Advance copies of Barbara Baig‘s new book How to Be a Writer (due in stores early Sept 2010) arrived on my desk today. The book is an empowering guide to building your skills through playful and purposeful writing exercises.
I recently had a chance to ask Baig a few questions about her thoughts on the craft. Here are a couple of her answers:
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?
I think that new writers need to take the time to build their skills before they attempt to get published. There’s a lot to learn about writing, and you can waste a lot of time and energy trying to get into the “big leagues” of the publishing world when you should be mastering skills. For this reason, I also think that the focus in many writing workshops for beginners is misplaced; there’s far too much emphasis on producing finished pieces and not enough on learning skills. Aspiring baseball players don’t just go out and play games—the sports equivalent of producing stories or poems—they practice. And research has shown that the best practice involves breaking down an activity into its component skills and devoting lots of time to practicing each one of those skills. So rather than working obsessively to perfect a single story or essay, new writers need to practice skills, such as using their imaginations or their powers of observation. Once they have trained their skills, then they will be able to produce writing of much higher quality.
Do you have any advice for new writers on building an audience?
I think that building an audience actually begins as we write. I see establishing a natural relationship with readers as an essential skill for writers, and there’s a section in How To Be a Writer that focuses entirely on developing this skill. It’s crucial to be able to imagine your particular audience and to be in relationship with them as you write. Who, exactly, are your readers? What kind of people are they? What do they need or want from a story or a poem or an essay? What do you have to give them? How will what you have to say help them? When you ask questions like this you develop a felt sense of real people “on the other side of the page,” and that helps give the quality of voice to your writing. And then, when you are ready to send your work out into the world, you will already know who your audience is, and can concentrate your promotional efforts on reaching those particular people.