Writing Advice for Beginners

Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

There is so much writing advice available online, isn’t there? And that’s great! If you are a beginning writer, you are lucky to live at a time where so much information is available to you with just a Google search. Though it might be overwhelming also. Or you might find that all that advice is superficial and does not go deep enough to be helpful.

How do you find good writing advice and how do you know if it’s good or helpful?

When I was a new writer, I didn’t have this problem because there was no advice. There were books about writing or magazine articles, and I assumed it was all good advice (it wasn’t) because it was published in a book or a magazine. Today, anyone can give advice and post an opinion online. So, finding good advice is a little trickier, but it’s out there and you can find it.

Learn by Writing

First, no matter what advice you get, you will never truly improve or write well if you don’t practice writing. All the tips, all the well-meaning advice from experts that is readily available is worthless if it remains theoretical. The number one thing all new writers must do is write a lot.

Try various writing styles, adopt a writing voice and see if it fits you, write a story full by telling then rewrite it by showing and evaluate the difference, write dialogue, write, write, write. Only by practicing with your own work will other people’s tips make sense. You might read a tip telling you to use the active voice, for example, and that will make sense because you will see in your own writing how much stronger your prose is in the active voice. You might also understand when it’s not a good idea to use active voice and decide that it depends on whether you are writing a non-fiction document or a novel. But the only way you will know this is if you write.

Listen to Experts

Assuming that you do dedicate time to writing your story, take time to read or listen to advice from experts.

Sometimes experts can be famous authors, but not always. What works for a writer who writes best sellers and has an editor and publisher who loves him and supports him, who has an agent, who has a sales record, and who started writing in another era, might not necessarily work for you today. But obviously writers who are part of the industry, who write and sell books, and who share advice are great resources, and it will benefit new writers to take note of what they share.

Editors and agents currently working with writers are wonderful experts to listen to. They can tell you what sells, what they look for in a new writer, what they like and what they don’t like. If they take the time to write an article or blog, or if they are interviewed, listen to those professionals, because their tips will be valuable.

Teachers and writing coaches are other experts who can offer new writers tips and short cuts that can save beginning writers time and effort. This is especially true if they have helped others to reach their writing and publishing goals.

Become an Active Learner

A trait that I have, one that is not good, is that I gorge myself on information. I’ll watch a million videos on a topic, read blogs and articles, buy and read books, but I will not stop to absorb what I’m learning.

Taking notes and really taking in the advice and tips you get is important. You’ll find that much of what you read will be repetitive because you already know it. There’s no point wasting time, reading the same information again and again.

· Read or listen to the information

· Take notes.

· Think about what you just read.

· Do something with the information.

Let’s use plotting as an example. This can be a complex and deep concept to learn. It’s good to read a lot about it, maybe even sign up for a workshop or course to learn how to plot well. Take good notes and highlight the key ideas. Think about how you might use the information and how to apply it to your work. Then try it in your current story. Practice.

This is the way we learn. After you do this, you can read new articles or books if you want. I do. But you shouldn’t spend too much of your valuable time focusing on this topic anymore. You’ve got it. Trust that you understand and move on.

It can be scary to beginning writers to really write and to share their writing with the world. It’s easier to keep reading articles and watching videos on how to write, I get it. But don’t get stuck in that trap.

Keep Reading What Others Write

Read extensively in your genre and even outside of your genre. Reading what others write helps you stay current on what is selling and what readers are interested in, but it also helps you learn from others.

Every book I read makes me a better writer. I always find a phrase I like and think about why I like it. I learn to use language better. I see how other authors characterize their hero and heroines — the steps they took and strategies they used. I might also learn what I don’t like and would not want to do.

Improve Your Writing Skills

Lastly, beginning writers should continue to improve their writing skills. This can be grammar, but also other writing techniques also or strengthening elements of writing such as plotting or how to add conflict or establishing a setting.

I believe we should constantly improve our writing skills if we are writers. Again, you don’t want to use not-knowing-enough or having poor writing skills stop you from writing or getting into the trap of needing to know everything before you start. But you should always maintain an understanding of your craft and be willing to constantly learn and improve.

Does it Matter to Your Writing?

Ultimately, writing advice is helpful and good if it impacts your writing and provides what you need to help you move forward with your writing project. We are all at different levels and points in our writing growth. What might be helpful writing advice for one writer might be worthless to another writer.

Sometimes what is not helpful or needed at one stage of your writing career will be just what you need to hear at another time. Has it ever happened to you that you reread a book or article that you’d read five years ago, and all of a sudden, the writer seems brilliant? The advice didn’t change, but you have become more receptive to it because it is exactly what you needed to read at that moment.

The best way to judge whether advice is good is if it helps you and makes you feel like you can meet your writing goals. This may sound obvious but it’s true for all advice. If it matters to your work, if it helps you feel more confident, if it provides needed skills to improve your writing, then it is great advice for you. The best advice is useless if you don’t need it.

Bad Advice?

I don’t know that I would call it bad advice but beware of listening to every writer who has an opinion online in social media groups.

Some of those comments might be good but remember that what works for one person might not be correct or helpful to another writer.

People who post in groups are trying to be helpful — I belong to many. Some of the groups I’ve joined are for writers, others are for chihuahua owners, and still others for my other interests. And I read all sorts of interesting and bizarre comments. You might belong to writing groups also and I encourage you to do so because it’s a good idea to be among likeminded people who are also writers and understand your struggles. But realize that what people share are well-meaning opinions. They may or may not know what they are talking about.

If you are a beginning writer and are looking for help, again, get expert advice and use only what you need for your story. And keep writing — that really is the best writing advice.

Have a story to tell? Want to learn how to record personal experiences before they’re lost or write the novel of your heart? Consider taking one of Julia’s beginning writing or publishing courses.

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