When I was a college English and humanities professor, students sometimes asked questions about my writing life. Some hoped to become writers themselves and asked me how they could achieve their dreams. Here’s a sample of the answers I gave them. This young lady was dual enrolled in high school and college classes, and she was interested in both my writing and my editing work.
Thank you for your nice letter. As a college professor, I love to see high school students thinking seriously about furthering their education in preparation for a career.
Writing books is an enjoyable career that requires four things: grammar and language skills, an active imagination, some life experience, and a broad world view. Add to that the discipline needed to sit alone in front of the computer and hammer out the story, and you can see it’s not an easy job. But the rewards can be tremendous. (At right you can see one of my latest manuscripts, a book in progress, along with Tigger the cat, who likes to edit my work.)
Your grammar in your email is quite good. Keep adding new words to your vocabulary and don’t fall into the bad habit some of my students have of using abbreviations in school papers that should be used only in emails and text messages.
Prime your imagination by jotting down story ideas as they come to you and save them all. Some will be good, some not. Some will inspire stories to write now, and some will be for future use.
Life experience is not limited to adults over 30. It can be anything from a kindergarten memory to a tour of duty in the military to a visit to a grandparent in a nursing home. Experiences give you something to say that will hold the interest of a reader. Write your memories of these meaningful experiences in a journal.
Developing a broad world view means you have studied humankind and learned what motivates people of various races, religions, and ethnicities. This sounds like a lot, but if you continue with your education, these things will come. Pursuing an English major will bring you into contact with many great authors of the past and present. A liberal studies degree will take you into many areas of knowledge. Journalism, history, psychology, and political science are also important areas of study.
In addition, you can begin now by reading great works of literature. My favorites are Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and anything by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter all provide windows into the past and inform us about the human condition. Popular fiction of today can be fun to read but might not provide the depth a serious aspiring writer should seek.
You also asked about a career as an editor, of which there are several kinds. If I understand correctly, you were asking about those who purchase authors’ books and guide them all the way to publication. For that career, you’ll need the same skills as an author because you’ll need to know at least as much if not more than the authors writing for you.
Another kind of editor is the copyeditor, which is what I am. That means people send their manuscripts to me to “correct” before they submit their work to editors. I polish the grammar and offer suggestions on characterization and story structure. One literary agent who refers clients to me calls me a book doctor. I like that.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. I remember long ago writing to a famous opera singer (I’m not at all famous!) about my aspirations to follow that same career. She wrote me the loveliest letter in response that greatly encouraged me. Although I didn’t become a professional singer, her kindness stayed with me, and I hope this response to you pays it forward just a little.
Professor Louise M. Gouge
If you love Christmas stories, take a look at Cowboy Lawman’s Christmas Reunion. Here’s the story:
Sheriff Justice Gareau can make outlaws quake in their boots…yet coming face-to-face with Evangeline Benoit once again takes away all his composure. She broke their engagement, and his heart, to marry a wealthy older man. Despite his reluctance, Justice can’t avoid the widowed single mother of two when they’re collaborating on a Christmas village for the town’s children.
The loving boy Evangeline once knew has become an unyielding lawman. Forced to flee New Orleans over false allegations, Evie doubts Justice will take her side when the past follows her to Colorado. Especially when he and her troublesome son butt heads. But perhaps the spirit of Christmas will soften his heart and give them a second chance at love. Copyright © 2017 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited, Cover art and cover copy text used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises. ® and ™ Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license