After forty years in software and the digital electronics industry, I jumped into a new career as a science fiction novelist about five years ago. Prospective writers contemplating a similar move could find some of my insights useful.
No one could possibly start at ground zero more than me. Although I hold master degrees in Computer Science and Finance, my college education in formal writing was limited to the mandatory English 101 that every undergraduate is forced to endure. My first career was no help either. The only fiction I wrote there was my department’s annual budget.
To start, I must issue the perfunctory warning. “Don’t quit your day job. You probably won’t make a lot of money doing this.” Having said that, two things drove me to try:
First, a love for literature. Since my childhood, I consumed every historical, science fiction and fantasy novel I could find in my local town library. They opened my mind to a myriad of ‘what if’ scenarios.
Second, a passion for telling stories. Ideas for plots percolated in my mind for many years, and my children endured many snippets of them as bedtime stories. Some ideas I jotted down, but most were filed away and refined in my head over time.
So why are these two points more important than any technical skill in creating a manuscript?
The answer is straight forward. If you read a lot, you know what you enjoy and what you don’t. Foremost, an author must, in my opinion, write to please him or herself. Think about what is appealing about the novels that give you the most pleasure and what you dislike about the ones that bore you. Embrace the style and arc of the good ones and steer clear of what annoys you in the others.
The second part is equally important. You have to have a story to tell. I am not talking about conveying (necessarily) any deep cerebral thoughts. But I am talking about having a unique, entertaining tale to spin. Writers need to get their readers enmeshed in the world they create, and not bore them with an all too predictable plot. If you can convince your readers to laugh and cry along with your protagonist’s misadventures you have a successful book.
Do not mistake me. Solid writing techniques are important. My editors certainly beat that into me. An author must always be honing those skills. But first, and foremost, you need to have a story to tell.
What do you think?