I’ve been writing since I was tiny. And over the years, I’ve probably made every mistake possible.
Okay, maybe not every mistake. But a whole lot of them! Plus I have a medal in English, and I taught English in a high school. So I know a little bit about good writing and grammar and all that stuff. I taught my first workshop for writers in 1992, and I’ve taught many workshops all over Canada and in the United States. So, as you might expect, I have TONS of advice to give.
However, this is just one blog. So what you’re going to get from me is the top 4 things I believe new writers need to know.
1. Writing is a very valid ministry option, so don’t let anyone tell you you’re wasting your time writing until you’ve given it a fair shot.
I’ve met far too many people who’ve either let someone else stop them from pursuing their dream, or else succumbed to their own fears that writing wasn’t a worthwhile way to spend their time. I find this to be a particular problem for Christians, who want to use their time wisely.
I mean, seriously, how easy is it to tell the pastor that you can’t lead the adult Bible study or teach Sunday school this year because you have to finish your romance novel?
Yeah, not that easy.
I could ream off many issues that aspiring writers have had to come up with solutions for. And answers. For other, but also for themselves.
As a result, many of them have given up on their dreams. Others have slogged on, possibly riddled with guilt, but not able to give up. And a few have embraced what they’re doing and reveled in it.
You can change lives with writing–even if only your own. So don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t worthy of your best efforts.
2. Don’t assume you have to write a book; there are all kinds of ways to get across your stories in writing, and you owe it to yourself to explore a bunch of them before you spend a lot of time and energy in one area.
I’d have to say the majority of new writers I meet want to write a book. Why? Because for some reason everyone seems to think that a book is the one thing that makes you a writer. It’s not. And not all writers have what it takes to write a book. Especially beginning writers.
And no matter what anyone might think, you can each many more people with a short piece (an article, a poem, a letter to the editor… you name it) than you can with a book.
For a lot of people, a book is little more than a status symbol. For many, it’s a complete waste of time.
And even with your goal has to be a book, I still recommend you start with short items, and put writing the book into your long-term goals. If nothing else, you can create a collection of smaller pieces.
Check out my blog on why you should write 10 short stories before you write a novel.
The same is true about a non-fiction book. Possibly even truer.
3. Forget the idea of a writer working alone in an attic or a log cabin somewhere: good writing and publishing involves a team effort.
Every once in a while, I meet an aspiring writer who’s terrified to tell me what he or she is working on. Most of them are afraid I’ll steal their idea. As if I didn’t already have too many of my own!
Some people are simply afraid to tell anyone they are writing because they expect a negative reaction.
Many are afraid they aren’t any good.
A few have tried a local writers’ group and had a bad experience. Or maybe sent something to an editor and had a bad experience. Or maybe had more than one bad experience.
Hey, the very first editor I ever talked to at my very first writers’ conference was totally rude and unhelpful and I felt lower than a worm after meeting with her. If I hadn’t already signed up for another interview with a different editor immediately after that one, I may have never tried again. Fortunately, the second editor was a total sweetheart.
So, yeah, you might have one or more bad experiences. But keep looking. Because the truth is that every writer, no matter how experienced, benefits from advice and support. There’s always something new to learn. There’s always someone who needs a little encouragement.
So if you don’t have a support group, keep trying until you find at least a few people who “get” you. And while it’s great to meet with other writers, they don’t all have to be writers. Just people who will encourage you, pray for you, perhaps hold you accountable for meeting your goals, and give you a pat on the back or a shoulder to cry on as needed.
4. Good writing involves a lot more work and a much bigger learning curve than most people realize.
This has always been the weirdest thing to me. Many people seem to feel that someone who has written a book is on a small pedestal (assuming it isn’t self-published, that is.) But at the same time, most people assume that they could write a book, too, if they chose to. I mean, we all went to school, right? So any of us can write if we want to.
So in a sense, being a writer becomes about making a choice.
The reality? Maybe anyone can write in one sense, but writing well is really hard work.
I’ve read a lot of badly written items over the years. Many of them have been published–some by top publishers.
There is writing and then there is writing. Just as there is singing or acting or playing sports. Sure, pretty well anyone can do something – but the good ones will always stand out. And most of the time, aside from the odd prodigy, even the best of them put in a lot of hours doing drills and practicing and otherwise working hard.
So if you don’t want it badly enough to take the time to learn what’s good and what isn’t, and you aren’t prepared to do the drills and the exercises, and work your way up, then becoming a writer might not be for you.
Below is a short webinar in which I share some key elements I’ve learned over the years that will help writers or aspiring writers understand the big picture.
Download a free 2-page pdf that will help you remember the 10 Essentials
In the future, I’ll be going into a lot more detail on all of these things. You can follow me on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/WriteWithExcellence
Excellent thoughts, NJ. Useful for both the novice and the seasoned writer.
Wise tips, NJ, and I can see you building a whole series of posts from this. And as a person who doesn’t like writing short stories (and who thus did not write as many as you suggest) I agree it’s a whole lot smarter to write short material first — if only because there’s a lot less work involved fixing it when you learn what’s wrong. Plus it can give you publishing credits and the satisfaction of finishing things.
Thanks for this great advice, NJ. I’ve printed out your handout and will watch the video after supper. I appreciate your generosity!
I really like the 10 Essentials hand out. The questions will make me think about how I accept myself as a writer. Great post!
Thanks for the nice words. Glad you found it helpful.
What great point, NJ! Points 1 & 2 resonate with me especially right now. With the many writers putting out their work it’s easy to think, why is any more needed from me?
Also, the impetus to put out a book is, as you say, often a matter of gaining prestige and fulfilling the expectation of others.
Thanks for the webinar. Will bookmark it and listen to it later.
I also think that many writers, like most creative people, struggle with self-doubt, depression, and all those nasty things that try to sap the energy out of us. Between the inner struggle, and, for too many, the struggle to prove yourself to family, friends, co-workers, etc., or just justify the time spent, the act of creation can seem like a constant battle.
N. J. I’ve learned so much from you and continue to learn! Thanks for sharing in these easy formats.
Thanks so much, Kim! Glad to help.
Your thoughts remind me of the famous cocktail party comment, ‘oh you’ve written a book. I’d write one, if I had the time.’ They get you on two fronts – 1) writing is easy 2) you’re obviously wasting your life away.
Really excellent points, N.J. I talked a lot in my post too about how much work and time it takes to achieve excellence in our craft – something every writer should strive for. Thank you for all this great advice!
Yup, it’s work all right. But somewhere in there you also have to love what you’re doing.
I love #3. I often wish I could go back in time where hermit writers were the norm. 🙂
I can relate. 🙂
On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s ever been more than a myth created by writers who were dreaming of their ideal world.
thanks. these are all wonderful tips
Great advice!!! Thanks!
I can sure relate to the bad editor experience. I met with one, at a conference. I can still remember her words. “You tell a good story, but the topic is a dime a dozen. You need a hook.” A comment like that shuts you down. Fast.
You make a good argument for the idea that as writers we need to respect our craft, and our role in carrying out that craft. Everyone reads, but it doesn’t occur to them that what they read has to come from someone’s heart, experience, imagination, and plain old effort. Thanks for the encouragement!
Ouch, sorry you had one of those, too, Bobbi.
On the other hand, now that I’ve been on the other side of quite a few of those interviews, I also know that the editor/agent/writer may not realize the effect their words are having. For starters, being human, they might have had a bad day. Or it might be the end of a long line of appointments,
But the editor might also have been unaware of/not thinking about where you were in your writing journey. So what might spur on one writer could devastate another one.
Re reading, yes, when it’s good we don’t usually notice the craft at all. That’s why it’s good for writers to not only read but study writing they like.