“How can I become a writer? That question is not usually vocalized by the person who has the fire of story telling in their breast. Through the first twelve years of school they have learned words, parts of a sentence and paragraph, and how to put them together. They have seen how some authors have done it by reading. They have even practiced though writing assignments. They feel empowered and to know all it takes to become a writer . . . until coming out of the school doors that final day and discover the world is a lot bigger and unforgiving. So, it was both surprising and refreshing when a young man made this statement to me, but how to answer?
“You’ve written some things,” (In this case, his interest has been fiction) “so keep chasing that dream.”
I encourage every aspiring author to keep doing that, and by “chasing” I mean learn how to write. It’s a lot more involved than taught in high school or just sitting down and putting words on paper or screen.
The first thing a budding author needs are the right tools. When a carpenter begins a project, he needs a plan, the right materials, the right tools, and skill to shape and assemble the materials into a piece of beauty. Over the course of these ramblings, I will attempt to address each of these aspects, starting with the right materials.
What does a writer need to become an author? In days past it was a pen and paper, and then a typewriter. Now, the best tool is a word processor.
[A bit of history. In 1880, Civil War General and New Mexico Governor, Lew Wallace, published “the most influential Christian book of the ninetheenth Century,” Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Some of the manuscript was written by Gen. Lew Wallace while traveling by train to New Mexico. While the typewriter was coming into its own by the mid-1800’s, this, and many manuscripts of the time were pen to paper.]
When I began responding to the urge to put stories swirling around in my head, it was about 1958. I was fourteen. They were terrible, but the more I wrote, the better they became. That journey into writing was not unlike a baby who starts out life lying on his back, begins kicking, eventually rolling onto his tummy, then onto knees to crawl, pulling up to stand, and eventually takes those first steps. Writing down stories was first done pen or pencil on paper mostly during boring moments in class.
That constant practice helped to improve, but I was still a lousy writer, with flashes of promise that caught the attention of a professional author who took me under his wing for a time. I was seventeen. At eighteen, I graduated somewhere below mid-point in a class of 600 because I didn’t do well in classes where I spent more time writing than studying, and started writing for a major, metropolitan newspaper. By this time, I had progressed to using a typewriter.
There are programs within MS Word which are major, major musts such as access to a dictionary and thesaurus, although the last time I used it they were limited and lame. A program which can be added to LibreOffice is called “Writer’s Tools.” It directly accesses Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com which are a writers’ must-have tools.(Warning, it takes some internal tinkering of the program to do that, but the instructions are user friendly. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can access these sites via your favorite Internet browser and its bookmark feature.)
A good dictionary and thesaurus is an absolute must for any writer, whether digital or print (preferably both). The English language has borrowed words from around the world making it the richest of languages. Learn it. They are the colors used to paint a picture of your story in the audiences’ mind.
The next tool is an ABSOLUTE must. Did I scream, ABSOLUE? Yes!
The Chicago Manual of Style has been the writer’s, editor’s, and publisher’s bible since 1906. The most current edition goes for about $40, but earlier additions can be had for lots less and contains all the information needed to know about formatting a manuscript.
Another resource that should be on your shelf is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Again inexpensive for a used edition. Older editions are not outdated. What we put down changes, not how we format sentences.
In short, as a purveyor of words, expand that knowledge and have a convenient way to put them down that doesn’t distract from moving that story swirling around in your head out where others can both see and enjoy it.
Pablo Casals, the legendary cellist, was asked why he continued to practice for three hours a day at the age of 93. He replied, “Because I believe I am making progress.” I have been spinning tales for 58 years, and if I don’t seek to make the next story better, I fail myself and my audience. I take some time almost every day to review or learn new writing techniques.