Missoula is a great place for writers. First off, a lot of great writers have lived here: William kittredge, Richard Hugo, Patricia Goedicke, James Lee Burke, Norman Maclean. The University of Montana has a great Creative Writing Program, and there's also a well-known writing collaborative. We have an event called Festival of the Book each year. Missoula is a great place for anyone who loves books.
I decided to be a writer a few years ago and I'm still transitioning in that direction. I've written ad copy for years, and written articles and other pieces, but now I'm trying to devote my time to fiction. I started to read all the books on writing that I could. I found a lot of online resources by writers for writers. I went to events and conventions where writers spoke and answered questions. As I said, Missoula has a lot of resources for writers. I tried to soak up as much info. as I could, and of course, i started to write.
A lot of books on writing focus on writer's block. On how difficult it is to sit and look at a blank screen and trying to write. Where do you get ideas? How do you get past the block? How do you silence that inner critic who tells you that none of what you do is any good? Luckily for me, writer's block has never been my problem. Stories write themselves in my head when I'm doing other things. Characters evolve. Plot points occur to me when I'm out hiking. When I sit down to write I often have to catch up with myself. More often than not, my problem is having to quit writing and work at one of my other jobs. Anyway for me, putting words on a page hasn't been a problem. Granted, I'm not writing The Great American Novel. I'm not writing timeless literature. I'm writing sci-fi, adventure stories, and a zombie novel, but at least I'm writing. I figure start with genres I can handle and strive for higher literature as I improve.
In any case, I've written some short stories, one 'test' novel, and another that's on its second draft. I've learned a lot about characters, plot, setting, viewpoints. How to construct a sentence, how to edit my work. I've learned about how to think like a writer, and how to come up with a system that works for me. And I learned that I have a lot to learn.
The most important thing I've learned is that writing takes time. Lots of time. First there's the actual writing. I can squeeze in an hour on a busy day, but what really works for me is to sit down for two to three hours, at least, and just write. The more I get into it, the more easily things flow. One scene leads to another. Plot threads are easier to track. Viewpoints and dialogue are consistent. Three hours goes by fast. But the actual writing is only part of it. If you write, you're going to soon have a finished draft: short stories, flash fiction, entire manuscripts. You'll have to edit, and edit, and edit. Then you have to start looking for places to publish your work: web sites, magazines, e-publishing, actual publishers. You need a system for submitting your work to people and you need to send things out in very particular formats. Even writers who work with major publishers have to do a lot of their own PR and marketing. Then there's social networking and maintaining a blog. On top of this, I'm still looking at other people's blogs, still reading books and articles on writing, still trying to learn and refine the process. And don't forget to read a ton of books. The best way to learn about good writing is to read it. If you want to write in a certain genre you need to be reading what's current. And let's not forget that while you're doing all these other things you still need to write, or the whole process grinds to a halt.
I've learned that writing takes a lot of time. Good writers need to have a lot of skills, not just the ability to describe a scene or tell a story. It's a process, like anything, and it has a lot of moving parts. To be good, you have to be a pretty good juggler and keep a lot of balls in the air. So why do people do it? Well, that's the most important thing I've learned. People do it because they love it. People do it because they can't not do it. An awkward sentence, I know, but there's no better way to say it. I write because stories weave themselves in my head whether I'm looking for one or not. They are going to evolve and progress whether I write them down or not, so I'd better sit down and capture them while I can. The stories entertain me, and even if no one else ever reads them I'm glad to set them to paper. To polish them up store them. I love the process of watching a story evolve, and I understand now why writers write. Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go write.