Whenever I speak at a conference I tell attendees they have the lifetime privilege (I remind them that it's my lifetime, not theirs, so hurry!) of e-mailing me any question, and I'll answer it, as long as it can be answered in a simple e-mail. If the answer is too complicated, I might refer the person to a book or Web site that could help. I am also one of the experts on a Web site that lists experts on many subjects. My subject is "writing books," so I get questions from readers of that Web site, as well. As a result of opening myself up to many questions, I get to help other writers while I also gather material for my "Ask the Book Doctor" column and my Ask the Book Doctor books. Writers get answers; I get material. Everybody wins.
One frequent question that I get, though, comes from those who want to start writing but don't know where to begin. I want to be encouraging, so I give them many tips, but in truth, writers--real writers--never ask that question. They dive in and write. Later they may learn much more and revise their writing during the rewrites and future drafts, but writers simply write, and in my opinion, when you have to ask how to get started, you don't yet have the soul of a writer.
I have a similar attitude toward women in their late thirties who say, "I haven't decided yet whether I want children." Hello? Sometimes doing nothing is a decision in itself. If you have a partner, have your health, and haven't had children by age thirty-eight or thirty-nine, it's probably because you never had the innate urge to be a mother. I say this boldly, because I do know there will probably be an exception here and there, but for me, I knew that I wanted to be a mother from the time I was a young child, just as I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. As a result, I wrote articles for my high school and college newspapers, became the newsletter editor for almost every organization I belonged to, and volunteered to write newsletters for nonprofit organizations. By the time I left college, I already had a substantial portfolio of published works that helped me get other writing jobs.
Along the same lines, I knew I wanted to be a mother, and in my era no decent woman had a child outside of wedlock, so I married young, got pregnant right away, and gave birth to a perfect baby boy. Life didn't see fit to give me any other children who survived, but at least I have a son; I am a mother.
This whole post, then, is simply about deciding what you want and going for it, in whatever way you must. If you want to be a writer, write! Learn, yes, but write. Edit, yes, but later. First, write.
Unlike movies, which can be pitched without the screenplay having been written, I know of no novel that sold on an idea alone. It must first be written. Yes, if you write nonfiction, you can sell a book that isn't written yet, but you do have to write a full book proposal, along with sample chapters. In other words, you still have to write.
Oh, dear, I sound as if I'm lecturing, and I guess I am. I'm feeling adamant about writing, right now, because I'm guilty of not putting enough time into writing, now that my editing workload is heavy and the holidays are looming. I was probably lecturing myself. As a result, I put myself in my chair in front of my computer and wrote this blog entry.
At least I wrote!