You can dream of becoming the next bestselling author, but let’s do a reality check first
You can write, but that doesn’t make you a writer.
You’re a writer, but that doesn’t make you an author.
You wrote a book, but that doesn’t make you an author.
Almost everyone can write. But being able to write is only the beginning. Learning how to be an author by studying the craft of writing takes time.
I like to parallel writing with cooking. The more you do it, the better you get. But how good can you become?
There is a long way between, I can cook, I am a cook, and I am a 3 star Michelin chef. So, which chicken drumsticks would you prefer?
Good, better, best
Start at the beginning
Being an author is not every writer’s goal. A writing career can take many forms including content writing, ghostwriting, copywriting or building a blogging business.
All types of creative writing need one main ingredient. Fantastic writing skills.
If you are new to writing, or merely have an inkling of an idea that you would like to become a writer or an author, the starting point is always practice, practice and do more practice. By doing so, you will keep learning, learning and learning how to write better.
A good first step is to enrol in a writing course or join a writer’s group. Both will help improve your writing as well as get you familiar with learning how to accept and use criticism to develop your skills.
The second step is to set yourself a writing routine. An hour a day, every day and no excuses.
Depending on what your aim is, you could hone your skills by writing short stories, blog posts or by picking a random writing prompt from an online writing site.
Every time you write a new piece, analyse your writing for its grammar and spelling accuracy as well as its lexical variety. Do you have a habit of using repetitive words?
You can get feedback if you are in a writing group, but if you aren’t, you can do a thorough writing check and analysis by using Grammarly.
You can also try ProWritingAid, which is a similar writing checker and has the benefits of working with Scrivener and Google Docs.
More importantly, will your writing connect with, hook or intrigue a reader?
Writing for your reader
Every writer would like to emulate the success of Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Dan Brown or my favourite, Douglas Adams. But they are in an elite group of writers who possess that very special something else in their words.
There are thousands of authors. Some you read, some you like to read. Some you love reading. And then there a the very few who writes books that you just can’t put down.
Reading is key to learning how to write well. Read, and read to learn.
What makes the difference between a good author and a brilliant one?
The best writers connect with your senses.
Great authors create emotions that you can feel, describe images you can see, things you can touch, and even sometimes, tastes or aromas you can almost smell.
I could clearly visualise platform nine and three quarters in Harry Potter. I could hear the steam trains and smell coal smoke. I nearly became drunk on a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. I still wait for Carrie’s hand to launch from a grave when I visit a cemetery. You get my drift.
Nonfiction, self-help, bloggers and food writers, however, appeal to a readers thirst for knowledge and acquisition of new skills. Detail is important, of course, but great nonfiction writing satisfies an appetite for information, and often, providing solutions to difficult problems.
Erich von Daniken has kept me looking to the skies since I was a teenager. Well, it was supposed to be nonfiction. But Michael Swan has helped me perfect my grammar knowledge and understanding.
Once you have made your decision about who your readers will be and what they want, you will be on your way. When you decide what kind of writer you want to be, your possible career path will become much more evident.
Don’t give up your day job, but prepare a plan to make it happen
Set your aims, but also make a plan about how you are going to get there.
You might consider enrolling in local college or university writing programs or taking an online course. Then again, if you are very independent and tough on yourself, you could try to find a writing mentor to help you.
As you learn, look for opportunities to get your work published. There are hundreds of possibilities available on the Internet.
You could start with short story submissions or article writing. But don’t publish before you are sure your writing is of a high standard.
This is because many new writers make the mistake of publishing poor content, and once published, it is very hard to have it taken down. You don’t want your name, forever online, in the byline of poor writing and editing.
But once you are confident in your writing skills, and have had your writing accepted and published online, take the next step. Start looking for opportunities to get paid, now that you have published material you can use as references.
If your end plan is to write a book and have your book published, article writing or short story writing are both great ways to learn the writing craft and to perfect your writing skills.
If you can start building a side income stream along the way, especially with content and article writing, you will be making progress towards joining the ranks of professional writers.
Onwards to becoming a published author
Writing fiction is easy. Writing fantastic fiction is not.
For the numbers of authors who actually write and publish fiction, the list of winners is very short. The analogy that cream rises to the top is extremely apt.
It is the same for nonfiction, but the numbers are probably not as huge.
You can and should start writing your first book, but don’t rush. Even when you finish your first draft, there will be months of work ahead of you before your fiction, or nonfiction manuscript will be anywhere near a standard to be published.
In either case, you will need to decide at some stage how you would like to publish your book.
If you take the traditional route and look for an agent and a publishing house, it is tough. Get ready for lots of rejection.
But if you are fortunate and your story grabs an agent, you will get a lot of professional help in preparing your book for publication. All you really have to do is write and write extremely well.
This is the dream for most new novelists.
The second way to get published seems easy. But beware, it certainly is not.
Self-publishing is quick and simple. Just click a few buttons, upload your Word file and cover, and you are instantly a published author. But of what?
All too often, new writers fall into the trap of publishing well before a book is ready. A book full of errors and typos, poor grammar, spelling errors and plot holes with an awful cover is not going to do anything except fail miserably.
It’s the opposite of what cream does; it will head quite naturally in the wrong direction.
Self-publishing is by its own two words, about managing everything involved in the publishing process, yourself.
Importantly, it means managing and not necessarily doing. You will definitely need help, but you will be in charge of the help you require. You will need an editor, proofreaders, a cover designer, a copywriter and a list of beta readers. You may also need a publicist or a social media manager.
There are a lot of successful self-published authors, but they don’t do it alone, or on the cheap.
Do you want to become an author?
Well, go for it. But take your time, plan ahead and make sure you never stop learning to be a better writer. Once you put your name on a front cover, others will be all too ready to judge you.
Make sure that you write brilliantly and connect with readers’ senses or needs. Only then they will judge you well.
Do you want to become an author? Then:
Never give up
Never stop learning
Enjoy every small success
If you do all of the above, you will be an author.