So, you’re a new writer looking for direction in this great big writing life? Well, hello there! I’m so glad you stopped by! Grab a beverage, bring your pen, and let’s dive in.
Establish A Daily Writing Habit
I know, I know. If you’ve ever entertained the idea of becoming a writer, you’ve seen that advice before. It’s everywhere online – from quotes by super-famous authors to blog posts from other people just like me. And it’s there because it’s just so obvious, right?
Well, you’d think so. But, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told someone I’m an author only to have them excitedly tell me they’re also planning to write a book. With equal enthusiasm, I reply, “That’s awesome! What’s it about?” And, almost every single time, the answer is some variation of, “Oh, I’m not sure.” Usually followed by, “I’m going to write one, though,” and then, after a moment of pause, “When I have time.”
That, right there, is why you should start a daily writing habit today if you don’t already have one. Plenty of people plan to write a book. But guess what: planning to write a book and writing a book? Totally different things! If you want to write a book, you have to be willing to sit down and put in the work. For some people, that work involves overcoming the obstacle of time.
How Can You Find The Time?
I’m gonna be blunt for a sec: if you really want to be a writer, you’ve got the time. Before you get pissed at me for being insensitive about your schedule or your life, stick with me. How much time do you spend sleeping in? Or staying up late watching TV? Or even staying up late reading? Do you have a commute? A lunch break? A 15-minute break?
If any of those things apply to you, you have the time. Get up thirty minutes earlier. Watch one fewer episode or read one less chapter. Use your phone to record your thoughts during your commute if you’re driving. Or use an app to type them out if you’re riding. Keep a notebook and a pen (yes, a pen – more on that in a moment) with you at all times. When I was still working in an office, I kept my own stash of Post-Its to scribble on whenever I had thoughts I didn’t want to lose. Now, my family is used to me pausing them with a, “Hold that thought!” so I can get something down. And they’re more understanding when I’m not as available – though they probably don’t love that part – because I have a writing and media schedule I stick to like gum on shoes.
Are You Willing To Sacrifice For Your Dreams?
Being a writer requires sacrifice. You might dream of the days when you can write for a living, but if you’re not already making sacrifices to find writing time right now, those days aren’t going to come (at least not easily).
When I first started writing with serious intent, I worked on my book life for 6-12 hours every day after my day job. I wrote all day every weekend. That is not the expectation for you – in fact, that is insanity, and after too many years at that pace, I landed in therapy because I literally burned out and melted down. PS: that was after I was able to go full-time with my writing career because I decided to work 12-18 hours every single day without pause. I did not have the good sense to take the gift of time and relax my schedule. I took the gift of time and blew my schedule out of proportion.
Please, for the love of
Find the time that works for you. I recommend trying to do it daily because that forces you to reduce the resistance against forming the habit. If you take the choice out of it by committing to writing, for at least a little while, every single day, then you will show up and write every single day. I’m not the only one who recommends this, by far. Look at what other writers said about creative momentum and writing habits in this #StorySocial Chat on Twitter!
A Word About Writer’s Block
Love me or hate me for this sometimes unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe we all have days that are better than others and I believe certain stories can block you at times. But I don’t believe there are ever times when there are just no words swimming around in your brain. You’re a writer! All you do is think of words!
So, on days when I am blocked for the story I’m working on (and, thankfully, this doesn’t often happen because I’ve usually been writing my stories in my head for a long time before I begin to commit them to words) I work on something else. Another story I already have an idea for. Something entirely different. I mean, have you ever looked for writing prompts online? If you can’t find something to write about, something that will let you produce even five or six garbage words, then come see me. We need to have a chat about your muse.
What If I Truly Can’t Find Time Every Day?
Okay, okay. I’m hearing you. If you can’t do it every day, what about a couple of times a week? Even once a week? Every other Wednesday? The point is, there’s
Alright. Let’s say you’ve found the time. For many folks, the next stumbling block is often, “I don’t know what to say!” or “I know what to say but not how to say it!”
Don’t worry – I’ve got you…
Don’t Edit or Self-Censor
Not while you’re writing your first draft, at least. Just start writing.
Harder than it sounds? That’s okay. Seriously. Just start writing!
The point is, getting started is the hardest part. By letting go of the idea that you need to write the perfect words the first time (please, please, can we all agree this idea of getting the words perfect the first time needs to be banished?!) you can open yourself to write anything. Literally any words will do when you’re getting started.
One of my favorite recommendations is free writing. Give yourself an amount of time (I suggest starting with three or five minutes), go in with the idea that most of what you write will be useless, and just write. Put down anything that comes to mind – free association is great for this. Write anything you think of, regardless of what kind of sense it makes or how it does – or doesn’t – tie to anything else you’re writing.
Do whatever you have to – whatever will force you to write with abandon.
No Judgement and Definitely No Pencils
When you’re working words for the first time – a first draft, a first paragraphs, a first sentence, even – cast aside
And do it in pen if you’re writing longhand. If you do make a mistake you simply can’t live with (I’m talking a misspelled word, not an idea) strike through it with a single line. Don’t scribble it out completely. Leave it and move on. Why no pencils? Because that makes it too easy to edit. Sure, you can still strike through with a pencil – but why would you when you have an eraser right there?
This is the reason I don’t ever outline on my computer. I do all my outlining by hand in black pen – the Pilot Easytouch retractable fine point black ballpoint pen, to be specific. I don’t have any affiliation, but I once worked a job that turned me into a certified (almost seriously) pen geek. It doesn’t matter what pen you use – use the one that works for you.
If you must do your writing on the computer, force yourself not to edit while you type. And I mean don’t even fix any typos you catch unless you’re 138,000,000% convinced you will have no possible way of deciphering the typo when you revisit it later. Instead, mark the typo with [brackets] and move on! This is an easy trick, and you can use it for anything – not just typos. When I hit something I need to research or a stumbling block I’ll want to fix later, I throw brackets around it and keep writing. I don’t let that particular issue trip me up when I’m in a writing groove because it reduces my momentum. When it’s time to edit and revise the first draft, I can run a search for the [brackets] and address all those typos and stumbling blocks because I’m already in
Forget you even have a backspace key. Just say no to deletions! You never, ever know when an idea or a word that slipped through might mean something. After all, if your brain tried to put it there, shouldn’t you wonder why? What was your brain doing in the background while you were busy worrying about getting the words right? Chances are, it was busy writing whatever the hell it wanted while you weren’t paying attention. Touch base with that gray matter to see what direction it wanted to go when it took over!
Read The Writing Books And Memoirs
I’m absolutely an advocate for authors reading – and I think there are two very different kinds of reading you should do.
You should read for pleasure (at the very least, the genres you enjoy and intend to write). And you should read for learning – both through reading books with your writing brain and through reading books that will offer you insight into the craft.
There are endless books out there about how to write – different styles and methods from every type of writer under the sun. There are also heaps of memoirs about writing life by the authors we all dream of being.
Both the writing books and the writing memoirs have value. So, yes, read them. But don’t follow them like they are law. Experimenting with the methods of others can be fun. But trying to force yourself into a mold you’re not meant to fit can be painful.
Start Talking About Your Writing Dreams
The story of the writer who writes in secret before telling friends and family may feel limited to your experience, but, believe me, it’s not. Nope, if you feel this way, you’re not the special exception, writer friend. You are the rule.
Talking about your writing dreams is a huge step in your writing journey. And, these days, it feeds right into your writing life if you plan to put your book on the market.
If you can’t yet talk to friends and family about your writing, start working on building your online author platform. Really, do that either way. Practice talking about your writing early and often. Share your experiences as you dive deeper into the life of a new writer. Give a few personal (but, you know, sensible) details about your life. Definitely talk about what makes your book unique.
This is how your author platform will begin and if you can gather friends and supporters early, you’ll be that much farther ahead when you’re ready to take your writing public – even
Don’t Give Up
Yeah. I know. Seems like a cop-out, right? Well, it’s not. How many aspiring writers have I met who give up a week, a month, or a year later? You may have big, BIG dreams for your writing. Those dreams might not pan out the way you expect. A willingness to adjust your expectations for the sake of continuing to write is what separates the authors from the writers and the writers from those who stop picking up a pen or sitting at a computer. Check out this great article from Well-Storied for more tips on working through writing doubt.
Just because you don’t land a bestseller with your first attempt doesn’t mean you suck. It might mean there’s not a large enough audience to hit the numbers you need for bestseller status. It might mean you didn’t get your work professionally edited or reviewed by anyone with industry experience.
And it could mean you still have a lot of work to do. Maybe you need to hone your craft. Perhaps you need to learn more about marketing. You might need to work on your social media to gain more followers who you can translate into readers.
The point is, getting those words down in the first place is the hardest part. Will the rest of it be work? Yeah. A whole heap of work. But you can’t do any of it without the words to get you there.
So, like I said at the top, start your writing habit. The rest will follow.
Until next time, writer friend, cheers and happy writing!