If you are planning on publishing, you’ll want to narrow some of your interests to some particular areas of expertise. Perhaps it’s parenting, religion, recipes, gardening, or a particular kind of fiction. And if you’re looking to publish fiction, you’ll need to decide if you want to write high-end literary novels, say Ian McEwan or A.S. Byatt, or gripping page turners like those penned by Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, or John Grisham. There is no shame in focusing on the everyday happenings of life, whether the best way to handle a gang of teenage girls sleeping over, or writing an action-packed novel, because all writing requires a certain kind of craft and skill. The audiences and goals are just different.
So now you have some topics in mind, but perhaps you can sharpen your focus. If you’re interested in parenting, then you may want to focus on a particular age group. If religion, perhaps you could focus on a particular denomination, period of history, or type of theology. When you have your topics in mind, it’s time to start… reading. Of course you need to carve out a bit of time each day to write, let’s say about an hour or so if we’re aiming for the ideal. But you’ll also need to read and read and read.
There are a number of reasons why you’ll want to read as much as you can:
Read Good Writing
Once you have a field or two in mind, you’ll want to read the best that field has to offer. Pay attention to the kinds of sentences, words, and pacing each author uses. Do they focus on short declarative sentences, bunch their thoughts in huge paragraphs, or grind the narrative to a halt with a two-word paragraph? You’re reading for the enjoyment, but also for the insight into the craft of writing.
You can’t expect to come up with every idea on your own. That doesn’t mean you’ll be pinching the thoughts of others, but you can use their ideas as a jumping off point for your own articles. In fact, you may find after reading several authors that a certain pattern emerges in their thinking and you now can write about these connections. All that to say, there always is a need for original thoughts that crop up during long, quiet walks, the restful moments before falling asleep (You do have a note pad by your bed, don’t you?), or in-between verses while singing in the shower (The notebook may be a bit harder to pull off in there, but not impossible).
As you write you’ll typically need to do quite a bit of research. Even if you’re writing a novel you’ll need to research settings, characters, and occupations. Let’s say you have a character who is a firefighter, you’ll need to learn about volunteer firefighters vs. full-time firefighters, how fire burns, and everything else that has to go with emergency response. However, if you’re writing non-fiction you’ll also need to stay current on statistics, studies, and articles. You’ll find that an online bookmarking tool such as del.icio.us is a fantastic tool for storing and sorting online information. If you use Mozilla Firefox you can install a button that allows you to click on a "tag" button and you’ll have any link saved.
Writing is a daunting, lonely task at times, so you’ll need some encouragement, support, and insight. Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg are just a few of the talented writers who have published fantastic little books on writing, and believe me, there are tons more to choose from. You need to capture the norms for a writer, the bumps to expect, and the flow of highs and lows just so you don’t get discouraged, or worse, go crazy. Pick up a few magazines on writing at a book store and do a few searches online. Perhaps your favorite writer has a blog where you can find encouragement and ideas. Even an hour spent reading a book on writing in a book store may give you some fantastic clues on how to succeed as a writer.
Coming Up: I’ll take a look at ways you can not only do your research, but build your expertise and much more.