Like Christmas, after a period of frenzied preparation the day of our writers’ club’s annual conference has come and gone. Some of us counted success in the number of attendees, others in the comments of those who came away with renewed purpose and a clearer goal.
I sat in on Robert Macomber’s workshop on “Planning Your Writing Career.” I, like many others, went into writing with high hopes and little knowledge of the real work behind the books I love to read. Among those books are Macomber’s “Honor” series, richly detailed and meticulously researched novels about a fictional officer in the U.S. Navy from the Civil War through the early 2oth century. Here’s what he had to say:
- Think of yourself as a professional writer, even if you are not yet published. Attitude is everything. Be positive minded and professional at all times.
- Understand your story and understand your genre. Tell your story in a different way. Pick a niche that hasn’t been done.
- Know your audience.
- Learn, learn, learn. Know the rules and when to break them. Be an expert in your subject. Learn your competition: read their books. Talk to libraries, booksellers, editors to learn what readers want. Learn about the business of writing.
- Bring your family on board. Have one area of the home that is your oasis and find a minimum of three hours a day when they know you are not to be disturbed. They need to know this is your second job. (Your first job earns the money so you can do the second.)
- Decide before you start on point of view, past or present tense, and your title. A title should be concise, vivid, evocative, and memorable. Plan a storyboard or visual road map. (And here’s a kicker) write your synopsis first to keep your story on track. Decide the size of your chapters up front. Chapter titles and sub-titles intrigue the reader and help pacing.
- Set a daily goal of draft words or finished words. Read your work aloud. The reader “hears” the words he reads inside his brain.
- Consider the visual aspect of your words on the page, i.e., white space.
- Set reasonable dates for interim goals to be met. Have your family celebrate these goals with you.
- Invite people to help you with research and be sure to name them in your acknowledgements.
- Your first three pages are the most important in engaging the reader. The end of your story should leave the reader with a feeling of accomplishment and wondering what comes next.
- Everybody needs one to three critical reader and an editor. Critical readers are friends who are widely read, who know grammar, can give you advice, and keep their mouth shut.
- Your readers should learn something, be entertained, and not feel they have wasted their money.
Some of these things I knew before. Some I knew but hadn’t put into practice. And some are things I had never thought of, so of Macomber’s workshop I can say I learned something, was entertained (Macomber is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer), and I certainly didn’t feel I wasted my money. His workshop alone was worth the registration fee.
Next week I’ll share what I learned in the other workshops I attended.
You are welcome.