I'm in a number of Facebook groups for writers and authors -- one of my absolute favorite resources, to be honest -- and I frequently see posts from new writers who are looking for advice on how to get started. These folks might have the idea for their first work or not even know where to begin coming up with that idea, but what I often see from these posts is that people are waiting for just the right information or plan or magic bullet before they can begin to take action. I say that with zero judgement, because I was definitely there once, too–looking to have just the right plan in place to take me from outline to completed draft, the best of everyone’s tools and tricks so I could skip learning things the hard way.
Today's post is for the new writers, those who want to be writers, and those who are already writing but haven't yet realized that they get to call themselves writers, too.
To start, you have to start
We're going to start with the most basic and also most uncomfortable advice. To start, you have to start. Nobody has the magic tool or workflow or outlining process that is going to make you turning your ideas into a novel an easy task. It is inherently challenging, if for no other reason than the fact that it takes time, either showing up day after day for short amounts of time or showing up less frequently for more intense work. But the truth is that no one can write a novel in a day, and working towards goals we can't accomplish in a day is uncomfortable for us as humans. We want a quick fix, an easy button, and a guarantee of success. But here's the truth about writing, as I understand it at least: it's going to be a mess. You're not going to do it perfectly the first time you sit down to tell a story on a page. But if you hold out waiting until you "feel ready" to begin, a year is going to pass. Or a decade. Or a lifetime. If, however, you can start working on it today in some sort of imperfect way, you'll have a starting point to get better and better from. You can hone your craft once you begin working on it, but if you're just researching how to write and looking for the best drafting tools and waiting for the stars to align, you're missing the most important ingredient. Start writing, do it badly, and improve incrementally. Unless someone was born with a super rare, very special and talented genius writer gene, that's how it works for all of us.
Find what works for you
Now, I know you're going to do some research about how to write a book, let's be honest. If you took my advice from the first paragraph and just dove right into writing, there's no reason you'd be reading this blog in the first place. But if you're like most of us starting out, the temptation is there to read every single writer's "how I turn an idea into a novel" article that you can find. And that's great that they've shared this with us, it truly is. Heck, I might even share my own process later on in a future blog. But the important thing to remember, from the beginning, is that there isn't one process that works for everyone.
We're all different in so many ways, so how could we possibly tell stories in the same way? Of course, there's the classic division of plotters versus pantsers, but there's more than just that. Some people write their first drafts so cleanly that they're nearly ready to be published after just a round of edits or two. And some people, like me, subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea that the key to the first draft is speed and getting the words down on the page. My first drafts, as a result, are full of typos, plot holes, and characters who seem to have amnesia and can't remember that they already met someone in the previous chapter. Heck, I have spent pages and pages referring to one character as [BLAH BLAH], simply because the time it would take me to think of a name for him (he didn't originally need one because he only sprang into existence midway through a chapter) would take away from time better spent getting words down on the page.
Play around. Learn about all sorts of different ways of drafting a novel, try them out, and see which one works best for you. There's no shame in doing things your way, and if it helps to put your head down and focus on your own work, tuning out everyone else talking about their process, then there's no shame in that, either.
Be kind and gentle
If you're going to have a writing career that lasts longer than ten minutes, it's essential to be kind and gentle with yourself–or else to develop such a thick skin that you don't care what anyone thinks, not even your own inner critic. Honestly, being compassionate with yourself will serve you in so many areas of your life that I can't recommend it highly enough. If you practice being gentle with yourself about your creative endeavors, maybe before you know it, you'll find it easier to be gentle with yourself about your habits, your appearance, or whatever else it is that makes you want to turn on the snark and direct it towards your sweet self.
This is one reason why I absolutely love Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. It introduced me to the practice of morning pages, which are like therapy for me whenever I practice them regularly. Morning pages are three pages of long form writing done as soon after waking up as possible, and they are done in the stream of consciousness style–no thinking about what to write, no editing it, but simply filling up the pages. This is helpful for clearing out whatever garbage has accumulated in your mind, but there's another facet to it that I find particularly appealing. Cameron forbids her students from going back and reading their morning pages until they're well into the 12-week Artist's Way program. This helps disconnect our creative side from our critical side, and it is easier to write more freely knowing that no one else (not even you) is going to read those words. For myself, I know those pages I wrote each day were mainly garbage, recitations of the same stresses from a different angle day after day. But because I was putting pen to paper each day, writing down sentences that certainly weren't worthy of being published, it became easier for me to write other words, later on in the day when I was in my creative writing mode. I practiced ignoring and bypassing my inner critic every single morning, and it paid off in dividends. If the idea of a spiritual journey to higher creativity appeals to you, I can't recommend The Artist's Way highly enough.
Be on your way
There isn’t much more to it than that, at least not in my experience. If you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, or like you’re just pretending to be a writer, then great news: you’re not alone! You can do this, starting right where you are today. You’ll get better the more you do it, so why not take a few minutes today to get your first words down on the page?
What story is waiting to come to life through you, and how can you take the first small step towards making that a reality?