Advice for Writer Newbies
First off, I acknowledge I haven't been at this writerly thing for very long, but I want to share six things I wish I had known earlier for those just starting out (and those who are thinking of starting out). So, without further ado . . .
1. WRITE YOUR WAY
I'm sure you've already read a few articles and blogs suggesting you take a story idea and outline it before you even start writting down your story. They say, "Follow the Save the Cat book and fill out a beat sheet" or "Write the logline and synopsis first." Please don't misunderstand me, this is good advice, but it may not be the best advice for YOU. ✍️
I tried doing things this way and ended up beating my head against the keyboard—repeatedly. I can't think and plan ahead like that. I need to be IN the story, letting it flow, listening to the characters and the moments on the page. Do I go back later and change things so they're more cohesive? Heck, yeah. My first drafts are messy too. But I learned very early on how I write, and it is most definitely NOT with an outline.
Give yourself time to learn YOUR way of writing, and your own speed of writing. Setting word count goals is good, but if they stress you out and make you hate writing (like me), don't set word count goals. Listen to yourself.
Please, read the books and the blogs, watch those videos, glean as much as you can from those who've gone before you—but don't get bogged down in the minutiae. There's no formula for art.
2. FIND COMMUNITY
Writing can be lonely, but it doesn't need to be. Places like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Groups, and Meetup are good places to find both digital and local communities. I highly recommend finding a critique group—or two—as soon as possible. Even if you don't yet have something you're willing to let others read, meeting with other writers will help you feel grounded. They'll share bits of information which may help you understand future parts of your journey, excite, and even inspire you to try new styles of writing.
Critique Partners (CPs) can be amazing! 😍 I need my CPs and reader-friends to help me find flaws in my story clarity, world building, or plot (I know what I mean, why doesn't my reader?). Writing is about clarity. There are MANY words and phrases which can be interpreted in multiple ways, even given the proper context. CPs help to point them out so you can reword them. There are many simple typos skipped by spell check because they are still spelled correctly, but are the wrong word (aka: homophones). CPs can help find them for you. The result is a more polished draft, saving you time and sanity in the long run.
Critique Partners can also be frustrating! 😠 They will suggest word changes, deletions, and rewrites that may upset you. They'll point out your plot holes, tense shifts, and more, which may create anxiety. You may want to tell them to go to hell—but, please don't. If they're commenting like they are, they're paying attention! Remind yourself that your CPs are a snapshot of any potential future readers. If half of them don't understand, then half of potential readers and agents will likely also not understand. If you find yourself published without first gaining a thick skin from your caring CPs, you may read some negative reviews and choose to never write again (which would be sad).
Remember—stories are art. Your subject matter or prose may not agree with everyone, and this is okay. It may agree with more readers than you hoped, you just need to keep trying to find them. Getting into a writers community will help.
Critique Partners lead directly into self-editing. Once you've got a finished draft you're happy with, get ready to try one more thing to get an even more polished piece. Search your document for those "too-used" words you'll find listed on other sites (in detail). Some call them "weasel words" and some call them "useless words." They're words like: that, so, really, very, just, actually, etc. Keep in mind, I like to leave all these within dialogue for a more natural flow, and some stories may benefit from using these words to set a character's inner thoughts apart from others. The point is to know the rules so you know when to break them,
🛠️ How do you search a document or even webpage when researching?
PC users: "ctrl + f"
Mac users: "command + f"
This function brings up a little search window for you to type in, then it counts and highlights the instances of whatever you enter, including punctuation.
Another facet of self-editing is knowing when to take a break. If you're forcing things, it will come across in your writing. If you've worked on a project so long that you've begun to resent or even hate it—stop. Move on. Find another story to catch your imagination. Once you feel refreshed, and want to take another stab at "the hated one"—go for it!
4. BUILD A WRITER'S RESUME
You may choose to only be known as a novelist or a biographer, but don't overlook those shorter projects as a way to be seen by those in the industry. Short stories, memoirs, and even poetry can help build your craft. You can use websites like Submittable.com to find journals, magazines, and publishers looking for shorter pieces, even photography. Once you have a story published somewhere, you can create a better author's bio for your query letters and proposals.
You may ask, "Is this really necessary?" The truth is, I don't know. 🤷♀️ At the very least, having a couple of published stories out there may boost your confidence in your own work.
5. READ—A LOT
You may feel reading will take away precious time from your own writing, but don't skip this one. Why? Reading is a good way to subconsciously absorb the art of "how-to-story." It will increase your vocabulary, better your punctuation, help your syntax, and plant seeds for your own story ideas.
Read in the genre you like to write in, read in genres you've never tried, and read, read, read. In short, read ANYTHING that interests you. Just read. 🤓
6. DON'T GIVE UP
If you enjoy telling stories, keep writing. Let it flow and ignore all of the above if it stresses you out to the point of giving up.
Don't focus on any negative criticism, but DO keep it in mind. You might find they had a point a week later (or not). The idea is, opinions ARE out there, and they WILL find your work sooner or later, and that's just fine. The opinions of others don't have to bother you. Please don't let them discourage you from doing something you enjoy.
Well, there's my two cents! Please let me know if this has helped you continue on with your craft, and feel free to add writerly advice for newbies I missed in here!