So you want to be a writer. You read a lot of books, and you think it would be really cool to see your name on a fabulous story. But writing is for writers, right? Normal people don’t write books. Only people who have magically transformed into this amazing, mysterious being known as a writer can write books. Right?
That way of thinking, while unfortunately pretty common, is a big pile of baloney. I thought that way myself for years. Sure, I made up lots of stories. Sure, I even wrote them down in carefully concealed notebooks that no one would ever see. But that didn’t make me a writer. Writers were people who produced amazing tales without effort, typing away in a special magical world, untroubled by reality. Writers never had to go back and revise or edit, because everything came out shiny, perfect, and publication-ready.
The real truth is, writers are people who write. It’s not any kind of magical ability. It’s a lot of work, really. But it’s worth all the effort to have a finished story come out the other end.
So how do you do this writing thing? It’s a very individual process, coming as it does from inside a writer. Here are some suggestions to get you going.
Find a spot to write. Okay, I know that sounds very self-evident. But it helps to have a designated spot to write in, because your brain gets accustomed to being creative in that spot. Some people like privacy, some like sitting in the middle of a busy coffee shop. Experiment a bit. Look around. If you write with portable tools, like a laptop or pen and paper, you’re free to find a spot wherever you can get to easily and won’t get chased off by annoyed workers. If you’re like me and write on a desktop computer, make your space around the computer special. Fill it with things you like. Because guess what? If you’re serious about writing, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time there.
One of my biggest challenges is finding time to write, and I absolutely am not alone in that. My solution was to start getting up ridiculously early in the mornings (4:30am, UGH!) and reserving an hour for writing. It’s rather hard to get up that early, but very worth it. I highly recommend setting aside a specific time, whether daily or weekly or whatever, that is your specific writing time. Although if an idea hits you at some other time, by all means scribble that bad boy down! If you can do so safely, that is. Because if you put it aside for later, it just might vanish, and leave you wondering what that idea was you had on the way to work.
Becoming a good writer does not just happen. Well, maybe it does if you’re some kind of amazing super-being, but for the rest of us, we have to learn how to write. There are a vast number of books available on the craft of writing, many of which are actually far more interesting than your high school English class. There are also a lot of writing classes and workshops available. Writer’s Village University is my favorite. Looking around on the site, it looks like they’ve killed off the old free F2K course, but they offer a $30 trial membership. I’ve let my paid membership lapse due to financial issues, but it was very much worth the cost.
There are also a near-infinite variety of free “how to write” resources on the web. Obviously. You’re reading one right now. Look around. Explore the different resources. Be aware that some of what you’ll find is pure crap. Pick up the bits and pieces of advice that work for you, and remember them.
There’s a book out there called Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Overall, it bugged me, for an assortment of reasons. But. The book gave me two concepts that are very important to my writing. One of these is writing practice.
Here’s a quick overview of the technique. Dedicate fifteen minutes of your day to writing. Not thinking, not daydreaming, writing. Get busy. Write what’s in you head, even if it’s just stream-of-consciousness. Keep it up for the full fifteen minutes.
And then, after you’re done, you might just find something amazing in the verbal barf you just produced: an idea, a neat turn of phrase, a sentence you’re just dying to have your main character use. There you go.
Another benefit to writing practice is that it gets you in the habit of writing. This ties in to what I’ve already said about location and time. It’s all about habits and training your brain. Or, if you prefer, training your muse.
Permission To Write
Yes, that sounds stupid. But it’s not. Give yourself permission to write. Forget about whatever societal baggage you’re dragging around that says only writers can write. And then take it one step further and apply the other world-changing bit of advice Natalie Goldberg offers: It’s okay to write shitty first drafts. No one’s going to read them unless you want them to. If your characters want to run around calling each other poopy-heads, that’s fine. Just get the words out on the page, whether paper or virtual. Once you’ve produced a whole, complete story, then you can worry about fixing it. So let yourself go! Tell your inner editor to put a sock in it. Sit down and write!
Okay, there you go. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just a paraphrasing of some different basic concepts I’ve seen pop up again and again since I decided to start writing for real. What it really boils down to is summed up in the absolute best piece of writing advice I’ve ever been given: Apply butt to chair. Place fingers on keyboard. Write!