Question Corner: How to Become a Fiction Writer

Dear Indie Spirit Press,

I’ve always wanted to write novels since I was a little girl, but I never knew where or how to start. Can you give me some advice on how to begin? How does someone become a fiction writer?

– Clueless in Kentucky

This is a question writers get all the time, along with “Where do your ideas come from?” and “How long does it take you to write?” The answers to these questions are usually really general and very vague. The fact is, we writers don’t often like to share our secret rituals with outsiders. If too many people know how we do what we do, then it kills the allure of the author and no one wants that.

But since you have ambitions to join this illustrious world of words, Clueless, it’s only right that you know exactly what it is you’re signing up for. Below are the five ways to become an author of fiction:

1.       Acquire an addiction.  All writers have one. For some, it’s food; for others, it’s booze. Those vices are for amateurs. No – the real addiction you need to get is the addiction to caffeine. Coffee will become your best friend, keeping you awake at 3 am when your eyes are drooping and your body’s begging you for a reprieve from your uncomfortable desk chair; it will comfort you when every word you put on the page sounds like utter horseshit. If you’re not consuming a half pound bag of coffee grounds per day, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re a female writer with a baby and your kid gets milk when you breastfeed instead of a caramel latte, you need to rethink your commitment to the craft. Clearly, you’re not drinking enough so you can’t be writing enough.

2.       Which leads to this point: Forsake all others (routines that is). Some writers will tell you that in order to be a real writer, not just a hobbyist, but a professional, you need to write every day. Well bullocks to that! You need to write every second to be a professional fiction writer. Say goodbye to home cooked meals – the time you’d spend in front of the stove could be better spent at your laptop, hacking away at your opus. (They make Top Ramen for a reason.) And sleep? Ha! I gave that up ten years ago. Get yourself hooked up to an IV drip for nourishment (and the occasional energy booster) and a year’s supply of Depends and you’ll be good to go on your novelling adventure.

Note: if your family hasn’t put out an Amber Alert for you in the last 24 hours, you need to get back into your closet and write!

3.       Connect to your story in a personal way. This is a big one. The only time you should be writing something because it’s on trend or because it’s what someone else wants is if you’re writing on spec. You’ve got to write things that appeal to you on an individual level – however, you can’t make things up. Oh no, if you do that, the critics will complain that you didn’t adhere strictly to real world facts, regardless of the fact that you’re writing fiction which by definition means “not real.” No – if you want to write a story about, say, an axe-wielding psycho killer, you better find an axe and go Abe Lincoln on somebody’s ass or else you’ll get reamed for not being authentic. You’re supposed to write what you know after all.

4.       Edit until your fingers bleed. So many writers think that three to four editing passes are all they need to craft a publishable story. This is a myth. Real writers edit until they can no longer see the words on the page; until the story they end up with no longer resembles the story they started with; until their fingers go numb and a strange, crimson liquid makes its way onto the keyboard. You should be in physical pain by the time the story is done – if you’re not, you’re not yet finished. This process can take up to twenty years to complete so don’t panic if you reach what you think is the end of your story and realize that you don’t feel like keeling over.

5.       Sacrifice a small goat to the goddess Nobelalaureata during the solstice.  You must also be naked while doing this and preferably standing on your head while chanting the names of all the bestselling authors you wish to emulate. Once your bonfire has gone out and the goat has been thoroughly smoked, sit back and wait for your book or story to hit Best Of lists and the riches to start pouring in.

Note: this is not a Satanic ritual. You are not sacrificing your soul to the Dark Prince. That’s so passé. Not to mention, a raw deal. Look at Robert Johnson. He (allegedly) sold his soul to Lucifer in exchange for career success and most people had no clue who he was while he was alive. Even now, people are like, “Robert Who?” Yeah – he probably should’ve had an agent look over that contract before signing.

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