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How to Write a Book & Get Published

On a hot Saturday in August 1995, I sat down at my desk (in my living room) in front of an old word processor (that only saved 3 pages at a time) and began to write the manuscript that would be sold a year later as MEG; A Novel of Deep Terror. I had no prior writing experience, save for a masters thesis and dissertation, and no clue or contacts to help me get published, but I had two things going for me:

1. I knew how to set goals.
2. I refused to quit.

If you have these qualities, then the rest will come to you. Writing, like most skills, gets better the more you do it. I have found this true with my own writing. I am still learning and proud to admit it, for when the learning process stops, the dying begins.

Persist. Along the line you will find the help you need. Remember, what goes around comes around, so give back if you want to receive. Luck is a residue of hard work, but no matter what your chosen endeavor, no one is truly successful without the help of others. Pray, toil, but keep the faith and keep working at it, and good things will happen, often when you least expect it.

And so, for all of you who aspire to write and be published, or just be successful in your chosen endeavor, I humbly offer you these tips and links to others that helped launch my career. I hope they do the same for you.
 
One of the most asked questions I get as an author is: "Where did you come up with your ideas?" Ideas are inspired by experiences, the things we read, the programs, videos, and movies we watch, the music we listen to, a conversation, a dream, and everything in between. To be an author, you need to think like an author, and authors think about stories all the time. That means keeping your mind set to WRITING MODE.

I always keep paper, pen, and flashlight near my bed so that if I wake up from a dream (or nightmare) I can sketch out a quick note before I drift back into the zzzzz's. Don't expect to remember the dream in the morning, it never happens UNLESS YOU WRITE IT DOWN!
I also keep pen and pad in the car. Long drives are great for letting your mind wander, just don't wander off the freeway. I read the newspaper everyday. Watch Discovery Channel and TLC. All of these things can lend details to the novel I am currently writing.

Concepts also come in the form of WHAT IF? Take the DOMAIN trilogy. The first book, Domain, began with: What of the asteroid strike 65 million years ago wasn't really an asteroid? As I researched this WHAT OF, I came upon the Yucatan Peninsula, the Maya, and the Mayan Calendar and its doomsday prophecy. From that tiny thought began a trilogy.


STEP 2 : The Role of Research in the Writing Process

Okay, you've got the subject for a story, perhaps even a few characters and their arcs, and  now. . . you're stuck in neutral. Is it that infamous "writer's block?" No, it's called lack of  research.

Research is the elixir that reinvigorates your storyline, opens your chapters, and liberates you  when you've written yourself into a suffocating closet. It makes you an expert in things you know diddley about, and elevates you from a wannabee to an author.

So how do we begin?

 PRELIMINARY RESEARCH

First, let's start with a basic premise. In my third novel, Domain, I began with a "what if?"  What if the asteroid that struck Earth 65 million years ago, killing the dinosaurs, WASN'T an asteroid... Step one: access the internet.

The internet is an incredible tool for authors, leading you down paths you never knew existed. In researching the asteroid I was led to the Chixulub Impact Crater off the Yucatan Peninsula, to the Mayan homeland, to the Mayan folklore, to the Mayan Calendar and its 2,000 year old prophecy that predicts humanity will perish on December 21st in the year 2012.

Whoa... (bells went off)

Now I'm refocusing on the Mayans. Who invented the Calendar? The wise man Kukulcan? Now I am reading books on the ancient peoples, and finding similarities among other  cultures like the Inca and Egyptians. Now I'm researching pyramids and other mysteries, and my mind is swimming with the ingredients of
a real thriller.

DOMAIN now has a starting point (65 million years ago) and end (the day of doom in 2012) and now my characters can be re-created to move the storyline  forward.

CONTINUING RESEARCH happens once the words start hitting the paper (or monitor). Where should I begin the intro to my main character? After many misses, I finally hit upon a mental asylum in Miami. Back to research. I need a mental disorder, asylum details, some terminology that sounds like I know what the hell a paranoid schizophrenic is, voila ...and chapter one is drafted.

Is it that simple? Hell no, but research simplifies the process.

DOMAIN takes place in the year 2012. Back to research. What is the near-future like? Buildings, cars, roadways, economy...who is the President? When is the next election? Damn, this is getting complicated...but the novel is growing. I am not stuck in a dark closet with my basic plot, limited imagination,  and nowhere to go, I am adding flesh to my story, letting it take me to places that I had no inkling were there for the taking.

A scene with the new President? Okay, but do I need to stop by the Oval Office? No, just a click on my computer and I have schematics that detail the White House. An alien encounter? More difficult, but I have collections of "alien artwork" to help inspire my imagination. (The internet is great, but it's not everything. My real-life visit to Chichen Itza definitely made an impact.)

Bottom Line: If the devil is in the details, then it is research
that exorcises him.

Now that you have some flesh, it is time to write the TREATMENT. For that information and much more, click on www.SteveAlten.com and scroll down on the home page to WRITING TIPS.


GOOD LUCK!.



Steve Alten earned his Bachelors degree at Penn State University, a Masters Degree in Sports Medicine from the University of Delaware, and a Doctorate of Education at Temple University. Struggling to support his family of five, he decided to pen a novel he had been thinking about for years. Working late nights and on weekends, he eventually finished MEG; A Novel of Deep Terror, a thriller about Carcharodon megalodon, the 70-foot prehistoric cousin of the great white shark. MEG went on to become an international best-seller, with movie rights sold. The Mayan Calendar plays a big part in his Domain series -- another international best-seller sold in the U.K. as THE MAYAN PROPHECY series. Steve's other work includes The LOCH -- a modern-day thriller about the Loch Ness Monster, The SHELL GAME -- about the end of oil and the next 9/11 event, and GRIM REAPER: End of Days -- a modern-day Dante’s Inferno which takes place in New York when a man-made plague strikes Manhattan. His best work yet, THE OMEGA PROJECT – was released in August 2013. As an author, Steve has two goals. First, to continue to work hard to become a better storyteller and create exciting page turning thrillers. Second, to remain accessible to his readers. Steve reads and answers all e-mails, uses the names and descriptions of his loyal fans as characters in all his novels, and even hires readers as editors, depending on their particular expertise.

3 comments:

  1. What a terrific article on how to both get started writing and following through on the process. Thanks for sharing your advice. (Memo to self: Check out more writing tips on SteveAlten.com.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really good article. Nice to see something well written without cheesy marketing. Thanks. Rosalind

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree. I loved this article. Steve did a great job and highlighted some useful points.

    ReplyDelete

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