions readers want answered. You need to know how to fit scenes smoothly together, and how to balance action and introspection so as to achieve a balance between melodrama and boredom. And you're not going to get that from anyone other that the pros. You won't get it by reading fiction because that's the product not the process. You won't get it from hopeful writers who got their knowledge from other hopeful writers, if for no other reason than that you're not in a position to tell good from bad advice.

    My personal favorite is a book by a man who taught lots of successful writers, and was able to sell his own fiction regularly. That would be Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's not a how to book, but more an analysis of what the elements of fiction are, and how they can work for you.

    I also have to comment that if you don't enjoy reading fiction you won't know the norms of the genre you choose to write in, and those are always in flux, so you may have set yourself a very difficult task.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only nonfiction books for writing I would recommend are those like S&W - ie, solid reference books. Otherwise, reading books on how to write can cause total confusion, because you'll read conflicting opinions (many stated as facts). Do some writing on your own first, and then you'll better be able to decide what advice given in them might work for you. Just remember those books are like any other bits of advice - it worked for the giver; it may or may not work for you. But definitely start reading fiction - as others have said, you can't write if you haven't read it.
     
  17. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Both of these points are entirely true. I used to be stuck in the same non-fiction rut and it still bleeds through more than I want it too. That's how you can spot fiction written by a non-fiction writer: it reads like a report.

    It took me almost two years of writing daily and submitting stuff for critique to start breaking out of that mold (read start getting into my character's environment and showing it vs. just telling everything that's going on like a narrator speaking into a tape recorder.) Though you can do that on occasion an it works e.g. Sophie Kinsella.

    Aside: OMG, I agreed with @JayG on something. Satan must be freezing his ass off right now. :p
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that update's 'cover' states it's based on the 1918 original, so i wouldn't recommend it over the standard 4th edition, which is what most seasoned writers keep handy...

    tabla...
    dittoing many others here, to be able to learn how to write fiction well, one must read well-written fiction constantly... and a bit of the poor stuff, so you can learn to tell the difference...

    i mentor beginning writers of all breeds, so if you want any one-on-one help along the learning path, i'm just a mouse-click away...

    congrats on having the courage to try something new!

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
  19. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    My degree is in computer information systems. The only writing I do at work is emails and computer code. Still, I'm writing a novel in my spare time. I'm learning as I go.
     
  20. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    You are attempting to make a Hurculean leap from someone with no experience in the field of fiction and very little exposure in that field to a person who "would like to start writing fiction professionally." It's like saying, "I want to be a professional hockey player but I don't know how to skate." You can get there from here, to be sure, but your prior experience in writing should have prepared you for the reality that you can't just sit at a computer and make money.

    "techniques of the selling writer" really hits on everything; the problem is that it is rather dry and doesn't stick for me. But it will get you thinking about story lines and character development and how to set a mood and sentence construction and on and on. I consider it the one-stop-shop for all my writing hang-ups.

    As far as getting bad habits: Not Writing is the worst bad habit you will fight. Get past that and you are beyond 90% of the "writers" in the world.

    Anyone on this board will tell you, don't expect to get published immediately. Or soon, for that matter. You say you are committed to learning and doing it right, and I wish you the best.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The question that came into my head when I read your OP is 'why?' Why do you want to become a writer and write fiction? It seems a strange choice for somebody who doesn't seem to enjoy reading fiction.

    Do you feel you have a story to tell? Or is it the lifestyle of being an author that attracts you? Are you simply looking for another way to use your language skills? Do you see writing fiction as a way to make money?

    I think if you have a story to tell, just sit down and write it. As you write, questions will occur to you. If you are similtaneously reading books on writing fiction, these books will probably give you ideas and pointers to shorten the learning process. But you can't really 'learn' to write without writing. I'd start with that and learn as you go.

    The only preliminary skills you really need to write fiction (besides the physical ones, computer, pen and paper, whatever) are the ability to string coherent sentences together and a reasonable grasp of grammar and punctuation. You have both of those. So I'd say ...just write your story, be prepared to edit the hell out of it—as you go and afterwards—and see what happens.

    If, however, you simply want to turn writing into a career, but don't enjoy reading fiction yourself and have no stories in mind to tell ...well, I'm stumped. I'd say stick to writing non-fiction, and expand your repertoire. Travel writing. Political essays. Newspaper and magazine columns. Cookbooks. Gardening books. Caring For Your Horse books. There is a book out there for every interest under the sun. You could write one yourself. There is money to be made with these kinds of books, and you can still call yourself an author.
     
  22. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing fiction is creative. And although reading fiction is a lot of fun and you have to read fiction in order to write it, you don't have to like reading in order to write it, you just have to do it. The two activities, I think, are quite different, therefore you can like writing but not reading. I think?!?!
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You don't really read fiction, nor do you see it as a priority. You seem to be good at what you do and actually enjoy what you do, which is writing non-fiction, on top of reading tonnes of non-fiction, which tells me you enjoy reading it too.

    So why exactly did you suddenly decide you wanted to write fiction? I'm not seeing the link.

    Before you start trying to write, I'd suggest you go and read fiction. If you find you don't even have the drive to read more than a novel every couple of months, or you just don't really enjoy it all that much even if you manage to plough through it, then might I suggest you not waste your time and rather pursue writing non-fiction instead?

    But of course, if reading fiction ends up being a joy for you, then give writing fiction a go.

    While reading fiction is not a prerequisite to writing good fiction, it is certainly one of the main ways in which you learn to write. And truth be told, you usually enjoy writing only what you'd also enjoy reading.
     
  24. TablaSaura
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    TablaSaura New Member

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    WOW :eek:!!! Talk about an active community. I can't begin to thank you fine folks enough for giving me so much great advice. I have a couple of questions based on your feedback:
    1. I do not currently read stories at a fast speed. In fact, when I read novels I tend to slow down in order to better immerse myself in the story. I find that the faster I attempt to read the more disassociated I become emotionally. Is it okay to listen to audiobooks? I find that while a narrator recites the story at a faster speed than I would read the associated text, their voice helps me remain connected and immersed. It is a great way for me to knock out books quickly, but I wonder if I am shortchanging myself somehow. What are your thoughts on the subject?

    2. Writing every day is obviously a must. I am a big fan of Malcom Gladwells 10,000 hour rule and his statement, "In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals." I believe that directed, deliberate practice will take me further (faster) than simple repetition. In this aspect I feel following a book of exercises or purchasing one of the various workbook courses on Amazon might help me to focus this deliberate 1,000 WPD practice. Simply writing for the sake of writing with no real objective seems like an inefficient use of my time. How do you guys feel?

    3. For the few of you who suggested I pick up some books, I'd like to know what you think of the Write Great Fiction Series. This seems like a decently well rounded general education on various topics pertaining to writing. It isn't perfect but what writing book is? The five books in the series are:
    Thank you all so very much!

    Responses To Questions
    I have but thought if I ever went that route, I would do so after creating a successful novel. Screenwriting, to me, seems to be even more difficult to in regards to getting published.

    Growing up I was obsessed with video games. Primarily RPGs which focused on telling epic stories. I know that isn't the same thing, nor does it hold a candle to fiction novels. Neither of my parents were readers, I had no friends who enjoyed reading, and it wasn't until High School that I received any sort of required reading assignments (Elementary School book reports don't count).

    The novels that I have taken the time to read have always stuck with me. I feel it is a lack of exposure early on and later a lack of patience that kept me from adopting novels as a primary entertainment source. Reading just took too long. In the amount of time it would take me to read one 700 page novel, I could jam in 15 to 20 movies. Reading just wasn't worth it in the grand scheme of efficiency and time.

    I have a passion for stories. I watch movies from all genre's and all levels of quality, ranging from artsy college films to "B movies" to tripple A blockbusters. I can't get enough. The idea of directing a film or writing a screenplay is nowhere near as appealing to me as writing fiction. While I would probably be very good at writing non-fiction, it does not appeal to me. My non-fiction writing has always been passion driven. It isn't that I can't teach through the written word. I just don't want to.

    I have written short stories in the past and rather enjoyed the process. Each time was for a fan based writing contest (I've never lost) but these stories were going up against other amateur efforts, so I don't feel like they are worth mentioning. I have written numerous stories for my TableTop Roleplay excursions. While not comparable to writing a novel, it is storytelling and I often enjoyed the brainstorming and writing far more than the gameplay that followed.

    I am at a point in my life where I am ready to watch a movie or two a week, cut video games out completely, and spend my time reading novels and practicing my craft. My wife has started a job away from the house (we worked from home together the last 10 years) and I have a solid seven hours a day to devote to whatever I choose. Rather than continue to invest my time into frivolous projects I want to do something substantial with my life. I have already started making large scale changes over the last four months, that will optimize my ability to write. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life and I couldn't be more dedicated or excited :rolleyes:.

    What is fist? By terminology do you mean grammar and punctuation? If not, could you elaborate further?

    Of this, I have no delusions ;).

    Thank you very much!! :) :p :D

    Yes, in theory, and over a very long period of time. I'm not in this to get rich. At this point in time I want this for numerous reasons, most of which are self serving :p. I'd like to imagine that what I accomplish will benefit the lives and imaginations of others, but do not presume this to be an inevitable outcome. Though, I hope it will be :rolleyes:.

    I have no shortage of stories in my mind. Ideas flow freely and my imagination is something I've never been able to turn off. I have more ideas for stories than I know what to do with. Those I intend to work with sooner than later are particularly attractive to me. I can't wait to flesh out the finer details. I'm ready to start!
     
  25. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you haven't already seen a link, JayG has some very good articles on his blog. I'm working through them now and they are most definitely worth a read for the beginning fiction writer.
     

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