What I Wish I’d Known at the Start of my Writing Journey

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. As a child, I used to sneak away from family gatherings to devour another few chapters of a novel. I hid stories and a pen torch underneath my bedcovers for use after lights out. As an adult, I sometimes take my book with me to the toilets at work for just a few more minutes in my imaginary world.

By Cast a Line

Writing was a different matter. How old were you when you first started to put ink on paper? Have you always been compelled to write or is it a talent that has to compete for attention? I have dozens of half-written stories strewn across my hard drive, but it took having children to crystalise my dream: I wanted to write fiction professionally. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice at any given discipline to be successful at it. How I thank my lucky stars that it wasn’t my dream to be a professional footballer, or a ballet dancer. It’s never too late to start writing. There is no reason why you can’t write until you run out of stories.

Writing is time intensive. There are no short-cuts to learning the craft, but there are false starts. I decided to put a list together of tips I would share with writers at the start of their journey. Here they are:

Commitment is everything

Take yourself seriously as a writer. Establish a writing routine, commit to an idea and live your characters. Make sure you finish your stories, even if they don’t turn out the way you expected. Find someone to beta-read your work and polish it as much as you can. Don’t bury your stories in a drawer. Hand them to a reader and let them live. You want to be a writer? Act like one.

Find a support network

If it’s hard to share your dream with those close to you, find another support network. Join a local writers’ group, sign-up for National Novel Writing Month or find like-minded people on Twitter. I’m still shy about my writing dream but once I got the hang of Twitter there was no going back. I have learnt so much and received so much support from my Twitter family. There are voices there that I miss if I don’t hear them for a day or two, but I never feel the pressure to engage if I don’t want to. Surrounding myself with writers inspires me and motivates me to retain focus on my own writing. If you haven’t already checked out the writing communities around @FridayPhrases, @MondayBlogs and @FlashFridayFic, you’re missing out.

Literature and Latte’s Scrivener 

Scrivener is a revelation for long-form writing. At just under £30 at the time of writing this piece, it represents fantastic value for money for the job that it does and the amount of use I get out of it. It allows you to have one tidy document for each project. For me, tidy is really important. I need my head, my desk and my computer to be clear if I’m going to work well. Scrivener takes away the temptation to format your document as you go along. It allows you to create and manipulate text within one document. You can drag and drop files and urls into the research folder. It provides you with templates for different types of documents including character crib sheets and has a no fuss composition mode. You can mark up the document, create synopses on index cards and use split views to compare different versions of your text. There’s a tool for following  individual plot strands and to view project statistics. On completion you can create various versions of the document including text files, eBooks and webpages. Scrivener also automatically saves your work and has its own trash can, so it’s pretty much impossible for you to lose your work unless you are trying to. You can trial it for free for 30 days here.

Don’t fret if the words don’t flow

If the words aren’t flowing, shake up your routine. Don’t think too hard about the plot problem you are trying to unfurl or the phrasing you just can’t get right. Change your scenery by going for a walk. Make a playlist of songs to match the mood of your scene. Do something monotonous or repetitive like washing the dishes or doing the gardening. If the glowing screen in front of you is taunting you with your lack of productivity, grab a notebook and scrawl away in illegible writing, desecrate a pristine A3 pad with rubbish drawings. Give your story the room to come alive however it wants to.

What would you tell a writer at the start of their journey?

26 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Known at the Start of my Writing Journey

  1. Great post Nillu. Loved it. If i were to give future writers a piece of advice it would be to not take criticism pesonally. Use it to fuel your writing. Critiques are often more helpful than praise.

  2. When I “started out” I thought I had to write fiction. It wasn’t until much later I discovered that what mattered to me, and what I wrote well, was memoir. I guess I would encourage anyone “starting out” to have patience with themselves. False starts still get the motor going.

  3. I started to write diligently in the middle of last year, so I’m the beginner who is still in the false-start stage. I was lucky enough to find @FlashFridayFic around that same time so during weeks when I did not write more than a few hundred words for my blog, Flash Friday became my saving grace. Januray this year was the first time I shared my writing with a friend to critique and the response he gave me was so great I wondered why I never did that from the start.
    Now I write everyday (those Gladwell hours have to be achieved so I can call him a liar – or not) and I’ve also made the decision to show my work to more people. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll tell me I’m terrible at writing and should stick to engineering, I’ll run bury my head in shame for a week, pick up my pen again and put such people on my review blacklist.
    Great post, solid advice, thanks for sharing.

    1. What a great comment. I’ve read your Flash! Friday submissions and I really enjoy your writing. I think that’s a fab attitude to have. It takes courage to try new paths. If you need a reader, you know where to find me

  4. I completely understand not feeling comfortable sharing the dream with real life friends. Some people will get it and others will not. I was an English major, and I shudder to think about giving drafts to English majors I went to school with. Those folks need to experience our books as finished products, not as drafts.
    Awesome post!

    1. Hi Shane, yes am with you. I did English Lit and it is only the work I am most confident about that I have let them see. The thing is, readers have such different tastes that I am no longer sure whether my favourite pieces will be theirs ;). A huge plus in itself though. It would be boring if we all wrote the same way. Thanks for reading and commenting, n

  5. Don’t judge your progress by word counts. There are 6 stages in the Creative Process and in only one do you have fingers on the keyboard or pen on the page. So give yourself credit for all the work that goes into completing a writing project: discovering and refining the questions, research, incubating, brainstorming and dreamstorming, etc. Evaluate your progress in terms of whether you honor your commitments to show up for a specified number of minutes. Commit to a small amount of time (15 Magic Minutes — you can always keep going if you want) several times a week and honor that commitment no matter what!

  6. This is such a great post!! I really love that last idea that suggests to stop agonizing about a plot/character problem and go for a walk or to go do something else and then come back to it. That’s exactly what I’m going through right now with my WIP.
    I guess what I’d tell a writer who’s just starting out is (a) Yay!! You’re writing, that’s awesome : ) and (b) don’t give up if you receive a few bad critiques. Because like Charlie Chaplin said, “it takes courage to make a fool of yourself” and sometimes we’re going to feel foolish after we’ve shared our work with someone who didn’t appreciate it. That’s okay, just fix your manuscript and keep writing, because your story IS important.
    Wow. This was a long comment.
    Anyway, great post! : D

    1. Hi Paula, I love those points. The virtual high-five you give in point a is spot on. It is such a privilege to create something new. And bringing in Chaplin to your comment – well that’s genius ;). Thanks for reading, n

  7. I was thinking about what I would say earlier on in my daydreams when I was writing, and I want to tell others it’s a process. I wrote my first novel in eight months in 2012 and the journey was such a joyful experience. The downside to that was the end. I was so sad to see it completed. Now I know it’s still a process, especially if I want to do a third and fourth edit on it before attempting query letters for agents.
    I would tell aspiring writers like myself to stay on the ride, if they’re as determined as I am. I have been writing my second book ever since I finished the first back in 2012 and though it’s been a long process, I think it will be another while before this one will be done (along with the fact I am studying human resources so that I can work once done school and keep writing until I get the full-time status I want).
    Also, and most finally, a writer starting on their journey? Write. Read. Do both everyday! It’s a must. I believe in writing and pushing yourself and beyond the limits. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to come because it’s not true. Inspiration may come out of nowhere, yes I experience that all the time! But I need to catch it, write it down, and let it sit for when the time is right. It could be for the moment I’m writing, a future idea, or even for the past when editing. Reading will inspire and maybe even sometimes, like myself, may think, I should get back to my story and make it as good as this published author in my hand! Connect with authors as well. Your favourite ones and get noticed! Tell them you’re an aspiring writer and they’ll wish you good luck (and look forward to reading your writing even!). Also, a writing class is a great way to get noticed and even get a set of beta-readers! Of the creative writing classes I’ve taken, that workshopped my first novel’s first chapter, we’ve mostly gathered ourselves together as a writing group and still connect with our writing (or anything writing or related to books). Embracing change as stories, once you’re really into it, will evolve and tell you what they are, NOT what you want them to be. With that, I outline and use Word (may not be in the hang with Scrivener yet!) for all my chapters, drafts, completed manuscripts, notes, all sorts of things. Outlines can change and keep changing as you progress. My first novel had a few outlines that evolved but broadly stayed the same with wiggle room. My second novel in first draft progress, I’m doing smaller outlines. Smaller in the sense of parts of what the next few chapters will contain. Once I finish, I make another and more. Finally, with outlines in mind, I would not start a book until I know my ending. Knowing your ending will give you a finishing point on where to stop and help you guide your story as to how it will get there. Should your ending change, be modified, or loosen up a little bit even? You’re the author, you have the AUTHORity to your story, aspiring author that’s reading this.

  8. […] The busiest day of the 2014 for this blog was May 5 with 793 views, the day my article ‘The Forgotten Joys of Longhand Writing’ was Freshly Pressed. On average though, I tend to get about 20 views a day and that increases marginally if I post more than once a week. The next most read pieces were my short story ‘The Voyeur’ (which I have now taken down as it seems Akash isn’t finished with me yet and his story has begun to grow into a novel), ‘In Praise of Slowness’, ‘Fear of Change and The Promise of New Beginnings’ and ‘What I Wish I’d Known at the Start of my Writing Journey.’ […]

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