You need to be writing because you love doing it and because you have a story, poem or whatever just bursting to get out. You need the passion for it first, then you develop the techniques and the stamina to keep going.
Then, just start writing and keep writing. Read a lot, and read widely. Experience life, because that’s your raw material. Grab any opportunity you can to get your material into print. There’s nothing wrong with the school magazine, the college newspaper, or the community gazette. Enter competitions. Try stuff out on your friends and family but don’t take their opinions too seriously.
Some people say you should practise your craft by writing short stories first. Certainly, you need a lot of self-confidence (or insanity) to start penning a 200,000 word blockbuster with no guarantee of ever seeing it in print. Still, I can’t tell you not to do that, because it’s exactly what I did with Daughter of the Forest. Some people have the gift for short stories and some haven’t. Writing short fiction is good discipline – you need to prune down to the best words and the tightest structure. The same thing applies with poetry, only even more so.
If you want to submit something to a publisher, make sure you comply with their rules (most publishers have a web site showing their submission guidelines.) There’s no point in sending your bug-whomper fantasy novel to someone who only publishes gardening and craft books. And you must get the basics right: spelling, punctuation and grammar need to be OK, and the presentation should be professional. Some publishers won’t even look at unsolicited manuscripts. The sad truth is, they get vast quantities of stuff every single day and most of it gets rejected.
If your manuscript is really good you may be able to get a literary agent to represent you. An agent will take a percentage of what you earn, but they are able to get a publisher to read your work, and if they believe in you they will lobby on your behalf. An agent should not ask for payment to represent you. As an alternative, you can pay for an assessment of your manuscript by a manuscript assessment service. With a positive assessment attached, your work is more likely to be read by an editor.
Don’t be too discouraged if you get rejection slips. Everyone does. Keep trying, but seek advice as well, from teachers or other writers. Take creative writing classes if you think it will help. At the very least they provide a forum to have your work critiqued. Have faith in your own ability; without that you will get nowhere.
If you decide to go down the self-publishing track, get good advice and do thorough research first. Your manuscript still needs to be as polished and perfect as you can make it, and you will also be responsible for formatting, cover art, marketing and distribution, pricing, keeping good tax records and so on. Chat with other writers who have successfully self-published their work. Steer clear of ‘vanity publishers’ who offer to publish your work for a fee. They are a waste of your money – much better to do it yourself. Bear in mind that self-publishing is a small business. Expect to pay an editor, a designer, possibly a printer. Make sure you are as well-informed as possible right from the start. Go into it with your eyes open.