Advice to New Writers

Marion Zimmer Bradley

(c) copyright 1980 by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The main way to get started as a writer is to write: apply the seat of the pants firmly to the seat of the chair and just get down to it. Having a thousand "good ideas" in your head is no good; you have to get them on paper. Just sit down and do it.

There's no "magic secret"; writing is like everything else; ten percent inspiration or talent, and ninety percent hard work. Persistence; keeping at it till you get there. As Agnes de Mille said, it means working every day -- bored, tired, weary, or with a fever of a hundred and two.

Think of this: a thousand pages sounds like a lot. But write three pages a day and a year from now you'll have a book.

There are a few things you have to learn. I cannot urge you strongly enough -- learn to type. You don't need a computer, or a thousand dollars' worth of word processing equipment, but you should beg, borrow, or steal a typewriter. No editor will read a manuscript that doesn't look professional.

Professional training. Forget the "creative writing" classes in school or college; if the writer is a good-selling professional he should be selling, not teaching, and if he isn't, he has nothing to teach you. On the other hand, don't go for extensive mail order "writing courses". Some of them are very good, but an extension course in fiction technique -- not, I repeat, "creative writing" at a local university will do just as much for you for a quarter or less of the price. Stay out of amateur "writing workshops" where amateurs sit around and read their failures to each other. Twenty times zero is still zero. Never listen to criticism from anyone unless they can sign a check. Never mind what your best friend, or your aunt, or your English teacher thinks. Trust only professional criticism.

Read a couple of good books on technique. I recommend to my own students a good book by Dean Koontz called WRITING POPULAR FICTION. Lawrence Block's THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT is another good one. So is a book called ONE WAY TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL, by Dick Perry. All of these are published by Writer's Digest and you should subscribe to that magazine now. I have had a subscription for thirty years. I still read every issue.

When you finish your book, wrap it up, and send it to an editor who publishes that kind of book. Agents? You don't need one till you have a good track record of sales; in fact, most reputable agents won't touch you till you have sold a lot of work. The kind of agent a beginner can get, you're better off without.

And that's really all there is to it; it's more than I knew when I started.

Good luck.

-- Marion Zimmer Bradley

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