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TRUTHS I WISH I'D KNOWN

By H. P. Oliver

None of us who are privileged to earn our living in the fiction writing craft started at the top. We all worked our way up the ladder, and in addition to honing our skills along the way, we also learned some basic truths about the writing process.

I've often thought it would have been nice if I'd known some of those truths when I started out. If nothing else, knowing what I was in for would have saved considerable frustration. With that thought in mind, here are a few of the truths I discovered during three decades of learning the craft. Glean from them what you will.

The definition of a successful fiction writer is one who writes for the purpose of selling his or her work. That is the reason our craft exists. Putting words of fiction on paper for any other purpose is simply an outlet for personal expression--a hobby, perhaps, but not a craft.

Wanting to be a writer does not guarantee you can be a writer. The qualities essential to becoming a successful writer are inherent. Determining whether or not you possess those qualities is the first and most critical step in the learning process.

When considering ways in which you might learn more about the craft of writing, remember the words of George Bernard Shaw: He who can does. He who cannot, teaches.

Learning to be a writer of fiction is accomplished not by sitting in a classroom, but by living life and writing based on--but not necessarily about--your experiences.

Fiction writers are story tellers. We exist only for the story and its telling. The more your words stimulate readers' senses and involve them in your tale, the better and more engaging the story.

At the beginning of the learning process reading the works of successful writers helps us understand a little more about the craft. Once that understanding is gained, however, reading is a hindrance, tempting us to copy rather than create.

There is little to be gained toward learning the writing craft from other fledgling writers. Writing groups serve no purpose beyond commiseration. Worse for those who inherently have the qualities of a writer, hanging around with those who do not is self-defeating.

Shakespeare's admonition, "To thine own self be true," applies most significantly to the craft of writing in the sense that it means being realistic about your skills and their development. Those who have writing skills use them; those who do not refer to themselves as "authors" and place the winning of awards above the successful telling of a story.

The day a writer stops learning his/her craft is the day he/she stops being a writer. Continuous development is integral to our craft. A writer never stops learning!

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Now that you've read these truths about the writing craft, what are you thinking? One response might be, "Okay, so what's your point?" If that is what you're thinking, you understand our craft; go forth and write. Any other response might be an indication that you ought to consider becoming a writing coach, an agent or a literary critic.