1. skyskyjohn
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    skyskyjohn New Member

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    making it is a writer

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by skyskyjohn, Sep 30, 2009.

    I would like to someday be able to support myself through my writing, though I doubt this, as I most prefer writing experimental fiction, which has a very limited readership (at least right now).

    Anyway, this may be the wrong place in the forums for this, but I thought I'd throw this out there: I am still in high school, and have basically ruled out pursuing a bachelor's degree. I think my time and money can be better spent elsewhere. Do you think a certificate of some sort in Creative Writing (such as the one offered by the Chester College of New England) would help much in employment? If not, then I don't see much point in pursuing that either, and would rather just scrape by at a basic, low income job. I don't care for a "comfortable" lifestyle. After high school, I plan to move up to New Hampshire for personal reasons, and will eke out an existance there. Basically, what I'm saying is that I have no intention of pursuing a traditional college education but would work towards a Creative Writing certificate if it might help me. If it won't, then writing will remain a side effort for me and I'll be happy just making ends meet, which I know I can do if I need to. Many other writers have followed this path, and were generally not strangers to near-poverty.

    What do you think I should do?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Personally, I think you'd be better equipped with a degree in English Lit than a certificate in creative writing. The best way to learn to write well is to read and analyse the works of other great writers and see what you can learn from them. So, even if you don't go to university, you should still probably make that kind of 'education' a priority.
     
  3. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Do what you think is best. You can do the creative writing course if you think it helps you. On the other hand, you can spend hours in a library reading and contemplating the ways authors do what they do.

    Personally, a degree in English is what I intend to do. My hopes and dreams are similar to yours.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A creative writing certificate won't mean anything to a publisher. Maybe...maybe it'd be a half of a line on a cover letter, and even then it won't carry any weight with most publishers.

    The point being, a certificate means nothing. It is the writing you produce that, in the end, means anything. Sure, there is some bit of luck and networking and the like that might crack open a door on rare occasion, but even then if you can't write (or at least what the market is looking for in content and quality) then that doesn't make a difference either.

    One thing that is needed is a basic grasp of grammar, which can be learned in school. If you paid a lot of attention in high school and did well, you should have the basics. Amazingly, many would-be writers lack in this area. Strong grammar skills won't get your work published, but it will enable you to get your work read/considered, where grammatically inept submissions will find an editor/agent very unlikely (I won't say impossible but close) to get read and thus, rejected.

    Life experience, improving story telling ability and practice could take you a long way. However, making a living as a writer of fiction is very difficult, even for what many would call a successful writer. Many writers teach part-time, edit, do technical writing, etc. to help pay the bills. That is where schooling may come in. If nothing else, get a skill that will pay more than minimum wage--be a cosmetologist, go to a career technical high school, technical school (two year degree) and earn a degree (obtain a skill) in HVAC or something like that. If you're going to spend the $ and time on a creative writing certificate, then something like what I suggested, might serve you better in lean times, or at least until you get things going.

    Rambled a bit giving my two cents.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and a valuable two cents that is!... pay attention to it... terry's just stating the facts of life in the writing world... and the first rule is: 'have a day job!'
     
  6. skyskyjohn
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    skyskyjohn New Member

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    Thanks. I think I may learn a trade, perhaps. I still have some time to decide and work things out. :)
     
  7. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    They don't teach or encourage grammar in high school. At least, not at my high school. All the grammar I know is from primary school and a subsequent passion to learn more. Not to mention, essays that need to be written in high school focus on the points made and not on the spelling or grammar.

    Also, I'm interested as to what the OP means when he says "experimental fiction".
     
  8. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Same here. We did some sentence diagramming in 10th grade, but that was it.
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Much of the foundation is set as a youth in early grades, and is reviewed and refined (in theory) in high school. Much of the goal of high school does move away from the mechanics (how to punctuate a sentence, verb tenses, antecedents, direct objects, you name it) to higher levels of thinking. Still, with the more complicated ideas written and discussed, spelling, grammar and punctuation should be a part of the grade...okay, maybe at least in theory.

    Really, by the time you're in high school, for example, a student is not taught how to read any more (unless there is a deficiency). Improving techniques (such as skimming and scanning or using context to understand the meaning of new terms) and improving speed, comprehension among other skills while focusing on increasingly complex writings (novels, essays, etc.) is, in theory, what is supposed to happen. It is similar with writing.

    I teach high school English at a Joint Vocational (Career Technical) school. I review areas of difficulties my students have, such as affect vs. effect, but the curriculum is more focused on the students improving their ability to express themselves in writing rather than how to punctuate a sentence, or make sure there is proper subject-verb agreement. That doesn't mean I ignore mistakes. Failing to use proper grammar on essays, home work assignments and on tests (where directed) can lead to failure on the assignments. The grammar and spelling and punctuation is incorporated into the course work as opposed to being a separate element.

    High school is the last chance a potential writer has to improve and refine the skills I was discussing. The student has a built in tutor--a professional to assist in improving writing mechanics.

    Sadly, sentence diagramming is not done in the classroom much anymore. It should be. When I taught 9th grade English many years ago, I spent time on sentence diagramming. I teach 11th and 12th grade English these days, so it is not part of the course of study.

    And no, I am not the perfect teacher, and my students are not scholars destined for perfect scores on their ACTs or SATs. But the goal is to take a student from where they're at skill-wise and improve. Much of the resulting improvement is based on the student's effort.

    Terry

    Note: Sorry if the answer sounds disjointed, but I was interrupted several times to assist my daughter with her homework. ;)
     
  10. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    In the college I’m going to, they now make us take a grammar class because of the complaints they get from employers in the area-- graduates can’t write.
     
  11. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    I like that you do that. It encourages the students to learn it if they don't know it. Be it through the teacher, or elsewhere, they are still encouraged to learn. You have my respect, as insignificant as that may be.

    At my old highschool, you could have an essay with no punctuation and every simple homonym used incorrectly, and as long as you still get the point across that Shakespeare used this theme because of such-and-such a reason, then you got pretty much full marks. It was a disgrace.

    DragonGrim, that is the best idea ever. Sadly, in my area, it's not a focal point. I refuse to give my custom to anywhere that has gross spelling or grammatical errors in their instore advertising, menu, signs, etc.
     
  12. Modern Day Zombie
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    Modern Day Zombie New Member

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    Go to college, don't major in Creative Writing or English. You already know you want to be a writer so I'm assuming you already know how to write, right? Use your college experience to learn something outside of literature and writing like a science or a language or a trade. Something that you can incorporate into your fiction later or use a back-up career when things get rough.

    Graduate, get a day job - freelance write and work on your manuscript on the side and just hope someday the money you make off writing will be enough so that you can quit your day job and write full time. If that day never comes then, you can still live with the satisfaction that you at least got your writing out there somewhere. It's a hit or miss bussiness, writing is.

    PS: I looked into Chester and it does not seem impressive to me. Just a few barns in the middle of nowhere and bunch of pretentious art kids. (Yes, I'm also a collegebound teenager)
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Unless you have written a great deal already, you do not know how to write. Harsh but true. Even Heinlein wrote an entire (quite bad) novel before going back to short stories and writing "Lifeline." Estimates vary - some might say you need 50 short stories or ten novels, but more people agree that you should have written one million words before considering yourself a writer.

    Why? Let me use a somewhat similar example from a different area. You probably know people who like cars - who enjoy tinkering around with them, and looking through articles, and reading diagrams of engines and axels in their spare time. But they are hobbiests, not mechanics. If your car quits, you take it to a mechanic, not a hobbiest.

    This does not mean that mechanics were not hobbiests at some point in their lives; in fact, I'd guess that many of them were, once, teens looking through diagrams and tinkering around. But the number of hobbiests is much larger than the number of actual mechanics, because becoming a mechanic takes time and practice and effort and a lot of work.

    Writing is the same way. Many people like to tinker, or to discuss neat ideas. They are hobbiests. A newspaper that wants a good article on fashion will not go to a hobbiest. A scientific journal that wants a good writeup on cancer research will not go to a hobbiest. A short story magazine that wants a great story will not go to a hobbiest. Nor will a publishing house. Why? Because hobbiests are not writers, yet -- they may be someday. But they aren't now.

    Semantically, we tend not to make a distinction between writers and hobbiests. We lump them together; we consider all of us "writers," while admitting that some of us have been published and many have not.

    Now, a published writer will make, on average, about $5,000 (U.S.) per year. There is only one profession in the U.S.A. that makes less on average, and that profession is "Migrant Farmworker." Also, people who are "hobbiest" writers make far, far less than professional ones. Writing for a living is awfully romantic until you turn in a tax return with a reported income of $400 for a whole year.

    Conclusion: Get a job, and write on the side. Don't try to make a living when you're still in the hobbiest stage -- you'll get burned. In a few years, when you have some money saved up, you might try to write full time. But right now, when you're just about to finish high school, you do not have very many resources and not much writing experience.

    If you think "Screw you, I have plenty of writing experience," consider the source. I'm an MIT student who has written since fifth grade; I have more than 450,000 words under my belt, and some of my stuff is bordering on publishable. I have a good grasp of grammar and of what my "target genres," fantasy and science fiction, require in a good story. I have won a couple of awards for my writing, and have actually gotten money -- real, solid money -- for my work.

    I consider myself to be a "hobbiest" even now. I'm getting there -- in five years, I will be shocked if I haven't appeared in a pro zine. In ten years, I will be very very surprised if I haven't gotten a book finished, polished and published in a real publishing house. Right now, though, I'm going to graduate and then get a job doing something else worthwhile, because I know that I cannot pay the bills with my writing.

    Get a job that pays (it doesn't have to be great; working as a burger-flipper or a mailman or a cashier or a construction worker or a cop is nothing to be sneezed at) and write on the side. Keep writing until you're good; keep trying to get published until you have been. And then, when you have no outstanding debts and a good bit saved in the bank, it might be worth trying to make it on pure writing. Until then, though, it won't be worth it, and you'll get frustrated and become poor very quickly.
     
  14. Joran Selemis
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    Joran Selemis Member

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    I feel ya Johnnyboy; pretty much the same as you, I'd love to write as a primary career. Unfortunately, writing pays next to nothing which is why a large quantity of writers today are retired.

    I think I've written about 200,000 words so far in my life, and I can tell that with each one I get better. Which is why I try to practice a lot; I get a great feeling from writing and knowing that I improve with everything I write. Only recently did I start to develop a distinct style of writing, which is always a good sign (I think, I hope).

    But I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to study creative writing at uni (if only to motivate me to write) but I know that won't give me much when I get out. I thought about a desk job and the like, but it just seems way too boring for me. I'd invariably spend my time at my desk pretending to do work but really writing, which means that I'd probably get fired sooner or later.

    So basically, right now I'm going to see what I can get into with the marks I get, then wait and see what life throws at me. On average people change jobs six times in their lives, so to me it seems a bit pointless to say you're going to be this and that. Fortunately, writing doesn't really count as a job, which means you can do anything available and still write on the side. All it requires is imagination, patience and determination.
     
  15. TragicJuliet
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    TragicJuliet Senior Member

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    So if you've changed jobs more then six times does that mean your a loser? 'cause uh, I tend to get bored with my jobs quickly and just leave them on a whim!

    As to writing, I do agree with Joran, no one can truly tell you what to believe or want, or do. If you want to write a book and you want that book published, then fight tooth, nail and soul and get it published!! Most people on here just don't want to give anyone false hope. It is true, you can't just wake up one day, decide "you know what, i'm not going to be a baker anymore. I'm going to write a book about Trolls. and it's going to be a best seller." And expect you to dish it out in 3 months, publish it on your first try and have it an award winner. But if writing is what you want to do. Then write.
     
  16. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Why not get qualified for the higher paying job while you have the chance? A little extra money in your pocket is nothing to sneeze at, and it will give you life experience - even if it is simply the interaction with people you would otherwise not have met. You have the rest of your life for low paying jobs - if that is what you prefer - but giving yourself more options is always a benefit.
    Maybe think about something that would help you as a writer. You like fiction - what other things interest you? Experience with animals? Geology? Archaeology? The great outdoors? Surely you could find some kind of further education that could benefit you in ways other than meeting random people at some low paying job. You could meet those people by shopping there while you work someplace that pays more.

    You never know what the future holds for you, or what you will want out of your life - I couldn't have known. Maybe you will meet someone and marry and want to support a family while you write.

    Whatever the case, writing is something that can be done on the side. Survival is the better option - and choosing poverty over comfortable living, when you have the choice here and now, is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot.


    Edit:
    If you are wanting to be a writer at that age, then you have already discovered that you enjoy writing, and have probably taken at least some interest in the essays given to you along the way.
    Do they count?
    - What about if a person keeps a very detailed journal, ensuring they add to it every day. Does that count too, towards the 1mill words?
    - What if they also had 20 different penpals while they were growing up, and wrote to them upon receiving a new reply?
    - What if, also, in todays world, they chatted to people online, in chatrooms or forums, across games they might play, etc. Would that count too?
    - And then they may have friends who they made stories up with, or some kind of writing club. All of this must count.

    My point is there are countless situations that people can go through before ever having written any kind of published works, that might make them more qualified than someone else - even before they start writing their very first novel / story intended for publishing.

    You can't really put a word limit on it and say okay, forget any other writing you've done in your life, because that cannot be measured, and instead starting now, write your million words before you can call yourself a writer. Writing is a passion.

    A writer is simply someone who loves to write. Whether they are published or not is irrelevant. Choosing to publish is a personal choice. Personally, I don't want to see my name in print. Personally, I prefer to stay out of any kind of spotlight. Hence my position on publishing being a choice, rather than Oh I wrote something now it needs to be published else I wasted all that time." The term author, on the other hand, tends to imply they have been published.

    We are all here, I think, to improve our writing, and even once you hit your description of "Pro" level, you won't have learned it all. It is a progression. And yes, you do need to write, a lot. Some more than others.

    In the idea that you cannot make it as a writer immediately upon leaving school.... I would probably have to agree with you there, unless they are very lucky and/or have a relation in the business - but they did mention going into a low paying job after leaving, while they wrote.
     
  17. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    It has been my experience that keeping journals, having conversations with friends about worldbuilding, and writing in chatrooms will not really help you become a better writer of either short stories or novels. Learning new information is useful in general, of course, but writing a grocery list does not give you 50 words toward your million-word mark.

    The idea is that writers -- and I am talking specifically about ones whose goal is to be a published author of short stories or novels -- have to actually write in order to get better. They have to write stories, or novels, or outlines for same which they then follow through on. Writing a dry essay about fossilization of coprolites for your geography class will only help obliquely. Sure, it will reinforce spelling and grammar. But it will not help you to develop a stylistic voice, or to create realistic characters, or to develop a good sense for how to pace a story.

    At best, I would assume a 10:1 ratio for anything written other than stories. You write a letter to your friends, and it's a long letter of 2000 words? Okay, you've maybe added as much as 200 words to your running total of "words written." This is because you are not actually writing a story. Going back to the mechanic -- this would be the equivalent of a hobbiest mechanic taking apart a bicycle. Sure, the tools are good to practice with, and the steady hands are nice, but bicycles and cars are not the same.

    Letters are not the same as novels. A diary focuses on description and thoughts but completely omits pacing and, in many cases, spelling or grammar or coherent outlines. (After all, you're keeping the diary for yourself, and many people use shorthand instead of actually writing dozens of properly constructed paragraphs.)

    Writing clubs and penpals and online chatrooms are not useless. They are simply much less useful than sitting down and actually writing out the thoughts in your head until you have a complete scene, or a character, or -- better yet -- an entire story.

    This also doesn't mean that everyone who grows up writing letters and essays and chatting online will start out on the same foot. You have a huge advantage if you read a lot, and a decent advantage if you develop a good sense of grammar. You are similarly well off if you have a group of friends online who can encourage you to write and who can correct your mistakes or give you suggestions. But in the end, the first step towards being an "author" or a published writer is sitting down and writing.

    For obvious reasons, not everyone will agree with me. If you aren't interested in being published, then a million words aren't at all useful as a goal. The goal there should be to write material which is pleasing to you, not necessarily to write material crafted for a general audience.

    For the rest of us -- the ones who are working, inch by grueling inch, toward the final goal of seeing our name in print -- a million words may seem like a lot. But it's a really useful figure, because it indicates twenty NaNoWriMos or ten novels or a lot of short stories. The whole point, really, is that it will take time and careful practice to reach that one-million-word mark. Some of us will get published long before hitting that mark. But for most of us, a million words is not a poor goal to strive for. It's a large but entirely feasible number.

    Good luck in your writing.
     
  18. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    Yes, I agree.:cool:
     
  19. Joran Selemis
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    Joran Selemis Member

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    It's good to occasionally talk to others/fill them in on your world, because invariably they will be the ones reading it and if they hate something even from the start it's better to take it out.
     
  20. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    I agree. A shopping list does not constitute practice in writing.

    I can agree with that too. But isn't reinforcing spelling / grammar a part of why those million words were recommended? It must play a part - it is still portraying your thoughts to someone else, with the written word. You must still edit, and make sure that everything you wanted to say is included, and phrased correctly.

    This, I might have to disagree with. It really depends on what you write about, how long your letters are, and how long you keep these penpals. You still need to do everything I said a minute ago, make sure everything is clear, only with letters, you also need to add flavour. You have to make it interesting, it has to move well (pace) and you have to portray feelings, emotion, along to the reader. If you have ever had a BORING penpal, you would understand. :)


    If you choose to omit these things, or not worry about them, aren't you only cheating yourself? If you put your best work forward at all times - even if it is only in a personal journal, it is still performing the same thing any written word is. You are simply learning how to talk to different audiences.

    They certainly will not replace the entire learning experience of writing a story. There is a lot that goes into a story that you cannot possibly learn by just studying the theory with no practical. It is the whole, that helps.

    Of course, you would need to read a lot, I just thought that went without saying. :)

    Yes, some people enjoy having a figure to work towards. But how many of those published authors out there actually wrote 10 novels before publishing their 'first'?

    When you feel the urge, the drive, the inspiration to write, you write. Writing is an art form, just as painting a picture, or crafting a song. It takes inspiration, at some point. A measure of love. And when you are done, and have edited, you feel a certain pride for your work. Or, I do. Yes, I could be better, but for now, I don't know how - anymore than I can without years of experience, but they will come.
    That doesn't mean the first novel is totally unpublishable.

    It also doesn't mean you are incapable of writing anything worth a damn until you have written that million words.

    Just write lots, you will get there. We all start at different places, so there is no start point, and you cant plunk everyone into the same category of how much writing it will take for them to be "good enough".
     
  21. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Interesting, Sillraaia -- we seem to have very similar opinions with a few quibbles. Note that having a million words as a goal does not mean that you are a terrible writer until then; in fact I specifically said that some of us will be published long before hitting that mark. But it's a good goal. Like if you have a goal of studying ten hours for a test: some people will get a good grasp of the material after six or eight, but for many of us, ten hours is a better goal in order to ensure that we know what we need to know.

    I have two main reasons for thinking that writing letters and having discussions is not very helpful for a writer. The first one is that writing style is very very different between mediums: writing poems and writing plays and writing novels are different. That's why I give such things a 10:1 ratio of "words written : useful words". Grammar and spelling are necessary but so basic that extra practice doesn't help you much. It's like building a house. The grammar and spelling are the foundation: you need it, but once you have it, you still have one heck of a lot of work to do.

    The second? They're traps. Horrible, time-eating traps. Because we like the idea that we're improving ourselves as we do those things. I know way too many people with "a great idea" or even multiple "great ideas" who haven't written so much as five pages of actual story but who have convinced themselves that since they're thinking and communicating about the story, it will just sort of magically happen.

    This is false. Untruth. A LIE. And I'm as guilty of it as anyone here. (And probably worse than some of you.) So I try to avoid it, and to let others know how much of a trap it is.

    Why? Because many of the people on this site are "new" writers. We haven't been published yet, or not much; we're still learning the ropes. (And we will be learning even after we have been published, since there is no point after which you "know it all".)

    And as new writers, many of us talk about our stories a lot. We write letters to our friends explaining about the latest plot twist. We draw up maps and we write backstories and we write histories and we invent languages. We keep journals and we write scientific papers (well ... at least I do) and we write plotlines for D&D games and GURPS and Live Action Role-Playing.

    And some of this is helpful. But not all of it, by far. Unless you are doing those things, and also writing the actual story, then there will be no story at the end of it.

    Some people get inspired and write something amazing. Look at Harper Lee -- she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, and it was wonderful, and then she stopped. But for many of us, we have to be able to actually sit down, for a couple hours a day or maybe once a week for a long haul, and produce prose. Some of it is not very good prose. Some of it is excellent. Over time, we learn how to produce better prose, and to edit out the mediocre stuff until the average quality is good. And then, when we write that story we're all burning to write, it'll be worth reading. It will be clear and crisp and well-written enough that we can basically invite readers into our world, and they'll see what we see, hear what we hear, and become as much a part of our world as the native characters.

    One day, I hope I can come to this forum and point at a link to my book on Amazon and basically run about the forum shouting "Oh! Looky looky, my book exists! Come read about Berendon and Ossack and Kevir, those people I've been telling you about for so long."

    But just telling you guys about it will not make this come true. The writing I've done on the novel will. And the short stories I'm writing will also help me to develop the needed skills to write the book(s). But letter-writing and journal-keeping will not help me in much the same way. (Says someone who does, in fact, regularly write letters and who keeps a lab notebook as part of weekly life.)

    /rant.

    Usual Disclaimer: I am frequently unclear in my speech and take pride in the fact that I'm much more clear when I write. Please consider thoroughly reading what I post before adding a comment of the form, "Ah, but in this special particular case, you aren't correct / aren't telling the whole picture." Of course I'm not; the world is complicated and generalizations that are useful 90% of the time are just that: useful most of the time.

    Right. Off to go poke at some cells. See you!
     
  22. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    heh, yes, of course you need to write, in order to be published, if that is your desire. You can't grow up, even having written hundreds of essays and letters and participated in thousands of online forums, and just 'know' how to write a novel. I apologize if that is what it sounded like I was saying.
    You have to actually write. And if you don't like to do that, then why do it?

    I was simply stating that you can't put a number on it. Some people can write a good book first time through - others can't. Everyone's different. Have fun with the journey.
     
  23. ned kelly
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    ned kelly New Member

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    Sadly, my writing has been pushed to the side. My main priorities eventually became making money and supporting myself. I didn't go to university like most of my friends did, mainly because I did absolutely no work at high school :p

    I started my own company and work as a web designer/developer. Great money for a 20 year old, and I get to work from home and work my own hours meaning I can write whenever I like. I really like being involved in business, even though it is pretty much the opposite lifestyle as a full time writer. I solve mental blocks by working, and when I have had a enough coding for the day, I write.

    It is a good lifestyle, except for my mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems. Ah well- it all fuels the creative juices. That's what I tell myself.
     
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I'm a University student, doing an English degree as I want to get a job in either journalism or teaching (preferably journalism) and making it as a writer is nothing more than what I like to call a Pipe Dream. It'll be nice if it happens, but it's not what I'm really aiming for.
     

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