Now, I will admit that I’m cheating a little bit with this blog post. It’s taken in part from my first post for the new Compendia site that is now up and running. However, I worked so hard on it, and, if I do say so myself, it has content that bears repeating – or, at least, reposting.
Throughout my journey on this novel-writing adventure, I’ve gotten a lot of advice that has helped make me a better writer. Some of it has been earth-shaking, some less so, but all of it has given me something to think about. So, without further ado, the following are the most important things I’ve learned about writing so far:
- BICFOK. It stands for “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard”. There are days when I don’t feel like writing. It seems easier to watch tv for an hour or find housework to busy myself with. I can sometimes convince myself that I’ll get to writing after I finish doing _____. However, if I sit myself down at my desk and start typing something – a free write, blog post, anything – I eventually find myself feeling creative, reinvigorated, and ready to get down to business. Works every time.
- Write down every idea you have. No matter how zany or seemingly insignificant, I write down every story idea I ever have. I have notes in my phone, scraps of paper in my purse, and documents on my computer that contain every idea I’ve had in the past year. When I first decided to start writing, I really struggled to come up with ideas. Now that I’ve gotten used to plucking ideas from newspaper headlines, conversations at work, and random musings, I see interesting ideas everywhere and can look back on them whenever I feel stuck.
- Be prepared to make hard decisions regarding your free time. For those of us who have full-time jobs and write in our spare time, good time-management is essential. But even the best time-management cannot hide the fact that there are a limited number of hours in the day. If you plan to write for 30 minutes each evening, those are 30 minutes you aren’t spending with your children, pets, spouse, friends, etc. There are times when I have to choose between spending time with my husband and writing. I’ve heard from and read about enough published authors to know that this is far from unusual. Now, my husband is my biggest fan and supports my writing dreams, which makes it easier. Still, it’s important to know what you are getting into.
- Most first drafts by most authors are mostly crap. I think this line was in the first book I ever read on writing. I wrote it on a notecard, and I taped it to my desk where I could see it every time I sat down to write. Creative writing is a hard field. When we read, all we see are the finished drafts, the polished manuscripts that have undergone seven layers of revisions. Comparing a first draft to a published book is enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel then and there. However, no one’s first draft is perfect – yours doesn’t have to be either.
- Having support is important. There is some part of society that seems to believe that writing is something private, something you do by yourself. I couldn’t disagree more. Writing is, as I’ve said, hard. Doing hard things mean that having support is invaluable for your mental health and well-being. I couldn’t have written an 115,000 word manuscript without my husband’s cheerleading. I couldn’t have taken it to the next level without the honest reviews from my family and friends. And I couldn’t have understood how it still needs to change and grow without the intensive critique of another writer who took the time to read my manuscript in full, sharing his insights with me as he went. It takes a village to write a novel.
- Read. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this. Read, read, read! There are a multitude of books on writing that can help a beginning writer, but it’s just as important to read non-instructional texts. Reading a variety of genres and authors helps you see what resonates with you as the reader – what works and what doesn’t. It can help you pinpoint your style and the sorts of things that you want to write about. Reading novels within the genre in which you want to write lets you know what has been done before and what hasn’t. It shows you what is trending and informs your plot ideas. Constantly reading also keeps you abreast of how writing and publishing are changing. Which leads right into…
- Do your homework. It’s not enough to know the subject you are writing about. You also need to learn which books are selling right now, who their target audience is, what their genres are – everything. There are a lot of trends in writing. Twilight kicked off a paranormal romance spree that spanned across age groups and genres and is STILL thriving, and Harry Potter revolutionized Young Adult books and opened the door for the genre to explode with vibrant narratives (so long, Catcher in the Rye!). Now, I’m not saying that you should only write best-seller lookalikes. In fact, I strongly urge you not to. You do, however, need to understand how different markets are doing, what different publishers and agents are looking for in a manuscript, how ebooks are affecting royalty payments and publishing house monopolies, and how your story fits into all this. The more you know, the better your chances at being published are.
- Set goals. Because you don’t have all day to write (unless you do), setting goals becomes an invaluable motivation. You can set a goal of completing your outline by a certain date, set a word count goal (say, 2,000 words a day, for example), set a goal of submitting your second draft to your critique partner by next week, etc. The type of goal changes for each stage of writing, but I have found that they never stop being effective. Without goals, it’s easy to put off writing, dragging it out until the passion has faded and been forgotten. Writing needs to be a priority! You owe it to yourself to set goals!
- Don’t give up. So much of writing is perseverance. Many good writers – possibly even great writers – give up, their unfinished works never seeing the light of day. If I’ve said nothing else, I’ll repeat this: writing is hard. There are times when I have gotten exasperated or dejected and wanted to quit and give up on my dream. It’s hard to come up with material, hard to put words on a page day after day, hard to accept criticism, and hard to let yourself believe that your writing is, actually, pretty good for a new writer. But every single published author out there will tell you the same thing: don’t give up. If you stop writing, you will never get published; your chances of success increase every time you push through all that doubt and frustration. I’ll take those odds.
- Have fun. This is your passion, after all. Take time to enjoy it.
Anyone have anything that belongs on this list? Anything that helped shape you and your writing? I’d love to hear about it – as #5 says, it’s all about community!