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9 Things I Wish I’d Known about Writing from the Beginning

2012 APR Writing Challenge by heartsandlaserbeamsThe other day, I had a lovely conversation with a friend who is also a writer. We both have very similar writing styles, but arrived there from two completely different paths. She is what I would consider a formally trained writer – she has a degree in professional writing. Me? I was home-schooled, most of it self-directed study, and I completed 18 credit hours at the local community college (though I did very well in all my writing classes) before I decided I had better things to spend my time and money on. There was also the enticing thing of not needing a degree to write and be published. So, I’m basically a self-taught writer.

Yet for all the differences between our writing careers, we arrived at essentially the same place, and wishing we’d been told many of the same things earlier in our writing journeys. So, to help some of you out, especially newer writers, here’s some tips.

1. Write straight from the beginning to the end – but you don’t have to do this forever.

This serves two purposes – it helps you establish the habit of finishing your work, and it helps you learn pacing and structure.

It’s hard at first, and can be downright tortuous when you hit a scene (or several) that just doesn’t flow well, or is plain old boring. But here’s a hint: if you’re not having fun writing it, no one’s going to enjoy reading it.

Yes, some scenes are hard to write, especially when you may have to do something terrible to a character. But the emotionally-hard scenes are much different than the technically-hard scenes, and only by writing will you learn the difference.

There will come a time when you need to be flexible, and when sometimes the creative process will demand that you jump around from scene to scene instead of linear writing. But you’ll only be able to excel at if you’ve mastered the art of finishing the story first.

2. You might be a plotter.

Plotting by OrmanAnd that’s okay. A plotter is someone who works best with an outline. Think of it as a map to get you to your destination.

You’ll figure this one out really early on – the first sign nearly every plotter has is that their story wanders aimlessly when they try to discovery-write. If you find yourself in that spot, take a step back, pull out some paper, and figure out where it is you think you’re going.

Just because you have an outline doesn’t mean it’s engraved in stone, though. If something ends up not working because of plot development or character development, just re-plot. Sometimes the destination changes, and sometimes you just need a few detours or a different route altogether.

Bonus Hint: I’m a plotter. But my outline style changes for every story. You don’t have to plot the same way every time, or the same way as another plotter.

3. You might be a discovery writer.

And that’s okay. If your stories don’t wander, but come alive as you go, then you’re probably a discovery writer.

You may find that an outline stifles your creativity, or your muse. Many discovery writers claim that outlining is too much like the act of writing, and if they outline an entire story, they no longer have the desire to write it. Do whatever you need to keep your passion for your story alive.

4. You might be a combination of plotter AND discovery writer.

Writing by JkimboAnd yep, that’s okay, too! Some people only outline a chapter at a time. Some may outline just a few scenes and ‘wing’ the rest. Some may only outline half of the novel, and wait to see where the rest takes them from what they’ve already established.

Don’t be afraid to play around, find what works for you, and make ‘hybrid’ methods whenever necessary. Which segues nicely into the next point…

5. If a writing method catches your interest, don’t be afraid to try it.

There isn’t a writing method that is better than any other, despite what some people may say.
And you will hear people say things. I’ve heard best-selling authors say plotters can’t write fiction that feels ‘organic.’ That is not true – if a published story falls flat, that’s bad editing, not bad writing method.

Plotters will scoff at discovery writers – they can just spit out word vomit and it makes sense? It’s just not fair, there’s no way it could actually be any good! (I will admit to having those feels about discovery writers myself, but it’s more an envy problem than anything else.)

Some methods are outside of discovery vs. plotting, though. Try writing at different times of day, and pin down what slot of time is most productive and enjoyable for you. Try writing with a time-limit. Say, 20 minutes, and write as much as you can. You might surprise yourself!

6. Don’t get bogged down by The Rules.

A Thoughtful Life by Deborah DeWit (detail)Honestly, no matter what stage of Writer-hood you’re in, you should never worry about the rules overly much in the first draft.

The Rules exist for a reason, but it’s more important for a story to get written, period. By all means, find out what The Rules are. Learn them. But don’t be afraid to break them if they’re hindering your creativity. This is what revisions and edits are for later.

7. Keep writing.

There’s two distinct phases you’re going to notice in your writing: You’re going to suck. And then you’re going to get better – a LOT better. The more you write, the more you train your brain. Those Rules that I mentioned? As long as you keep reading, and then keep writing (you know, practice!), those Rules will gradually become an ingrained habit. Your writing becomes better because those Rules become instinctive, which eventually means less revisions.

8. There’s no such thing as Writer’s Block… and yet, there is.

You can always write. No matter how un-inspired you’re feeling, no matter what is going on, you can always churn out words. Most of the time, you will go back and read your story again and not be able to decipher which words you wrote highly-inspired, and which ones made you feel like your brain was breaking.

But sometimes…there just are no words, and forcing yourself to write feels like it will completely shatter any love of writing you still have. Those are the times when you need to step back, perhaps take a walk, and even take a break from writing. That break can be an hour, a day, a week, months, and sometimes even a year or two. As long as you spend that time feeding your creativity, and rebuilding your passion.

9. It’s okay for writing to not be your One True Calling.

Butterfly Typewriter by PrettyPetalStudioI’ve struggled with this one a lot the past couple of years. I love to read as much as I love to write, and yet I have often found myself neglecting to write, because I’ve told myself that Writing Must Come First.

I also love working in my garden, spending time with my husband, and watching over my animals. You don’t have to sacrifice living for writing. If you aren’t well-rounded, away from the stories, you can’t write. It simply isn’t possible, because you have nothing to draw your descriptions and characters from.

Live first, so you can write characters who live, too.

Title image by Steph Calvert.

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12 Comments

  1. […] Source: 9 Things I Wish I’d Known about Writing from the Beginning | Fantasy-Faction […]

    • Brian says:

      Great article,

      I wish I would had seen these a few years ago. I’ve tried writing with an outline, but always struggled with it.
      I learned through that struggle that I can’t outline and that discovering the story as if unfolds in my heads made more sense.
      I always write more drafts, but outlining felt like torture not writing.

      Thanks for a great article.

      • I’m mostly a plotter, but I do think a lot like a discovery writer. It’s just in my case, if I don’t write things down, I forget them. I’m a very visual person and I have to SEE something for it to really sink in.

        I’ve learned to plot while still leaving room for flexibility – mainly, unless I have a vivid scene in my head that I have to jot down the skeleton for before I lose it completely, I plot my stories by major events.

        Not by “X character goes here, performs action Y, and has outcome Z.” I just go “Okay, so X character needs to do Y. Why?” and I usually figure out the outcome when I get there.

        And while I may know the overarching plot, I let the characters ‘show me’ (in a sense) how they want to get to it. Sometimes some of that happens in the plotting phase, sometimes it happens while I’m writing.

        But I do have to have major points outlined. Otherwise my characters (and my words) just wander hopelessly.

  2. Jo says:

    Great article! Something I wish I’d known, or I wish someone had told me, is the fact that absolutely everything in publishing takes a REALLY LONG TIME, and that however long you think it’s going to take, it will take at least as five times as long as that, and that if you don’t have heaps of patience you will struggle…
    It can leave you in the weird position, as I am this month, of being about to have a book published that I started writing in 2011, so when people ask me about it I have think back four years and two-and-a-half books. Which is why when you ask writers what their new book is about they will say “erm….” because in their head the book that everyone thinks is new is actually four years old…
    (Spark and Carousel is out on September 26th, btw #justsayin’ 😉 )

    • Haha, yes, Jo! I think it’s only been within the past couple of years that I learned just how long everything does take, and it’s definitely who so many agents and editors tell you that you can’t write by ‘trend’. It’s nuts!

  3. Chandrapal says:

    Thanks for this share 🙂 It is really helpful.

  4. Sam Hawke says:

    Great article!

    Only thing I’d disagree with is this: “But here’s a hint: if you’re not having fun writing it, no one’s going to enjoy reading it.”

    Sometimes scenes are a slog to get through and sometimes they fly off the fingers. But the majority of the time I can’t tell the difference between them in the final product and I don’t think readers can either. There are so many things that factor in to how difficult a scene is to write – I think it’s a myth to expect all of them to flow easily. 🙂

    • I didn’t get to go in as much detail about that as I would have liked, because the article was already getting really long.

      Writing is like… a lot of other things in life. You can still have fun and be passionate about something, but not enjoy certain aspects of it. It’s not that you’re going to love the act of writing every single scene – but there certainly had better be an underlying passion for the story as a whole that’s seeing you through the hard parts.

      That lack of passion is what a reader will definitely pick up on.

  5. JazzFeathers says:

    Nice post 🙂

    I suppose I was lucky: because I was a very lonely writer and I never was part of a community until a few years ago, I didn’t really have anyone telling me things. So I just evolved… well, shell we say ‘naturally’, whatever that means?

    You know, I learned a lot (and a lot faster) after I become part of a writing community, but I’m happy I walked my own path up to a point. This way, I had the possibility to discover by myself what I like and what I want my stories to be, just by imitating authors I like.
    That’s why I don’t really wish that anyone had told anything to me when I started writing. I’m happy I went about it like a game in the beginning (besides I was really very young), that I never felt any pressure. I’ve always liked writing, even the hard scenes, and I still do. I don’t know whether this comes from walking my own way before entering a community… maybe. Maybe I started feeling the pressure of expectations only when I was finally able to handle it.
    I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

  6. Udit Sen says:

    As the post says, it really is a great pleasure to know of these things at the beginning.

    For me, the plotter and the discoverer category works the best and it does provide a lot of help. Having written a memoir, I still think there’s a long way for me to travel and surely these advices would help me to write the further of my books. Thanks for the article 🙂

  7. Charlie Watt says:

    Thanks for this.

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