So You Want to be an Author (by Patty Blount)

 All month, we at YA Outside the Lines are providing our best recommendations on all manner of things. Here are my recommendations for anyone who'd like to become an author. 

Writing is part skill, part talent, and part determination. There are those that insist luck plays a part, as well, but I still think that falls under the other three. If you're a young adult who'd like to become an author, here are ways you can develop your skills and hone your talent. 

First, what's the difference between skill and talent? For me, I think talent is something you're born with. Skill, on the other hand, is something you learn, practice, and develop. The two go hand in hand. For example, though I love music, I can't sing. I can't carry a tune. I have taken lessons but the best I can hope for is a passable karaoke evening. In other words, I can become competent but likely will never make it to American Idol. 

So how do you know which part is which? I've always believed people gravitate toward the things they have talent for. It's instinctual. If you love books, love stories, and seek out good examples to emulate, you probably have that instinctual talent for story-telling, which is driving your desire to become an author. 

Let's turn to the skill part. 

It took me 10 years to finish my first book. That was because I didn't know anything about structure or pacing, about character arcs, about back story. Sure, I knew about things like the denoument and the climax from writing school book reports, but actual story structure was something I didn't truly know until I studied. 

There are dozens of craft books available that can teach you things like the 3-act structure, about pacing, about plotting, about voice. My recommendations are to read as many as you can with a critical eye. Try the parts that speak to you and ignore the rest, for there is NO single craft book that will make an author out of you. Rather, it's the practice, the application of the various methods that helps you hone your skills. 

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron illustrates the connection between and among characters and plot. 
  • On Writing by Stephen King is a fantastic mix of memoir with writing craft advice from a master.
  • Save the Bird by Blake Snyder is an amazing resource for authors though it was written for screenwriters. It helps you write visually, showing emotions through character actions.
  • Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott is an absolute classic for a reason. 
  • Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes breaks down structure into tasty little morsels
These are just a few of my recommendations. I am constantly reading craft books because even though I have about a dozen novels under my belt now, I'm always willing to learn, to improve, to hone and sharpen. 

Now, remember what I said earlier about reading these resources, applying the parts that speak to you and ignoring the rest? How exactly do you do you this? 

Ah! That's the toughest part of writing for many authors. Suppose you scrape up enough money for that writers' conference you've always wanted to attend and tingle with excitement as you wait for the workshop with Your Favorite Author, who promises to share her writing process with you. 

You listen in rapt attention as she describes creating dioramas and vision boards, papering a wall with hundreds of sticky notes, listening to hours of Spotify to create her playlist for her work in progress --all before she writes a word. You wonder if this can work for you, so you buy stacks of sticky notes in a rainbow of colors, purchase a stock image subscription and begin looking for the perfect pictures that match what you see in your mind, but soon give up, feeling like a failure because Your Favorite Author's process didn't work for you. 

Reader: been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

Every author has a different process. Some plot. Some outline. Some sit and write until a story is carved from the ruins of a forest of trees. How can you possibly know which process will fit you the best? 

Read the craft books. Try out each method. If it feels comfortable for you, if you like the results, keep it. Throw the rest out. If you can afford to, I recommend taking a strengths assessment with Becca Syme
Knowing what you're good at, strong at, weak at, can help you figure out a process that works for you. 

Meanwhile, if you have a craft book I haven't read yet, drop it in the comments! Like I said, I'll try any suggestion. 


  1. These are FANTASTIC craft books. Wish I had 'em when I first started!


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