When striving to become an author, we all have to start somewhere. For most of us, that's with the love of books or of being creative--or even with a childhood penchant to live in fantasy and create worlds to surround us with that creation. But at some point we begin to take real and steady steps toward publication.
There are several steps we can take, though simple, that will help put us closer to that dream of publication and in a good place once we're ready for that step.
Books on Craft - There are loads of books out there that work to teach us more about craft. You can find many at your library for free, or some on Amazon at a discounted price. Also, don't be afraid to ask around for the books people have found most helpful. They might even be able to let you borrow one.
Fiction - Read a lot in your genre so you're familiar with the guidelines, the style, what's popular, etc. But also read out of your genre to get new ideas or see fresh styles, characters, and settings.
There are many kinds of critique groups, so you'll have to decide which works best for you. You can find them on loops through an organization like ACFW, through blogs, or in a local chapter if you belong to one of those organizations. Either way, this in an overwhelmingly helpful step toward improving your work and maybe even learning more about the industry.
Another way to improve your work and get used to putting your writing out there is to enter contests. Some cost money and some don't, but it's easy to find out and simple to discover which ones are going to be the most beneficial. If you're just starting out, a contest that will give you feedback from a more established writer or author is a great way to examine your work and take it to the next level. And if you're further along, the same thing will help polish your work and potentially make it possible to get it in front of industry professionals.
Network and Connect
Whether you're big into social media or not, it's a great idea to visit writer/author blogs, and agent, editor, or publishing blogs. There's a wealth of information and you'll be able to keep up on trends in publishing as well as guidelines for specific agents and publishers. Also, you can learn a lot by connecting with other writers or authors through Twitter, Facebook, and blogs--and even e-mail. Most of us are happy to make new writer friends and either pass along some advice or experience or receive some in return.
If you can afford it, going to conferences is a great idea--even one day conferences close by, if there's a certain speaker you want to hear or a class you think will benefit you. You'll be able to meet with agents and editors, meet other writers and take classes that are specifically geared toward where you are in your writing journey. And if you can't afford conferences or can't travel at that time, there are on-line classes (some of them free) where you can learn much of the same thing, as well as recorded tapes from conferences that you can purchase.
Practice, Practice, Practice
No matter how much writing you do, there's always more to learn. So once you finish a manuscript, work on another, even as you're doing the rest of the steps. Pushing yourself to learn and grow as a writer will get you that much closer to your goal of publication.
There are so many ways to start out your writing journey, especially if you're a beginner, but these are some of the ways that have proven most beneficial to me and other writers I know. What steps are you taking to get to your goal of publication, or what beneficial steps have you taken that you can share with other writers?