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