As a writer, one of the things I’m asked most often is for advice on writing. As a former college writing teacher, I actually really enjoy talking about the ins and outs of the process. I thought today’s blog might be a good spot to condense down some of my favorite bits of wisdom for anyone who might be contemplating writing a book.
Over years of writing, serious authors hone their process. As we do so, we tend to write about those tweaks and share our hard won wisdom with others, resulting in a proliferation of advanced how-to material that can really overwhelm the new writer. For that reason, I recommend limiting your exposure to a lot of sophisticated writing guidelines at first. Try doing some of the work on an instinctive basis, allowing your personal notions of what a story should be to guide you. This way, you experience some of the pitfalls and obstacles first hand, an experience that will make the how-to literature more meaningful to you when you turn to it. By making a few mistakes on your own, you learn more than reading about other people’s failures. Honestly, mistakes in writing give you a broader education because they not only point you in a better direction to improve your work, they crystallize whole writing principles for you.
There’s a reason people in all disciplines tend to prize experience over book-smarts. It’s the same way in writing. Don’t be afraid to ignore the rules and make a few mistakes of your own.
That being said, don’t avoid the rules forever. Write a few chapters or write half a book and see what writing questions develop. Then turn to the how-to material to find some answers. It’s important to know that no publisher wants a 750 page tome from a first time author in genre fiction. But don’t panic if your book already breaks a few other rules. What you’ve gained by some time “flying blind” is the chance to develop your own voice without too much self-editing. The longer you write, you’ll realize what a great gift you gave yourself.
Next up, write often. You don’t need to write every day– although many writers suggest this helps immerse them in the story world– but you should set a schedule for writing and stick to it. No writer’s block allowed. Whether or not you have ideas to bring to the paper, be sure to write when your schedule says to write. Often, the act of writing nudges your brain into story telling mode so that after a few difficult paragraphs, your ideas will start coming together. Give yourself time to get to that point.
Finally, commit to the process. Once you’ve decided to write a book, give yourself the tools and time necessary to complete the task and follow through. You won’t know what you could have accomplished in your book until you slog your way through all two hundred, four hundred, or however many pages to see for yourself. Writing takes time, patience and persistence. The task is often frustrating and, because it’s a solitary endeavor, it’s also lonely work. But the rewards of having an idea and watching it grow and flourish into a full blown book are tremendous. Any writer will tell you the most fulfilling moment of writing a story isn’t so much the pleasing turns of phrase or well-spun ideas. It’s writing “The End” at the bottom of that last page. There’s a unique pleasure in having written a book and sharing a tangible work of art with the world that started out as a small kernel of idea in your mind.