Writing: How to Start

Writing: How to Start

How to Get Started

Most of the articles on this blog are geared towards seasoned writers. One of my readers brought to my attention not everyone has the same level of experience, and some people just want to know how to get started. For those of you who are venturing into writing for the first time, here is some helpful information to get you started.

The first thing you have to do is show up, sit down, and do the work. Simple, but profound. You have to stop thinking about writing, stop talking about writing, and actually write. It takes time, and effort, but it’s the only way the ideas swimming around in your head will ever turn into words on a page.

Writing is a journey, a process. You’re not going to sit down and write an entire novel in one sitting. You have to piece it together like a puzzle, one word at a time. Setting aside time to write regularly is the best discipline to develop. If you don’t stick to it, those words will never be written.

Try this as your first venture. Jeff Goins wrote a fantastic article about this very topic entitled, The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit. Breaking it down, set aside time every day to write at least 500 words for the next 31 days. It helps you form a habit to fit into your life schedule, is a small enough task to be done daily, and large enough that you’ll have something substantial if you stick it out. You’ll have more than 15,000 words when you’re done, and that is a great start.

Accountability

One thing that has helped me tremendously in my writing endeavors is making acquaintance with other writers. I expand on this in my article Why a Writing Community is So Important. Having one or more persons in your life who will take the time to ask you, “So what have you written lately?” keeps the desire to write alive, and throws fuel on the commitment fire. If you know other writers, get in touch with them. Ask them about their work. Take the time to look at theirs if they’re willing to share, and give constructive feedback. You never know when you might need the same.

The Right Tools

Here’s another rudimentary yet essential snippet. Some people prefer to write the old fashioned way with pen and paper. While I prefer to use a word processor, I cannot deny the enriching and visceral feeling of scratching ink onto a page and watching it transform. If this is your preferred method, get yourself a good pen and a notebook dedicated to writing. Don’t use this to jot down telephone numbers, addresses, doodle (unless you’re writing a graphic novel) or etc. This notebook is reserved exclusively for writing. Keep it in a safe place and keep close eye on it so as not to lose or misplace it. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing hard work.

If you’re like me, and you prefer typing to writing, you will need a functioning computer and word processor. Most people use Microsoft Word as it comes installed standard with most PCs. If you’re a Mac user, Pages works too. Stay organized and keep a folder with nothing but your work in it. Don’t forget to back it up on a cloud or portable hard drive. I learned the hard way what happens if you don’t, and believe me, that is not the kind of devastation you want to suffer.

Hone Your Skill

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” When it comes to writing, a more accurate statement would be, “Practice makes permanent.” If you write every single day, you’re bound to get better, but what that will do is help you form a habit. Writing good work takes a firm grasp of the English language and how it works. Taking an extra English college course couldn’t hurt. Better yet, there are plenty of Expository Writing and Creative Writing classes out there designed to exercise the imagination muscles it takes to come up with original stuff, and help you hash those ideas out into words.

Here are some great online video tutorials I found helpful. Here’s a quick five-minute video by Rick Davis on YouTube, and another 30-minute presentation by Mich Nicolson I found informative and helpful.

Try New Things

Don’t get so stuck in one groove you neglect the opportunities to venture out. Writing is such a broad horizon and there are so many opportunities and experiences to be had. If you fancy fiction, don’t be afraid to try poetry. If you’re writing an autobiography, perhaps a fun short story will help break up the monotony. Online magazines and newspapers oftentimes accept articles directly from the author (without the need of a literary agent). Ever think of starting a blog? What about a screenplay?

The possibilities are limitless. Shaking it up can keep thing fresh and interesting. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Living in the Age of Information, we can find a how-to for pretty much anything we want.

I hope you found this article helpful. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comment section below.

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How to Write a Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter

“Querying is like dating, interviewing and auditioning all rolled into [one]. Sending that first query will be one of the most vulnerable moments of your … life. …The first rejection (and the next twenty…) will make you question your determination, your fortitude and your talent. …But even if you don’t get “the call” on this manuscript, querying will leave you with a better sense of self, a greater awareness of your strengths and weakness and, yes, perhaps the need for a good therapist.”

– Emily Bleeker, author of When I’m Gone (2016) and Wreckage (2015), represented by Marlene Stringer of StringerLit.

My name is J.E.Cearlock, and like many of you, I am an aspiring author. First and foremost, let me thank Caleb J Hicks for the opportunity to write for his blog and impart what little knowledge I can spread to all of his readers.

Today, I am sharing information on every writer’s absolute most favoritestest topic EVER: query letters. Today’s topic will focus on writing a query letter for FICTION. Non-fiction and academic writing require a different set of rules of which I have little experience.

If you are reading this, you are probably a writer. This post will be blunt. I will not sugarcoat the querying experience. As an author, thick skin is mandatory. If the querying phase scares you, traditional publishing is not for you.

What is a query letter?

Excellent question! Let’s K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

First and foremost, a query letter is a business letter. It is a formal introduction to you and your work. The purpose of a query letter is to showcase your writing skills while giving a brief overview into the plot of your novel. The end result is to entice an agent or a publishing editor to request more of your work. It is formal, it is well-written, and it is grammatically correct.

 What a query letter is NOT.

A query letter is not a letter to your best pal.

It is not a therapy session (agents don’t care why you write.)

It is not an opportunity to ask questions like, “What can you do for me?” or any other display of pompous douchebaggery.

It is not a chance to say, “My mom loved my book so I thought I would send it to you.”

It is not riddled with mistakes and typos.

It does not reveal the final twist or ending of your novel.

How to structure a query letter:

Before I advance any further on this topic, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: writing a query letter has few mandatory rules. The sole requirement all agents agree on is simple – entice the agent. But make no mistake, there are guidelines query writers are expected to follow.

  • Queries are limited to ~250 words, but an absolute maximum of 300. Any more and it’s a guaranteed rejection.
  • White space is crucial. No blocks of text. None. Ix-nay. Break the paragraphs every three to four sentences.
  • Personalize every query you send to the agent you’re sending it to.

Do: Dear J.E.Cearlock

Dear. Mr. Cearlock

Do Not: Dear Agent

Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?

Dear Mr./Mrs./Mr. No Name

Additionally, an agent will be interested in learning where you found their name. If you found their name through an interview or an article about them, mention this. It shows you have done your research.

  • The query needs to be roughly 95% about your book. This one. The one you have finished. Not the one you plan to write in the future or the one you have sitting on your shelf from three years ago. The other 5% should be about yourself, relevant publishing or academic credentials, and maybe where you found the agent’s information.
  • A general consensus among querying authors is to focus on events in the first 1/3rd of your novel. But this is not always necessary if you can create a working query otherwise.

What should my query contain?

Another excellent question! And I’m here to tell you, less is more. But these following things are mandatory for the query. How you present the information is up to you.

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • What is stopping them from reaching their goals?
  • What are the stakes? What will the protag lose if s/he does not succeed?

Simple, right? No matter what genre you write, no matter if it’s middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult, all of these categories will follow this same guide. Some authors break these “rules” and do so with success. I believe you must first learn the “rules” before you can break them.

Crafting the Query.

So how should a query look once it’s been written? Well, each author has his own way to write these. However, most beginning authors start with the basic “Three Paragraph” form.

First the subject line of the E-mail should read this style: Literary Query – Author: Title (Category and genre).

Subject: Literary Query – J.E.Cearlock: AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS (Adult Romance)

Paragraph 1: The Hook

“Frejya is the Norse God of Love, which is hilarious because her own love life sucks.”

Something like this to set up who your main protagonist is, and possibly what their central problem will be.

Paragraph 2: The Dilemma

“Frejya believes no one will ever love her like her old husband Odin. Until she meets a human names Geoffrey, that is. The only problem is, Geoffrey is engaged, his wedding only three days away. Humans are not allowed in Asgaard but this doesn’t stop her from showing him the life they could have together, by her side for all eternity. But when his fiancée Valerie discovers Frejya’s intentions, the God of Love will need a God of War to stop the human’s wrath.”

Here we’ve set up the dilemma, the antagonist, and what both of the characters seek.

Paragraph 3: The Stakes

“Frejya has violated millennia-old laws by bringing a human to Asgaard, but she doesn’t care. After all, what could compare to true love? Certainly not an immortal life of loneliness. But Valerie has made it clear she won’t give Geoffrey up without a fight. Now Frejya has a decision: either cast down a human and face banishment from Asgaard for her own true love, or fulfill her divine duties and bless the couple with wedded bliss. Either way, she loses either a happy heart, or her position of power amongst the Gods of Asgaard.”

We as the reader now have a sense of the stakes for both the protagonist and the antagonist, but remember, a query doesn’t reveal the ending of the novel, only the choices and the cost of each of those choices.

Paragraph 4: Book info, bio, and agent research

“AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS is adult romance, complete at 75,000 words with series potential. My name is J.E.Cearlock and I am the author of (book) and written articles for (magazine/publication). I saw an interview you gave with Writer’s Digest and thought my book might send your heart to Asgaard.”

Here I have the title, category, genre, and word count. All of this is necessary. If you don’t have it, an agent won’t reach out. But word of warning: when it comes to previous publications, you cannot use self-published works as credentials un you made around $50k+.

Paragraph 5 – Salutation

“Thank you for your time and consideration.”

This. This line. Verbatim. Every single time. Without question. Nothing else is needed.

Final – Author signature and information

J.E.Cearlock

E-mail

Phone number

Website or blog (NO Twitter or Facebook)

Other pieces of advice:

  • Voice is key. Your query must be captivating and enticing. It must be enthralling and flow naturally.
  • The tone of the query MUST match the tone of the novel. If you pitch a horror novel but your query sounds like it was written by a drunk Chelsea Handler, chances are it won’t appear before an agent.
  • No cursing in queries except for the occasional “hell” or “damn” and only if it fits in the query.
  • Queries are … queries are hard. They’re harder than hard, they’re brutal. They’re The Hunger Games created by Loki with Voldemort as the main judge. They will make you question everything about your life choices and as Emily Bleeker said above, possibly seek out therapy. This step is the single greatest reason many great writers stop writing and give up their passion.
  • YOU CAN DO IT. No matter what you think, you can. You have resources galore at your fingertips. QueryTracker.net and agentqueryconnect.com are forums designed to help you write and polish your query letter.

Good luck, my fellow writers. Don’t let the daunting task of querying scare you away. We all hope to see your work on bookshelves one day.