What To Do To Become A Writer
By Thomas M. Malafarina
For the purpose of this blog, I’ll assume someone wants to know what he has to do to get his thoughts down on paper; the actual act of writing. I can't really tell anyone how best to become a published author other than to keep trying and take the advice and criticism you receive in your growing mountain-sized collection of rejection slips. (I save my rejection slips - some are very entertaining).
In addition, if someone wants to know how to make money writing, he probably should be asking someone else. The sad truth is at this time in my writing career, I make very little money through my writing endeavors, certainly not enough to pay my bills. Hopefully someday this will change but for now, nope. I work full-time as a Senior Manufacturing Engineer for a major corporation. That is why I have a house, two cars and why I’m not starving to death. My income from writing wouldn't pay bus fare. I hope that statement doesn't sound cynical or bitter because I certainly don’t want to project that sentiment. It is simply a fact. Does that frustrate me and make me want to quit writing? Never in a million years
That being said, writing horror fiction does provide me with something that my bill paying normal day job does not; and that is an outlet for my wild and often uncontrollable imagination. I write because I absolutely love to write. It is the same reason I create artwork, draw cartoons, write music and play in a blues band. I have to get these ideas out or I might go crazy. (Some might argue I may have already arrived at that particular destination.)
What I plan to talk about in this blog, is about the truths I’ve learned about the writing process itself. As most creative people will tell you; whether the form of creative expression is art, music, writing or whatever, they do not create just because they want to; they do so because they have to. The ideas have to come out. Your main goal in writing should be to get your creative juices flowing and get your ideas out and on paper. And if done properly the often-arduous task of writing can be a much less painful experience.
The old adage, which is often criticized as being trite and cliché, but one I find true to form is "Writers Write". If you want to be a writer than don't spend days, weeks, months and years thinking and over-thinking, planning and over-planning. In the immortal words of Nike, just do it!
Here is how I approach the writing of either a novel or a short story. Think of your upcoming work initially in terms of a movie trailer. When you watch a trailer you learn a little bit about the gist of the movie; the title, the general subject matter and a few enticing scenes to wet your appetite. You learn just enough to tease you and give you and idea of whether or not you want to pay good money to see the film. You don't learn every detail of every scene of the movie and especially not the ending. You know when you arrive in the theater to see the film you will not have any idea what might happen next, as you wind your way along the story line.
When I sit down to write a short story or a book the same thing is true. Most times, I have an idea of what the title might be and what the basic premise of the story will be. On rare occasions, I may do a minimal outline of the first few chapters to get me started. By the way, nine time out of ten, if I do happen to create an outline I usually end up abandoning it early on in every work. Most of the time when I am in the middle of a story, I have absolutely no idea how it will end. For me, writing a book is as wonderful an experience as going to a movie or reading someone else's book for the first time. I am as excited with anticipation as the person who someday will be reading my book. That is what makes it so much fun.
I am quite certain some people may consider this a strange way to write, but it works for me. It allows me to relax; to open my mind to any possibility, and then just cut loose and let the thoughts flow freely. Sometimes when I write I not only don’t have an outline, but I may not even have an idea or a plan. Sometimes I just start writing something; anything and see what evolves. If I write something that doesn't work, I simply file it for use somewhere else, some time in the future. This freedom is what makes the rest of the writing process, the stuff I hate, bearable.
This brings us to the next phase in the writing process. This is where I tell you to make sure you really want to write something before you dive into this literary swimming pool. Anyone can write a book, and with today's technology, anyone can self-publish a book, but that doesn’t guarantee what you have written is any good. Remember, just because your mother or your wife or girlfriend tells you your work is "amazing" or "brilliant" doesn't mean it really is. You may not want to read the next section if you already think you’re God's gift to literature.
Believe me, if you want to write a good top quality piece of work as opposed to a piece of something else, you had better be prepared to work your butt off, writing and rewriting, editing and re-editing, proofing and re-proofing. By the time one of my books is finished, I probably have rewritten it more times, than I care to mention. When my book is ready to hit the shelves I’m usually sick to death of the thing. I consider this one of the necessary evils of good writing. Writing the book and getting the story down on paper is the fun part. The next phase is where the real work occurs and this is the place, where the real writers are separated from the wannabees.
An author friend of mine and a great inspiration, John Paul Allen, once told me to use the following rule of thumb when writing. After you think a book is all ready to go to a publisher, you should set it aside for a month and write something else, doing all you can to forget the original work. Then a month later you can come back and re-read the work like it was a new book and do so aloud so I can hear how it sounds and how it flows, then re-edit it as necessary at least once again.
I’ve taken his advice on all of my books and do so in order to eliminate any holes in any of my stories. When writing a novel, I tend to work on a chapter at a time and often when I am a few chapters in, I will go back, start at the beginning, and look for flaws, typos or holes, while working on the newer chapters. I absolutely hate holes in stories. And even with all of this work and rework, I am always astonished at how much I miss when my stories get into the hands of the editors.
By the way, even after multiple re-writes you usually have to usually go through it at least once again when the galley proof is printed. This is the really frustrating part. You’re holding the finished product in your hand like a new-born baby and you have to pick it to pieces. Imagine holding your own child and criticizing every little detail about him or her. Her eyes are too small, his nose is shaped funny, her ears stick out and so forth. But that is what you have to do. The buck stops with you. You are the one who gets the final look at the work after all the editors are finished with it.
And speaking of editors, if you see yourself as the type of author who is above taking the advice of your editors I’d suggest you forget about serious writing and practice saying "Do you want fries with that?" I say God bless editors. They make us humble writers look good. Most editors love working with me because I don't see them as an adversary or necessary evil but as a partner in producing the best work, I possibly can. I am not an English major, an intellectual or a scholar; I am a regular guy with a over-active and dark imagination who loves writing horror.So, you can see why I feel editors are such an important asset to me; I rely on their knowledge of the language to fix my many screw-ups. I also rely on them to be another set of eyes to find any flaws in my story line before it goes out to the public.
What I am trying to say is if you want to write and be a good writer, you really, really have to want to write. It is a lot of work, a lot of time, a major commitment and often provides little or no monetary reward. You have to have a thick skin and be able to take criticism, not to mention rejection.
So here is some important advice which you probably won't want to hear since you may believe you were born to write and any other job would obviously stand in the way of the world benefiting from your outstanding talent. The first thing you should do to be a successful writer is to make sure you have a good job to pay your bills. This job might be related to writing, it might not; that isn't the point. The point is earn a living and pay your bills. If you do this then you can afford pursue your writing passion as a sideline. If it fails, you won't starve and if it succeeds well, that more money in the bank. Some people have criticized me for saying this, but so be it.
If you are a creative person with a need to get your ideas out and on paper, you’ll find the time to write somehow, not because you want to but because you have to. And you’ll have to learn to be willing to work to constantly improve your writing and to do whatever it takes to not only produce good quality work, but to promote yourself to the public in any way possible as well. You’ll likely have to work harder at your writing sideline than your full-time gig, but if it’s what you truly want then you will do it willingly.
If this doesn't describe you, then perhaps you should consider doing something other than writing. Because in my personal experience; writing is more often then not a labor of love, with little or no financial payback.
So now in answer to the question "What should I do to become a writer?" Although this may seem ridiculously simple, the answer is... write. Write something down, anything. And even if you don't like what you have written save it somewhere, it might come in handy someday. Stop thinking about writing. Stop planning what you may someday write. Stop worrying about whether it will be good or bad. Just write already!
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About the Author
Many of Thomas's stories take place in his native Schuylkill County and also in Berks County settings. Thomas's books are published by Sunbury Press of Camp Hill, PA.
Thomas's novels include "99 Souls", "Burn Phone" and "Eye Contact", and "Fallen Stones". His short story collection are "13 Nasty Endings", "Gallery of Horror", "Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 1", "Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 2" and "Ghost Shadows". He also has a collection of single-panel cartoons called "Yes I Smelled It Too". In addition, Thomas's stories appear in many anthologies currently on sale on Amazon.
Thomas has had a life-long love of the horror and monster genre in all its form of books, movies and art. Annually, Thomas creates works of horror art, props and scenery, which he donates to a local non-profit Halloween Barn Of Terror.
Thomas lives just outside of Wernersville, PA with his wife JoAnne. They have three grown children and three grandchildren.