Five Things I Wish I’d Known as a Beginning Writer
1. All Writers Suck When They Start — Don’t Compare Yourself to Published Authors
This is a big one for most writers, I think. As readers, we tend to believe that writing is easy. If you’ve ever read reviews, you can tell that readers don’t often appreciate how complex it is to create a novel where everything works. The plot flows well and is compelling, the characters are interesting, realistic, and likable. The hooks are all in the right places. The story happens to touch readers just right because maybe the topic is timely. It’s not easy, obviously. So, when we set out as a writer, we seem to have the mistaken belief that our story will flow just like our favorite novels. Then we read what we wrote and are appalled. It’s terrible, we tell ourselves. And we immediately know that we suck and we’re not writers, and we’re glad we can delete the file and pretend we were never going to write a book
Big mistake. Beginning writers, please give yourself the opportunity to grow as a writer. Don’t expect to write brilliantly immediately. When I wrote my first novel, I was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the books I was reading. I knew I was still learning, but I still expected to produce a more polished draft — and even that was unrealistic, it was a first draft! So, give yourself time and compare yourself against yourself. Are you better month by month, year by year? It takes courage to be a writer, remember that.
2. You Become a Better Writer by Re-writing
Another writer secret that I wish I had known is that writer re-write their stories a half dozen times. Or more! Good writing is good re-writing. Then finding good editors to look at the development of the story again and the structure and the grammar. My son once asked me what I was doing when I was editing and re-writing a story, and I told him I was on my fifth re-write. He got a look of horror and said, “No wonder you’re always so miserable.” It gave me a good laugh. First, I am not always miserable, stressed yes. But secondly, I don’t mind rewriting. I love making the story better and catching places where I can give the story more depth or details.
3. Writing is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Many writers think and hope that their first novel will become a run-away best seller. Most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way. Even when it appears that an author was a big hit with their first novel, we often find out they’ve been writing for years and their work was rejected many times.
Think of your writing career, if indeed you’re looking for a career, as a plant that will grow and blossom over time. The more your nurture it and give it sunshine, the stronger it will become. It will take time, and that’s okay, because the goal should not be to write one best seller. The goal should be to develop your skills and to writer a better book each time.
Take your time and enjoy writing. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes, it’s difficult. But, if your goal is to create great stories, and to become a better writer throughout your life, it’s not about writing a book quickly and having it become a huge hit. If that happens, great, you’ll have to deal with that kind of success and still be able to write the next book. Elizabeth Gilbert, after the success of Eat, Pray, Love said that now she had to be the author who had to try to top the big blockbuster hit. She joked about it, but she wasn’t wrong. The slow growth is much better for writers.
4. The Fundamentals Matter
I love this quote from Michael Jordan, “You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” This means a couple of things to me. If I want to be successful, I have to practiced and practice and practice. I have to write every day. But the second part of his quote tells me that I have to practice correctly. I need to return to the fundamentals or writing. I don’t have grammar rules memorized, so having a grammar book close by is important. Good writers refer to basic books, re-read books on structure and plotting. They continue re-learn or review the fundamentals to keep they skills and techniques strong.
When something is not working in one of my novels, I go back to the basics and look at plot, characterization, and story structure and examine the bare bones of my story. This was something I did often, with each book I wrote, and I thought, boy, I must be stupid having to reread these books on plotting every time I write a novel. But I’ve come to realize that beginning writers need to be told that they don’t read a book once and know everything. They don’t take a course or watch a video or go to a conference once and expect they have the knowledge to become a bestselling author. Writing isn’t about the knowledge; it’s about practicing and going back to the basics and writing some more.
5. Publishing Is a Business
Lastly, this was something I did learn almost at the beginning of my writing career, and I’m glad I did. I took a course where the instructor/author told us that we had to think of writing as a business if we wanted to get published. If we wanted to write, just to write, that was fine, we could write experimental fiction, we could write pages and pages of description. But if we wanted to get published, we had to study the market, and understand what the publishers were buying and what they expected from writers. This course helped me a lot, not because I wrote to the market. It’s difficult to know what publishers will want to publish a year from now when your novel is finished. But I was aware of the trends and aware of what writers were publishing in my genre. Studying the market and understanding what publishers and readers want can save writers from spending months and years writing something no one will buy. Like any other product, writers should research the market and understand where their product fits best.