Jeff Duntemann's 7 Tips for Young People Writing Commercial Fiction

1. Literacy breeds literature. In other words, read. Read everything you can get your hands on: History, science, psychology, biography, engineering--and the sort of fiction you want to write. Fiction comes from life experiences, and if you can't get those experiences first hand (few do, especially the young) you have to pick them up wherever you can. Also, reading exercises the imagination, which is your most important muscle.

2. Be a storyteller, not an artist. People go to museums to see art. They pay to read stories. There is craft, research, cleverness, and polishing involved in creating a human situation that starts somewhere, goes somewhere, teaches somebody something, and sums up with that satisfying ring of resonance. Commercial fiction doesn't well up whole from the subconscious. Self-indulgence is the #1 killer of writing careers. The world won't pay for "what I've got to say." They'll pay for what they want to read. Your job is to supply it. Look hard at what sells, and steer hard in that direction.

3. Love what you write. Don't try to write what you don't or can't love. If you love romances you might be able to write romances. If they turn your stomach, it's hopeless, and it doesn't matter how hard you try to write them by formula. The people I've met who made money writing what they despised were bitter, cynical, self-hating phonies. None of them, furthermore, made much money at it. If you don't like to read any kind of fiction at all...then you really ought to be working in a bowling alley.

4. Imitate the style of writers you admire. That's how I did it. I read stacks of books by Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov and then I wrote my stories just like they wrote theirs. I watched how they handled the mechanics of fiction, and I handled my mechanics the same way. Don't worry about "developing your own style." Style grows over time, kind of like hair, whether you want it to or not, and nothing you can do will change its color as it develops. What grows will be your own--and while you're waiting for it to grow, borrow a wig that you like.

5. Avoid the Cool Trap. The best writers I know are happy, enthusiastic, slightly bumptious go-getters, subject to fits of passionate interest in weird things and on fire with the love for life. Not one qualifies as being "cool," which is to say, detached, uninterested, self-involved and ultimately without anything to say. If you haven't suffered a lot, you have no right to be cynical; unearned cynicism is simply stylish cowardice, and doesn't do anything to get you into print making money. The cool are afraid of being joyful. If you're already joyful, why trade the engine that drives creativity for a blank stare, sunglasses, and lung cancer?

6. Screw drugs. They do not enhance your creativity. They are artificial stupidity.

7. Don't take rejection personally. This is tough, but it's important. Writing is a skill, and must be honed over time. Plumbers don't give up when a pipe they install breaks. They look at what they did wrong and put in another pipe. Learn what you can from any rejection letter that contains intelligence; and save the form letters as stamps on your passport during your writer's journey to publication and (one would hope) a modicum of fame. People who stomp on your work are pitiful and will amount to nothing. Editors who reject your work politely are just doing their job. Your job is to persevere, to learn, to improve--and never to give up. No writer was ever a quitter.

If it means anything at all, I believe in you. Good luck. Do your best. Write and let me know what works.

--Jeff Duntemann KG7JF

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