These tips are as much for me, if not more so, than anyone else. They’re about me solidifying and clarifying my thoughts by writing them down, which also then gives me them as a resource to look at when needed. It’s very easy when writing to forget your why and attack problems as individual things, when remembering your base principles and operating in them makes everything smoother. It’s like how smart athletes and martial athletes drill to make certain stances instinctual.
Since I’m writing them down, I will be sharing them with you. Hopefully people will get something from it. Should they? Should people listen to me when I’m just a guy in the query trenches? Well, to repeat something from a different advice article.
- One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. Ergo, of course I should be trying to give writing advice. The question is whether others should be listening to it.
- A big part of writing is working out what advice works for you, who to trust and who to take with a little salt, so working out how much of this to listen to is a good exercise for writers.
- I do absorb a lot of writing advice and spend time thinking about it. I can’t tell you what I write has made me a success, but I know it has made other people successes.
One final point. This article is more about approaching being a writer than actual writing. That’s why it says for beginner writers. However, you could make a case that this article is actually better suited to more advanced writers who can get art that looks like what they want, but who are fine tuning what they do to bump up the results, and that newer writers should simply get good writing down first. And by “you” I mean “I am thinking that”. That said, I am also thinking the other thing, and also I have this list done and the actual writing list undone. So consider this as falling under point 2.
1. Approach With Joy
This is such an obvious one, but also very easy to forget when you’re deep in the grind and see advice like “if you can live without writing, do so”. Which isn’t totally wrong, but probably is if you’re just not enjoying writing at all. Most things in life go better when you enjoy them. So enjoy writing! Remember what about it makes you happy, seek for it if you can’t. Even a miserable bollocks like myself can actually enjoy writing.
2. Form A Writing Habit
If there’s one thing you have to do to be a writer, it is write. It might be the only thing too. Everything else there’s probably some way around but, using write as “any form of making the words in your head appear in a physical form others can read”, I can’t think of a way around here. It’s the fundamental act, and the best way to learn. So the best writers usually write a lot, and the best way to write a lot is to form a habit. Maybe the habit is writing on the train, or getting up early before work, or just opening up your document whenever you have five minutes. Whatever it is, the stronger it is, the more you’ll write.
3. Be Prepared To Grind
In a way, these three are interlinked steps, from the ideal way to write retreating back to prepared positions for when that doesn’t work. Grinding it out, even when you hate it, is like the final wall of the defence. You don’t really want to be here but if you’re not okay with going for it once you are, you will struggle to get work done. Relentlessly grinding away to get more words done every day is probably unhealthy, but embracing the idea that some days will be perspiration rather than inspiration – without forgetting point 1 – is probably good. It’ll also probably make you happier too, to know it’s coming and know you won’t back down.
4. Observe Life
Good writing is, at some point, about reflecting life and presenting things from it in way where readers have positive reactions. Even the most alien sword & sorcery tales will have this – what we think is courage, what is funny and what’s terrifying, and so on. We all observe life naturally but I think there’s something to be said for occasionally being a little deliberate at times. Take a moment to see how two people stand when they talk, or try fording a river yourself, or many other things. The more you know, the richer you writing will be.
5. Seek Diverse Writing Influences
In a similar vein, the more different styles of writing and storytelling you encounter, the more you can stick into your work. Not only does this allow you to build a stronger style, it should also make it more unique, and allow you to do the sort of genre-straddling works that seem to be attracting more and more commercial attention these days. Should you read these things out of duty? I wouldn’t, but even the most dyed in the wool one genre fan (i.e. me) will find things outside the genre they love if they look. Reading what makes you better and reading what you love shouldn’t be a choice.
6. Write What You’re Passionate About
Another obvious one, but easy to lose in the barrage of advice. To me, this is what replaces “write what you know”. Thing is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a swordsman of old, or how dragons act. But I am passionate about such things. I can combine them with my lived experience in some places, I can research and research… but I’m only going to want to do that if I’m passionate about it, innit.
7. Learn to Discern
I’ve posted about this one before, but the big thing about being a good writer is learning. Unless you’re hugely, ridiculously talented, you need to learn. But there will be an overwhelming amount of lessons being offered. The only way to avoid that is to apprentice yourself to one person and never seek feedback from another, or work with them, or read reviews. That seems impossible. So you have to learn how to work out what lessons fit your aim (which also means knowing what your aim is). Being able to tell when you’ve done it right is huge too, but many authors never do that – they just work out who to trust on when they’ve done it right.
8. Find Your Crowd
You can be a lone genius but it is difficult. I have received so much help and cheerleading from people as I’ve worked closer to the idea of being a published writer and it has meant so much. I am a hugely different writer from when I started. I am a somewhat different person too, but not so stoic that I never need encouragement. If anything I am less stoic and need to surround myself with more enthusiasm. Beyond sheer practicality is also many strong friendships too, and I think I wouldn’t get what I need without those friendships, so there’s more than one reason to seek out like-minded writing people. But even when you don’t make great forever friends, the practicalities still matter. Find your crowd, find help, lean into them and give as you take.
Here endeth the thoughts.