Getting into writing can be daunting. At least, that is certainly what I felt a few months ago.
I had been writing on and off for years, mostly off, and felt that I lacked any real skill. The interest and passion that I had for the field was always there, and that is definitely more important.
I have managed to amass a collection of tips that I feel would benefit new writers and have brought them here to share with you, potential new writer!
There’s a whole world of writing out there (several hundreds of worlds, in fact) and it is our job to go out and explore it!
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1. Writing is a learnable skill
This is important. There was a time, many moons ago, that I was naive enough to think you either had it or you didn’t. I am not ashamed to admit that I was wrong.
Having spent a lot of time in recent months meeting writers, from those who have many books published to those that are just starting out, as well as attending various writing courses, one thing I have learned is that no one starts off amazing at writing.
Who is your favourite author? Do a little digging—I would put money on the fact that they did not get their first idea or story published.
If you have the passion and the enthusiasm, you can make yourself into a great writer. And hey, you’re here looking for tips—you are already on your way.
2. Practice, practice, and practice some more
It’s the age old tale of practice makes perfect! But it really does. No one is incredible at something the first time they try it.
Think of writing in the same way you think of strong muscles. If you want to make those muscles bigger, you would go to the gym and lift weights, repeatedly.
The muscles, writing or otherwise, do not grow overnight. You have to do many repetitions of the same exercise to make those muscles stronger.
Writing is the same. If you continue to practice and practice, and keep using those muscles, they will grow. It’s science!
3. Inspiration is everywhere
You see those trashy magazines full of outrageous people doing ridiculous things? That might be a fun story to write.
What happened to them next? Happily ever after or never to be heard of again?
If you want to do more writing and flex those muscles, then you need to make sure that you are writing. Enjoy writing short 1000 words stories every now and again—think of it as a mini workout.
If you are stuck for ideas look around you, listen to conversations around you.
I have often found myself staring at a conversation between two people on my commute wondering what they are talking about, what relation they have to each other, what brought them here today.
It’s great fun to imagine the lives they may have, so why not write something about them?
I have even had a character I imagined doing this come into one of my short stories that I am particularly proud of.
When you see someone interesting on the street, try and imagine what kind of person they are and what they might be up to today.
Are they secretly a millionaire? Secretly a murderer? Secretly a wizard?
4. Read everything and anything
The famous Stephen King once said that, ‘If you don’t have time to read you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ Now, regardless of your feelings on Stephen King, you can’t deny that the man knows his stuff.
If you write in a certain genre, read stuff from that genre. It will both consciously and subconsciously help you to build up a knowledge of writing for said genre.
However, do not overlook the value of reading everything! There is no reason to limit yourself—even a magazine on the bus counts! You can always learn something, no matter what you are reading.
Some people don’t have time to sit down and read a novel every week. I am one of those people—I struggle to fit reading into my schedule sometimes.
That’s normal. I often feel a pang of guilt if I am behind on my reading, or it’s been a while since I actually finished a book. Try to ignore it.
But there are ways around this!
Do you get the bus, tram or train to work? Carry a book with you, try and get a little in during the commute.
Do you drive to work? Try audiobooks. They still give you the story and the example of writing, but entirely hands free.
Don’t have the room, time, or money for real books (or, as I like to call them, my little chunks of dead tree)? Try a kindle. Or even the kindle app on your phone.
5. Plan as much as you can
I never used to plan. I used to put words on the page in any order that they came into my head. DON’T DO THIS.
I mean, this may work for a small portion of people. But I have found that planning first means that I know what I am going to write and this makes it much easier to actually write.
For instance, NaNoWriMo. (For those of you that have not heard of this, please have a look on their website for more information.)
In short, you spend TWO months planning and ONE month writing. During that two months you have the opportunity to plan out every last details, down to the eye colour of every character. And why wouldn’t you?
It means when you come to write it that you can freely blast your way through scene after scene, chapter after chapter, because you know what’s coming and what’s going to happen.
This allows you to write better plots, and include more factors, themes and storylines in the main story arc. Honestly, once you’ve done it this way round, you may wonder how you ever did it without a plan.
It’s worth planning how much you would like to put into your world. If you are going to be writing a fantasy novel, for instance, you need to make sure that you are sure about how much of this world you need to build.
I recently attended a workshop titled ‘Consider the Potato’ from Stephen Aryan and learned a lot about world building.
When thinking about the world that your story takes place in, you need to decide how much of this you want to be different from the world we live in.
Do you just want to change the names of places, but keep everything else the same?
Do you want to do that, plus change the whole world, and have them in an almost medieval type setting?
Or do all the above, plus magic?
Or do you even want to change things down to the food that they eat. Do they have such a thing as a potato?
This is up to you. However much you want to change, just remember to research in advance what needs to change and stay the same and, more importantly, make notes as you go so you can maintain consistency.
6. Research anything you don’t know
If you are setting out to write a novel about a police officer, ensure that you know what being a police officer is like. We all know that police officers aren’t that well paid, so you can’t have them driving around in a Jaguar and wearing a Rolex. (Unless they are some kind of corrupt police officer, I guess. Ooh, story idea!)
If you want to write a story that takes place in an existing city, for example London, make sure that you don’t reference it’s bustling sea ports and extensive beaches.
Sometimes listing the little things, no matter how trivial they may seem, allow for you to better understand your story.
7. Rewriting is a big thing!
Years ago I had the audacity to believe that I knew best, that I could just sit down to write and perfectly publishable prose would leave my pen and appear on the page, ready to be printed.
I was wrong.
There are probably writers out there that do find that their first ever draft is flawless and ready, but I have never met any of them.
They may be a writing myth.
My point is, every single writer I have ever spoken to has talked about the drafting, redrafting, and redrafting some more process. It doesn’t mean that their work is bad!
But no one is a perfect writer. You need to be prepared to rewrite what comes out—add bits, remove bits, rejig bits.
Your stories are worth telling, but make sure you tell them well.
8. Write what you know
This rule is made to be broken.
Yes, write what you know. But that doesn’t mean write about your day job and your significant other. Chances are, no one wants to read that.
Writing about what you know can mean simply writing about an emotion that you know.
Have you been through a divorce? That sucks. But you know what that is like, and so can include that kind of emotion in your story.
Lost a loved one? Had an affair? Achieved something awesome? Got angry about something?
You can use any of your previous experiences, take how you felt from that, and use it in your writing.
Okay, perhaps you have never used a magic sword to defeat a dragon. But have you used your skills in negotiation to win a big project?
You will find that you know something about most things, even if it’s just the basics, so writing what you know still applies. Researching anything additional is key.
Use your emotion, your experiences, and build on them. Real emotions in a story make it more believable and more relatable.
9. Create the best writing environment for you
People write in all different places, you need to find somewhere that suits you and has everything that you need.I have found that being in a room full of other writers who are also writing is my favourite environment..
Of course, that may seem like a pipe dream to most.
If you can find a cosy corner of a coffee shop, with a plug for your laptop and an endless supply of coffee, that may work.
Sitting at home with family all around you and the TV blaring may not.
Of course, you could put in your headphones to drown out the TV and help you to pretend the real world isn’t there, that may work for you.
Music can be a great tool for writing as well. Not only can it help you to get started and to free write but it can set the mood and get the ideas flowing, too.
When I listen to music to write to, the genre and the artist vary depending on what I am writing at the time, or what mood I am in.
Find your writing jam.
When it comes to writing, you are on a journey as much as your characters are.
If you are open to learning as much as possible, and ready to admit that you are not perfect at anything straight away, then you are off to a good start.
Always make sure that you are reading as much as possible, even if that is audiobooks on your way to and from work, and that you are practicing as much as possible.
The brain truly is a muscle. If we continue to practice writing, we will continue to strengthen and grow that muscle. It’s almost unavoidable.
So when you sit down to write, make sure that you have the best environment that you can put together, you’re comfortable, and you have a plan.
Don’t forget that the more than you plan, the more that you will be able to write. Even though there will still be rewriting to do, don’t worry.
The main thing you need to remember is that if you have the passion for the subject, and enjoy what you do, then you can do well.
Just keep at it!