I write mostly fiction. Several of my books are now middle school and high school curricula. I love to visit schools to discuss the books and answer questions about writing. There are always new writers in the audience. If you’ve written anything — anything at all — then you are a writer. Congrats! I mean that with all sincerity. This is one of the most freeing ideas I can relate to new writers — if you are writing then you are a writer! Claim it and do good work! The following is 5 tips that I often share when new writers ask me for advice.
1. Sit Down — You might hear this advice often from more experienced writers. It really can’t be said enough.
Nothing will appear on the paper (or screen) without you first taking the time to sit down.
2. Write, Write, Write — Once you’re sitting, start writing! It doesn’t matter if its crap. Just write. Most first drafts have a smelly odor no matter how experienced you are. Refinement comes later. First you have to get the idea out of your head and onto the paper. It’s not going to just spill out of your ear.
Don’t know what to write? Experiment with different topics and genres. One day try your hand at poetry the next day — prose. Maybe even start a private journal blog. Again, the point is to get the ideas out of your head. They’re doing no one else any good bouncing around in there.
Some seasoned writers might suggest writing everyday. Most new writers might not have that luxury. I don’t. I am a teacher and a husband and a father of four. Some days there are just bigger priorities. My suggestion is write as much as possible. Please don’t shirk your family or career (unless writing is your career) in order to write every day.
3. Read…a Lot — There’s not much else to add here. Read fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. The more you read the better you’ll understand style and form. Perhaps you cannot spout off a line of prepositions when put on the spot. But if you read as much as you can get your hands on you’ll understand how to write. It’s like osmosis.
Note: In the long run it will probably be helpful to know parts of speech.
4. Stick to the Main Idea — I know this sounds like one of the first instructions you received from your language arts teacher in grade school. That’s because it is. Sometimes we need to relearn what we have already learned. This is a very necessary tip to remember.
If your story is about a safari guide who gets lost in the wilds of exotic Los Angeles then it shouldn’t end up being about a tiger named Tony in Africa (though a tiger loose in Los Angeles would make for an interesting story — especially if he’s named Tony).
5. The One-Over — (Some people might advise against this tip but it’s very helpful for me.) Once you’ve finished a chapter (and it’s left your head for the world to stumble across) consider doing a quick edit on that chapter before starting the next one. There are several reasons for doing this:
- It keeps your mind focused on the main idea.
- It allows you to catch glaring mistakes before beginning the actual editing process.
- If you read it out loud while you quick edit you can make sure that you’re achieving the desired flow and tone. There have been several times that I’ve read a chapter aloud only to realize that the feel was all wrong. It has kept me from making monumental style shifts in a story. Sometimes you don’t catch that sort of thing unless you hear your story with your own ears.