More Writing Advice (getting started)

Aren’t forums great?  I’ll have nothing to write one moment– no burning desire to put any words down, then a simple, innocent question will spark a whole essay I didn’t know wanted out.


Case in point: A question recently from someone on her first book, claiming no training in writing, and wondering how she can compete with the mass of work “out there.”

After re-reading I think my response sounds rather tart, and maybe I should have let it sit an hour before posting… but by then I was afraid answers like, “don’t give up” and “you can do it!” would have been par for the course, then I’d really look snarky.

One of the most liberating things I ever read was a woman describing an author’s pannel she’d been on where another author gave permission to a WWII survivor not to write her story.

Everyone keeps telling me I should write a book, the old woman said nervously.

Think long and hard before you do, the writer told her.  Writing a book is hard work, if you don’t love it you’ll never make it to the end (and might feel like you failed in something important).

I’ve thought of that exchange a number of times when listening to other people talk about the book they want to write, and that’s what I think of first when I hear someone new doubting him/herself.

Self-doubt is not always a bad thing.  Sometimes it is entirely reasonable and accurate. . .  This is a good place to apply discernment in personal interaction, and I beg you other writers to simply ask for encouragement if that what you need!

Of course, a bit of my annoyance may be unfair; some people just don’t know themselves well enough to know which they need: encouragement to go on or permission to let go.

~ ~ ~

Especially with your first book I’d say just enjoy the journey. Because if you can’t, you shouldn’t expect to make a go of this writing thing.

You don’t need “formal training” but you do need to read about writing, and learn from people who know the difference between good and bad writing.

**One thing that really bothers me in/about the arts is the illusion some have that that getting “good” on your own is somehow more worthy or perfect or “pure”  than learning from more experienced people.**

Setting yourself under those who know is quite simply the most efficient way to get bast the basics and begin growing truly innovative because the artist no longer has to design the foundation on which he will build.

Don’t be embarrassed to seek instruction– whether in person or from books.

And if you lower your expectations on this current work of yours, say, to “practice novel” rather than “publishable novel” you’ll get the chance to learn the most important (I’m told) lesson about noveling (*finishing*) without the extra pressure of will anyone buy this?

I’ve read that most published authors did not publish the first book they wrote, so we should check our expectations against that.

Just write. Put words down without trying to look perfect– that comes later.

So here’s the quick version of my advice (as unqualified as I may be to offer any):

  • don’t keep writing if it’s not enjoyable/fulfilling (there’re too many fun things to do to waste time on something you don’t enjoy),
  • actively seek to improve yourself through outside input (don’t assume you have everything you need inside you: no one does), and then
  • just sit down and write without expectations until you can (because of your research and reading) begin to evaluate the quality of your writing.

Then keep going.

**Eventually you’ll also have to get up the nerve to show your work to other writers and see how accurate your perceptions of your own work are (and be willing to be wrong about yourself– in either direction).

But that’s not something you have to do from the beginning. Start with enjoyment. If that’s there, the rest will come more naturally.**

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Today’s give-away was for Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


8 thoughts on “More Writing Advice (getting started)

  1. That’s an awesome post! Sometimes I think that the only real reason I’m making it through my book is because I don’t really care too much about getting it published. If it is publishable, then all the better for me!

  2. I recognize the truth and wisdom of acknowledging that one’s first novel is rarely published. I think it’s one of the factors that keeps me from plugging ahead with my novel WIP. I love the story too much for it to NOT be published. :) So I’m focusing on non-fiction first…I know I can finish a non-fiction mss more easily and quickly, and if i can’t sell it as a whole, i can sell the parts to magazines.

  3. Drawing is now closed. “Random number generator” said 5, so Purple Moose is my winner. (I’ll e-mail you for your address).

    Congrats, and thanks everyone for playing.

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