(This entry is something I posted on Tumblr several years ago. Someone asked me, “Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start writing?” This is the answer that poured out of me.)
Okay, that’s possibly not very helpful. But seriously, that’s all there is to it. If you want to write, I’m assuming you’re a reader—keep doing that. Read the sort of things you want to write. Read things you’d never think to write. Get pissed at how much better you could have written what you just read. Get pissed at how you’ll never be as good as what you just read. And then go write.
Here are some points:
You will suck. I’m sorry, but it’s true. We all do when we start. For some reason, people take that as a reason not to write! Writing is one of those things where we somehow magically expect ourselves to be amazing right out of the gate, instead of allowing ourselves time to learn how to do it. Which leads me to:
Talent is overrated. The more I write, the more I’m convinced that when it comes to writing, ‘talent’ is just an indicator of how fast you move along the learning curve. Some folks have a particular talent for plot, so they get really good at plot, really fast. Other people (*waves hand*) take years to figure out how a plot goes together. The thing about learning to write is that so much of it happens on a subconscious level, that it can seem pretty magical. It’s not. It’s a skill, and you can learn it. It’s just easier for some people to learn than others.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Hard to believe when you’re staring at a blank screen, but it’s true. This is another subconscious thing at work. Once you get your brain to flip the switch into writer territory, you will start to see ideas EVERYWHERE. You will have more ideas than you could ever possibly write. You’ll have ideas that are terrible, that are amazing, that are frightening. But you will have ideas. The hard part is catching the first one and sitting down to write it.
Finish something. This is possibly the sticking point for a lot of writers, especially new writers. You’ll be writing along on your story, and all will be well, and then… all of a sudden you hate it. It’s hard. The words aren’t coming, the characters are flat, and what the hell made you think this was a good idea to start with?? Congratulations, you’ve reached the Middle. (Or as someone so vividly described it in #innercircle last night, “the Valley of Shame”.)
Here’s a secret: I think EVERY writer does this. You reach a point where the shiny newness wears off of your story, and the initial burst of inspiration is gone and you’re left with the actual work of turning the idea into something readable. And what inevitably happens is this: a shiny new idea comes along, and it’s so much prettier than your nasty old boring idea! So you go off chasing the new idea. And then inevitably, the new wears off the new idea, and writing gets hard again. But see above, ideas are a dime a dozen, so along comes another new one! And off you go after it.
End result? A bunch of unfinished stories. When someone tells me they can never finish a story, it’s almost always because of the Middle, and new-idea-chasing.
The Middle sucks for everybody. EVERYBODY. Your favorite writer? Hates their book in the middle of it. The difference between a writer that finishes things and one that doesn’t is that the former keeps writing anyway. The shiny new ideas that inevitably crop up get written down in a notebook somewhere and saved for later.
Nobody tells you about the Middle when you first start! So when it happens to you, you think “wow, this must have been a bad idea” or “wow, I’m a terrible writer”. And then when it happens again and again, you start to think maybe this writing gig was a bad idea. But honest-to-god, the Middle is all part of the process. Push past it (and that gets a little easier once you’ve been there a few times, believe me), and finish your idea. THEN go chase the new one.
Don’t write alone. I don’t mean always collaborate, I mean, talk to other writers. That’s how you learn about things like the Middle, that everybody goes through it. That’s who you can bounce plot ideas off, and whine about the dialogue you’re writing. It’s how you find your betas or editors, and you end up making some great friends in the process. Tumblr (and the internet in general) can be a good place to start. And finally:
Write. The only way to get better at writing is to write. (And read, but reading’s only the theory.) Even if you hate it, even when it sucks. Writing does something in your brain. It IS kind of magical at times. Like, I’ll be trying to figure out a plot (ah, plot, my old nemesis), and for me, I tend to freewrite to do that. So I’ll be burbling along, asking myself questions like, “What does John think about this?” or “What is Molly doing during all this?” and then something will CLICK and everything will suddenly make sense.
And THAT’S the moment I write for, that sudden whammy of everything making sense, of a character suddenly speaking in their own voice. Because the thing about writing is that once you’ve started doing it regularly, your brain never stops. Even while you’re sleeping or doing homework or at work, your subconscious is still putting pieces together, solving the puzzle. (Which is why writers talk about waking up in the middle of the night with a “Eureka!” moment.) But your subconscious won’t work for you if you don’t do the conscious work.
The trickiest thing about writing is getting past the voices in your head that tell you it’s pointless, that you suck, that the words won’t come, that you won’t have any ideas, etc., etc. Just know that everybody who writes has those same voices, that you’re not alone in that.
Good luck, anon! Now go write some words!