I originally wrote this post for artists for the simple reason that whenever people learn I’m an artist, one of two things usually happen.
They tell me they’re a budding artist or they tell me they have a child who is a budding artist. In either case, the same question follows.
How can I/they get started?
People who want to be writers are a lot like people who want to be artists. They have pretty much the same questions (I know I did).
And since I like to help people who are following after me, I thought I’d share 8 tips for beginning novelists.
Most of them are pretty common sense, but there are a few I wish someone had told me, lo, these many years ago.
1. Learn your writing voice. This one is pretty straight forward and if you’ve read how I’m like a race horse, you already know why. But it’s worth repeating.
The best thing any beginning novelist can do is write enough on their own to discover their writing voice. This includes favorite genres, but is by no means limited to that.
2. Develop a writing routine. For years, I wrote as a hobby. I had a full-time job and was working at making my art a full-time business. That meant I didn’t have a lot of time to write. But I did the best I could to make use of the time that was available.
A new novelist may have only a hour or 30 minutes each week to spend writing. That time should be devoted to writing.
Don’t fall into the habit of thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike before you write. Don’t accept the lie that you need large chunks of time, either. I’ve lived both and know they are not true. The best way to be a writer is to be a writer.
Whether you feel like it or not.
Whether you have the time or not.
Even if it’s just a few minutes to jot a few notes on a napkin, make use of it.
Nothing is more discouraging than waking up one morning and realizing it’s been a year since the last time you wrote.
3. Learn the writing craft. Writing conferences and workshops are great and every writer should participate in as many as possible.
But let’s face it, they’re expensive and involve large blocks of time and, sometimes, travel.
For beginning writers on a budget (time or money), there are tons of writing books available. I very highly recommend any writing book by James Scott Bell. I cut my plotting teeth on Plot & Structure and still refer to it frequently.
4. Learn to accept criticism. From the first story to the last, there will be critics. People will criticize your, your methods, your marketing… probably even you. They are as much a fact of life as the sun rising in the east. It’s difficult for all of us, but new writers should be especially careful not to internalize it.
Some of the criticism may be warranted, so you can’t automatically discard it all, but learn to be gracious. Analyze it at face value and glean the comments that will improve your skills as a writer and in dealing with people (and let’s face it, most of us like nothing better than to shut ourselves up and write).
5. Learn to accept praise. Praise does come to the dedicated, disciplined, and persistent writer. Learn to accept it graciously.
And always say thank you.
6. Find writing friends. Writing is a solitary activity. Full-time writers often spend the equivalent of an eight-hour day hammering away at their computers, doing research, or planning new projects. That’s a lot of time alone.
If there’s a local writers group, check it out. It may not be for you, but you won’t know until you try.
If there isn’t a local writers group, there are many online groups and organizations. You’re certain to find one that will fit.
7. Persevere. The real secret to success is getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, plain and simple. The world doesn’t owe you a living. Neither do the people around you. You may be the most talented writer since Shakespeare, but even he had to persevere.
8. Have fun. Whether you write for personal pleasure or as a livelihood, have fun. For some, writing will become like a job and will require you treat it like a job, maintaining regular hours and behaving like your own employee. Try not to lose sight of the joy of writing. The reason writing drew you in the first place. Take time to nurture that, to grow it as you grow your career or hobby. You won’t regret it.