1. Don’t be a lone wolf. Get with other writers, show them their stuff, help them evaluate theirs. Ask them to brainstorm with you; writers all love brainstorming. A writers’ conference can be a place to make these connections, or a writers’ organization. While it’s great to find people writing in your genre, it’s not necessary.
2. Get some teaching from experts. Your peers can support you, teach you, and alert you, but if you rely on them completely you may find yourself confused about rules. A manuscript that carefully follows all the rules may have no life in it left!
Where can you get teaching from experts? Try this idea: get an iPod or an mp3 player and fill it with audio of sessions from writers’ conferences and podcasts. Listen to it when you’re driving, exercising, and at other times that might otherwise be used less fruitfully. Buy books from selected writing experts and read them. Ask your writer friends for advice about whom to follow. Read blogs written by respected writing teachers. (See our resource page for a few suggestions.)
3. Enter contests. You’ll get great feedback.
4. When you’ve got a manuscript that rocks your writing friends, consider hiring an editor to make sure it’s structurally sound, characters fully developed, and all that. Or you can skip that step and see what feedback you get when you submit it to agents and editors. But you’ll have more confidence that your work is the best it can be if a professional has carefully looked it over. How do you find such an editor? Ask around.
The journey from newbie to published author takes some people years, other people not so long. The more quickly you follow these steps, the shorter time it will take.