10 Tips for Beginning Writers

In every group of friends there is that one person who is always trying something new.  There was the new diet that failed, the new hobby that only lasted two weeks, and the new relationship that crashed and burned.  The reason all of these failed was because they were unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to make them work.  It’s no different for people who want to be writers.

It’s not uncommon to hear aspiring writers say, “I long to become a writer and land a traditional publishing contract, but I have never written a word and have no idea what to write about.  I just keep waiting for inspiration.  And, given all that’s going on right now, I just don’t have time to sit down and write.  Besides, I couldn’t bear to show my work to anyone.”

If this is you, then I cannot help you become a writer.  Like the dieter and hobbyist above, you already have excuses just waiting to be employed.  To quote Dan Poynter, “If you are waiting for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

So, how does one actually become a writer?  The first step is to engage in less whining and more writing.  Abandon your high-faulting literary romanticism and vocal criticisms of the “lack of literary quality” in today’s published works.  No matter what you think of J.K. Rolling’s or Stephen King’s writing, the simple truth is they are making millions and you are not.  And understand that you will not be an overnight success.  As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his bestseller, it takes 10,000 hours, or approximately 10 years, of deliberate practice to become an expert in your field, so be prepared to put in a lot time at the keyboard.

Now that we’ve got the excuses out of the way, here’s how to start writing:

  1. Write.  Write every day, even if it’s not on the “great American novel.”  Keep a journal, maintain a blog, or even write letters.  Every time you sit down to form a sentence, you are improving your craft.  Remember that the next time you have to write a report for work.
  2. Read.  Make a habit of reading the kinds of books you hope to write.  Reading well-written books shows you how stories are unspooled on the page, how dialogue is crafted, and how to weave suspense and romance into stories that are neither suspenseful nor romantic.  Reading in your genre also keeps you up-to-date on what publishers are seeking in a novel.
  3. Daydream.  A lot of writing takes place away from the keyboard.  Daydreaming is a great way to come up with plot points and plot twists.  Remember, plot trumps prose.  A beautifully written, but horribly dull story won’t sell, but a story that keeps you enthralled can be edited into shape.
  4. Get Scared. Write the things you are afraid to write.  Write with passion and abandon.  If it helps, write drunk and edit sober.
  5. Network.  Build a community of people with whom you can swap critiques and ask for advice.  Learning to find flaws in other people’s writing will enable you to find faults in your own work. To succeed, you need to become an aggressive self-editor.
  6. Fail.  A lot of your writing won’t be great, or even mediocre.  Accept your failures, learn from them, and move on.
  7. Procrastinate.  There is no rush to get published and rushed work tends to be sloppy. Dream big, then create a long-term plan filled with small, incremental steps for developing your writing.  This will give you the time to deliberately practice your craft as you move toward bigger goals.
  8. Share.  Build your readership now.  Blog, participate in social media, or even have an email newsletter.  Establish a relationship with potential readers before you consider publishing a book.  It’s important to communicate regularly, but don’t over-communicate because that turns off potential readers.  A well thought out monthly or quarterly communique is far better than a daily barrage of random tweets.
  9. Be Spiritual. Whatever your beliefs are, having a healthy spiritual life can be a source of inspiration and a means of preventing burn-out.  Writing can enable you to re-discover yourself and learn what you have to offer the world.
  10. Live fully and frugally. Live fully so that you have lots of ideas to write about.  Live frugally because writers don’t make much money.  For most writers, getting published is little more than an expensive hobby.

Reality Check:  Each year approximately 65,000 books are published through traditional publishing houses.  Considering that those 65,000 books come from over 10 million submissions, many of which are from returning authors, the chance of landing a traditional publishing contract is less than 1%.  It is important not to neglect the other facets of your life in pursuit of something that may never happen.  Work diligently toward your goal, but remember, there is more to life than writing.

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