How to Get Started in Fiction Writing

As an author and a writing instructor, I often get emails from those who are interested in getting started with writing fiction as a passion, and possible income. Fiction can include novels all the way down to micro stories, with novellas, short stories, and flash fiction in between. Here are some resources to get you started, but don't feel overwhelmed. It's a journey.

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Focus: How I'm Tripling My Reading for 2015

Last year, it was not uncommon for me to have five books I was reading through at any given time. I might have a writing craft book, Native studies, novel, Christian nonfiction or something I’d gotten to review or from a local author. The problem? When I had a chance to sit down and read, I had to make a choice which book to pick up. Did I want pure entertainment? Wasn’t it time I finished that one about marketing? Did I feel I could decipher my way through a history book?  

pool focus


Too many decisions, too many arguments, too many options.

What would I do? Pull up the Netflix app, of course, and watch part of an old movie or TV show.

Did I get much reading done last year? Yes. I read around 19 books. Not shabby, but not great for an author, either.

I was especially challenged by people who read 100 books a year. 200. Over 300. People exist who can read a book a day. How? There are a variety of ways and reasons, but I knew the answer for me. I needed focus.

I pulled out the three tomes I’d tried to read off and on for over a year. I started on one. Finished it. Took on the second one. Finished it. When I finished the third one, I wondered how I’d been able to accomplish in a month what I hadn’t in a year. The answer was simple.


I didn’t have to decide which book to read. I didn’t spend precious time and energy and creative thought my brain tends to go into when making a simple decision. Once there was no decision to be made, I started being able to consume books in gulps instead of sips. I read nearly five books in January (plus daily Bible reading and reading my own novel for editing). Multiple that by 12, and I’ll have more than tripled my reading in 2016.

When I have a spare 15-20 minutes, I don’t have to decide what I’m going to do. I pick up the ONE book I’m currently reading.

If I have a spare five minutes, say standing in a long line or waiting for the car to warm up on a cold day, I try to not mindlessly open my Facebook app. Instead, I open Kindle on my phone and read a few pages on the ONE ebook I have going.

Yes, that’s two books total, plus the Bible, that I read on most every day. That’s much less cluttered than 5-7 vying for my attention.

Focus is one of my words for the year. Focus on publishing books and creating new content. Have enough going to keep me working, but not to distraction where I stay busy but really getting nothing done.

When my brother watched the professional billiard tournaments on TV, I’d catch bits of it. I remember one excellent player in a championship game. She was known as something like the black widow. She never missed a shot, and when your turn to break came, you’d better not miss a shot either.

In an intense moment as everyone surveyed the shots she had lined up, what remained on the table, what next four shots would get her to a win, she executed the basic shot at a side pocket, one I might have been able to make. Except she missed. A collective gasp went around the audience. She stayed bent for a moment, before her head dropped and whispered words came through the mic. “I’m thinking about too much.”

She lost focus of the simple task before her.

I’ve done the same. You probably have too. Missed the easy mark with the millions of distractions and things screaming for our attention each day. The opportunities. What will line us up for the next four shots? This? That? The other?

How about we focus on what is right in front of us? That one book. That one shot. That one next thing we need to do with our time.

Whether it’s reading or billiards or publishing books, focus helps us hit the mark…and take gulps instead of sips.

What are you focusing on?

Brilliant Hopelessness

When I read classic secular literary fiction, I’m just as awed as anyone by the brilliant prose, the twist of sentences that paint such a realistic picture of life. What I’m not awed by often is the ending. It’s brilliant. And utterly hopeless. Something like, “Blow out your candle, sweet sister. There’s nothing left for you.” It took some years of eye rolling at art that’s so deep with emotions supposedly conveyed before I finally understood. When looked at it from the right angle, whether it’s prose, painting, or a very unique sculpture, their depressing work is stunning in the message it conveys. They may be showing such ugly truth in human nature, the average person overlooks it. Who wants to see the ugliness in themselves and the world? But it’s truth.

But it’s also hopeless. That’s why as these artist pursue their mission of showing people how wretched they are, how there’s nothing to live for in this life and we should all give it up, the artist themselves spiral deeper into the pit of despair they project everyone to be in. In their mind, it’s not them who are off base. It’s the observers. The observers are the pretenders, the ones who want to skip along through life as if there’s actual meaning and beauty to it.

I’m not speaking about artists in general (hey, I’m an literary artist). This is about the ones that you walk away from their work feeling dirty and depressed. You’ve seen something of yourself in their work, something you didn’t think anyone would ever see. And that’s what the artist wanted. They dug under your skin and exposed the raw truth of your human nature.

Brilliant hopelessness.

But there is hope!

My way of shouting this from the rooftops is the same as those who shout the opposite message. Through art. My tool is words, spoken and written. My message? When all pretentions of “living a good life” are stripped away, the only hope comes through Jesus Christ. Because without Him, I’d be one of those artists trying to convince the world there really wasn’t anything to this life. It would take some years, but I could see myself finally abandoning the mission to drugs, alcohol, and despair. So has been the fate of many brilliant artists. (Not saying I’m brilliant, of course)

Hope is a basic survival requirement. Humans can live an average of three months without hope.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (KJV)

Where does your hope lie? Please share it with me in the comments.


Video: My NMAI Project

The story of my journey as a participant in the NMAI Artist Leadership Program 2012-2013. Video produced by my talented mama, Lynda Kay Sawyer of RockHaven Productions: