You've heard the phrase “If I only knew then what I know now.” This doesn't apply in the writing world. Everything I thought I knew about writing has changed in the last 20 years. Oh, not the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, that's still in place even if sometimes ignored. But how I write, and more importantly, how I publish has come out of the dark ages.
I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 13. I had good teachers, learned what I needed to know to put sentences together and got encouragement for my forays into journalism. And then I was left at the edge of a cliff, looking at the publishing industry across a wide gap with no clue how to get there.
I tried going it alone. I wrote my first book on an electric typewriter, helped with a wonderful invention called Wite-Out. I still have those yellowed pages. It didn't matter how much I wanted to be an author, all of the opportunities seemed to be in New York. I shelved my dreams for 30 years.
The Internet has changed all that. Or, has it? I just gave a speech to two separate groups on alternative publishing. The average age in the group was about 60. Where were all the young, aspiring writers? The audience I lectured to had a hard time understanding Publish On Demand technology, small press dynamics or the concept of Kindle. They are now retired and free to write, have lots of experiences under their belt, but time is running out and technology is racing forward.
So, if I were 16 again but in the year 2009, here's what I would do to jump start my career.
I'd find a group of like-minded peers and create a writers' group.
I'd make an effort to meet published writers. I didn't meet an author until I was 40.
If my parents could afford to buy me a computer, I wouldn't waste time goofing around on the Internet. I'd be googling markets and finding venues to publish my stories. I'd enter writing contests and hone my skills. I'd participate in social sites designed for writers. These groups talk about more than stories, they talk about finding an agent, unethical publishers, promotional cost and the nuts and bolts of the industry.
I'd ask for a subscription to Writers' Digest for Christmas. I'd find other writing magazines and scour the articles for information. I'd go to the library for “How To” books on plotting, characters and craft.
I'd figure out what “genre” means and decide the direction I want to aim my writing. Literary is pushed in schools, but genre fiction is what the public reads.
Publishing could be a young person's game, but too many writers wait until they are plagued with arthritis, hampered by failing eyesight and have senior moments that temporarily steals words and coherent ideas.
There's a phenomenon out right now called “Twilight.” If I were 16 again, I would go to Stephenie Meyers' site and pay attention to what she says of her publishing experience. http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html This author did a lot of things wrong and still got it right. Plus, she's young enough to enjoy her immense success.