A tweenager recently sent me an email asking me some questions about being a writer. I thought I might post them below, as I’ve been asked them before.
What made you want to become a author?
I did not want to become an author. I enjoyed writing non-fiction and fiction when I was your age, but I didn’t think I could make a living as a writer. I like food, and not worrying about how to pay bills. I still think about getting a “real” job a lot. Coding isn’t necessarily more lucrative, but it is more dependable.
Do you have any advice for becoming an author?
There are three pieces of advice I’d give to any writer.The first is to read and write! Read anything you like–fiction or non-fiction, in your native language, or your second language if you are studying in school. Think about what it is in the books and articles you read that makes you like them. And write. Always write. Not for the hope of being famous or for money, just because you love writing. If you don’t love writing, don’t become an author.The second piece of advice I would give is to find something else you enjoy doing, something that will pay the bills while you build your writing career. For someone your age, that would translate into not just studying creative writing, but also studying history and science (fantastic for story ideas!), art or photography and at least take a music appreciation class (studying the appearance of things and sounds will help you describe scenes more vividly), and mathematics. The last one, mathematics, makes artists groan, but it is so important for all artists of every type, especially if you want to make a living with art. So many artists don’t understand money, and they wind up getting taken advantage of, or they aren’t capable of analyzing their sales to make informed financial decisions.Working hard at all your subjects achieves two things–you learn how to work hard, and you might just find something that you like and are good at that makes a fine “day job” while you build your writing career. It turned out, I am a decent coder. I know writers who were lawyers, accountants, nurses, editors, graphic designers, marketing directors, businesswomen, and more. There are only a few writers out there who just emerged from high school or college as writers. You might be that person, but most likely not. Prepare for the not.The third piece of advice I would be is to live your life. Travel, make mistakes, meet people, talk to them, fall in love, and have children if you want children. These are things that should help your career in the long run, not hinder it. It will give you a greater understanding of the human condition and will allow you to write with greater empathy and compassion.
What is your favorite genre to write about?
I love fantasy with a sci-fi element, and writing technology as though it is magic in sci-fi. I like all my fiction to have historical references. I can’t write without writing adventure. And I love romance that is integral to the plot, but not the whole plot.
What is your favorite book that is not one of your’s?
I cannot name my favorite book–that’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is.
The first book I remember reading was Pirate’s Promise when I was just out of third grade. (I have dyslexia and reading came late for me.) I loved the adventure in it, and the hero who was determined to do the right thing. It also made me realize that adults could be stupid. At the end of the book, the boy who was avoiding becoming an indentured servant goes to live with a family in the deep South–a place with slaves! Couldn’t he have gone to someplace like Massachusetts?
Black Beauty was the next book I remember reading–I love writing from non-human points of view, and maybe that is why. (Sleipnir has his own story in I Bring the Fire, it is called, The Slip. Carl Sagan, the ten-legged, venomous alien weasel … err, “werfle” from my Archangel Project series has his own story, too. It’s called Carl Sagan’s Hunt for Intelligent Life in the Universe.)
I read all of Robert Aspirin’s Myth series soon after those–mostly because a friend I met at camp was his niece and she had a box of Advanced Reader Copies. Those taught me that books could be funny. I read all those books the summer between third and fourth grade. I read The Prydain Chronicles and the Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander soon after fourth grade started. Those taught me that books could be funny, lyrical, exciting, and deep. And then I just took off on a tear!
There were many books I read between fourth grade and when I began writing. I think On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony probably influenced my desire to write from the misunderstood immortal’s point of view. Dr. Zhivago made me realize I could like a human who did things I’d normally find distasteful. (The title character was unfaithful to his wife.) Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos, Lois McMaster’s Bujold’s Paladin of Souls, and Raising the Stones made me realize I could use sci-fi and fantasy to discus theology in ways that were more fun than discussing theology. (Not to diss Bujold’s Vorksigian Saga. Shards of Honor has one of the best love scenes ever.) I really enjoyed several non fiction books about China and Japan: Wild Swans in particular, and a lot of really dense texts, Death Ritual in Late Imperial Early Modern China particularly stands out in my memory. I read books about economics and psychology too: Charles Wheelan, Steven Pinker, Daniel H. Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Hernando DeSoto, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner) and Sharon Brownlee all can make non-fiction riveting. (Lately I’ve discovered Alexis Clark’s Enemies in Love. Fantastic historical documentary of racial segregation during WWII.)
Do you have any writing tips?
The only tips I have for writing are to write something every day. It doesn’t have to be fiction. It can be a letter, or an email, a book report, science report, anything. Also, don’t be afraid of feedback. It’s a hugely essential part of growth; as is learning which feedback to heed and which to ignore.
I hope this has been helpful. Now get writing!