I loved attending the Pennwriters Conference last weekend. It was a wonderful experience, immersing myself in three days of Writers Talking About Writing All of the Time.
During the conference, I overheard two questions: 1) What in the world is going on with the publishing business? and 2) How do I get started?
Easy enough. The answer to Question #1 seems to be "Nuclear Ground Zero" or "Day One". I guess this means we get to start rebuilding the entire publishing business model, bully for us. I only hope authors keep their hands on the reins and their eyes on their contracts this time.
In honor of Jonathan Maberry's very positive and inspiration keynote speech, here's my answer for Question #2:
How Do I Get Started?
Never give up. Listen with a clear mind to every remark and distill that information for the benefit of your work. Writing isn't about ego, money, or awards, it's about story. If you stay true to the story, you will be given more stories to tell.
Be thankful when someone offers you criticism; at least they're interested enough to give a damn. Learn from everything and everyone. Don't close your mind to experience, you never know what you might need to use next, even the unpleasant bits.
Don't be afraid to ask for help or say 'I have no idea' but follow it up and track down the correct answer.
Talk to strangers. Practice courage, I promise it will get easier. Don't be afraid to ask 'Why?' You might be surprised by the answer. Challenge yourself before you challenge others.
Ignore people who say you can't do it even if this person is yourself.
Read Renee Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet; Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and Stephen King's On Writing until the pages fall out and then buy yourself fresh copies.
Take a lot of notes. Work on some part of your writer's life every day. A page a day is a manuscript by the end of one year. Be honest with yourself and let that honesty show through your writing. If you can't work on your manuscript after your day job, get up an hour earlier and work on it before your day job.
Turn off the TV or better yet, junk your set. It's a complete waste of time and what's going on inside your head will be infinitely more interesting than anything you might see on the screen.
Find out what you want to say and then say it. If you get stuck on a plot point, seek out a professional and ask them about it; most pros will be delighted to share their experience and if they aren't, move on and ask the next one. Never take 'no' for an answer. A 'no' actually means 'yes' because a 'no' will block you from moving in the wrong direction and bump you toward the direction you were originally meant to follow anyway.
When you meet someone impossibly difficult, give thanks. It's a blessing and an opportunity. Someone or something made them that way and if you can figure out what that was you'll have a story.
Start NOW. Jump in recklessly with both feet and shout: Geronimo! It really doesn't matter where you start because it will all change in the editing anyway. Getting started is half the work, editing is the other half. Prepare yourself for that. Don't get rushed, let the story tell itself. You can always earn the money you need doing something else. The story will necessarily involve your life experience and you may not have had the experience the story needs yet; fear not, walk on, it will come and in the end you will be delighted. Don't be afraid to chance a mistake. Thomas Edison invented a thousand light bulbs that failed but the one that worked changed the world.
Even if you never earn a dime for all your efforts you are still better off than you would have been if you never tried. Figure out a way to tell your story and then tell it, and tell it again. Amaze your friends. Shame your mother. She'll get over it and secretly she'll be pleased when you're listed in the Library of Congress.