Advice For New Writers

It can be tempting to jump straight into writing and I admire and encourage your enthusiasm, but there are some things it would be good to know first. Writing is a well trodden path with many pitfalls which can knock an aspiring writer’s confidence and slow progress. It is always wise to learn from those who have gone before you if you do not wish to make the same mistakes. These are some key points of advice.

Don’t Let Doubt Kill Your Excitement

There will be times when you look at your writing and think “This is terrible” or worse, “I’m not good enough”. At their worst, these thoughts can weigh you down untill you stop writing all together.

But don’t worry, all writers have these thoughts from to time, especially the less experienced. All you have to do, is ignore those thoughts and the self doubt, and keep writing. Recognise what is good in your work and build on that. Maybe there’s elements that need changing, but if you keep writing, you will get better. If you are having doubts, tell yourself “This is good, but I know it can be better”.

This leads into the next piece of advice.

Your First Draft Will Be Terrible

When you write, you will naturally compare it to works you have read. But you will be comparing your first draft with someone else’s final product which is the result of any number of redrafts. It might take several rewites of a paragraph before you are happy with it, this is fine.

The first draft is for you and only you. You don’t show it to anyone, it is just to get the ideas out. It is to let the creativity flow freely from you on to the page. Don’t stem this flow by worrying about each sentence and paragraph, just write and worry about making it readable later.

I think this Terry Pratchett quote sums it up nicely.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

So don’t worry about your first draft being terrible, many writers say theirs hardly even make sense, just get it written.

“Great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten”.

Characters Are More Important Than Worlds

This is something I struggle with especially coming at the hobby from the worldbuilding angle. Vast complex worlds with rich history and developed cultures mean nothing if the characters populating them don’t engage the reader. If your characters aren’t up to scratch, you’ll find you are not all that invested in them, and if you are not, how can your reader be? And then you’ll struggle to finish your story.

If the characters are complex, well developed with rich personalities then it will be much easier to write, as the characters will show you where they need to go and you will have a much easier time finishing. Think of it like this. If you have a rich setting, but an undeveloped character you’ll struggle to guide them through, because you’ll have to stop and think a lot, but if the character is well developed, not the setting, the character will keep moving as if they were real and you will naturally create the setting to hold the character.

“Believable, larger a life characters will save a well-worn plot but a unique world with unempathetic characters will always be doomed.” ~ u/novelconcepts (Think how successfull Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray are).

Any Rule Can Be Broken Is Not The Same As There Are No Rules

Rules are there for a reason. Sure you can mess around them, subvert them, and even outright ignore them. However if you do this with every rule you’ll find that your story structure has collapsed and you’ll be left with a mess. Many of the rules are well established and are the result of many years of work. Break the right rules for your story, but don’t ignore the rest of them.

Some example rules

  • A beginning puts an interesting character in an interesting world with an interesting problem to solve.
  • Your character should be empathetic.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Murder your darlings.
  • Great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten

Write What You Know, And Write What You Believe

If you know a lot about mythology, use mythology for inspiration, involve myths in your story, or even go ahead and write a myth itself! Presumably the reason you know so much about mythology is because you’re interested in it. If you’re interested, you’ll keep writing, which is always the main thing, to keep writing. If you write about something you hardly know anything about you’ll most likely spend a lot of time researching your topic.

Write Everyday

A lot of people say write 1000 words a day. If you can’t manage that, no worries, write 500 a day, or 300. The point is to keep writing every day. This gets you into a good habit, a good rhythm and keeps everything fresh on your mind. If you smash out 8000 words in a weekend and then do nothing for two weeks, you’ll most likely struggle to get back into it and you won’t have as many great ideas of a new character arcs, subplots or stellar desciption strike you as when the story is on the forfront of your mind.

Write Short Stories First

Yes I know, its not the advice you wanted to hear. I ignored it too when I started out, got 8000 words into my story and lost my way with it as many of the core concepts and my skills weren’t developed enough. Leave your big idea on the back burner, by all means keep planning and developing it while you practice and hone your craft on short stories. Then by the time you come to write your big novel, you’ll have all the skills ready to tackle it from the start, rather than learning as you go and burning out.

Also a lot of publishers nowadays want you to have published a few short stories and to have put your name on the map before they take the time to read your manuscript. This is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

It is also great to practice your skills on stories that don’t require a huge time commitment. Short stories teach you to be economical with your words. A good way to do this is to join a writing forum and get involved in the short story competitions (something we may have here one day ;)).

Plan Properly

“Fail to plan? Plan to Fail.” Slightly controvertial as some writers can just sit down with an idea and write and see where it takes them, but most need to plan it out a bit. Especially less experienced writers. If you’ve planned properly then you know where you are going, who your characters are, what you are trying to achieve in each scene, what the character arcs are. Its much easier to figure this out before you start writing, than to get part way through, realise you overlooked something then have to redo everything. This is likely to be a big motivation killer for new writers, so avoid this by planning and outlining.

Read More

The more you read, the better your writing will be. Its that simple. Your understanding of the craft will improve, you will feel more inspired and its always good to remember what got you into the hobby in the first place.

Reading lots will help build up your repertoire of styles, sentence structure, character arcs, conflicts. Reading widely in your genre will help you know the genre, its tropes, which are overplayed, which are growing in popularity.

Join A Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. A writing group can help keep you motivated, provide a place for you to learn, bounce ideas, discuss the craft, critique and receive feedback. It is a good place for you to grow as a writer.

Don’t Give Up

If you keep writing, you’ll keep getting better. You’ll get there. If you aim is to be famous or make lots of money, reevaluate yourself. Your aim should be to tell the stories you have to tell in the best way you are able. The money and fame may come if you’re very lucky, but if you have done your story justice then you can be proud.

Hopefully you’ve found these useful and let me know in the comments what I’ve missed and I’ll add it in.

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