What is the best advice for aspiring writers? Especially for those who are still mostly at the beginning of their writing journeys?
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a young teenage writer to chat about writing, answer her questions, and offer my advice. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about writing and publication—what writer doesn’t, right?
Afterward I couldn’t help analyzing what I’d told her and wondering if I’d covered the most helpful basics. So, in light of the conversation, I thought I’d write a list of my top advice to aspiring writers. In the comments, I’d love to hear any other advice YOU would give. Or any questions you have.
Here’s my top advice to beginners (in sequential order):
1. With the first book, let your creativity have free reign.
Don’t worry about “rules” or market needs or any parameters. Let this book be for you. There’s something about that first book (or first few) that helps unleash the creative side of story-telling.
2. Finish a book.
This is absolutely essential. There’s nothing like the experience of completing a book from first page to the last to help a writer move out of the wannabe category. Set a writing schedule and goals. I recommend writing a certain amount of words per day and keeping a running log. Start with 300-500 words a day. If you write more, great. But give yourself a realistic, do-able minimum.
3. Study basic fiction-writing techniques.
After completing your first book or two, check out fiction “how-to” books from a local library. Take lots of notes. Invest in and mark up a couple fiction-writing “bibles” like James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure or Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (see the links in my sidebar).
(See this post: 4 Ways to Find a Critique Partner.) Once you get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, your writing skill level may be reaching a publishable quality, then it’s time to seek out a critique partner/group. If you seek out one too soon, the feedback could end up being overwhelming and perhaps even destructive to the early creative process and fragile self-confidence of a budding writer.
6. Enter a writing contest.
Contests are a great way to begin to gauge where your skill level is at compared to other writers—especially in your genre. The judges’ feedback can also be eye-opening. But like with critique feedback, I don’t think writers should enter contests too early unless they’re prepared for critical, perhaps even harsh, feedback.
7. Begin learning all you can about the writing industry.
Follow agent and editor blogs. Find out what’s going on in the market. Learn about the types of publishing. Study guidelines. Discover what is standard and acceptable in today’s book world.
8. Start devoting more time to developing a web presence.
Notice how far down the list I put this for aspiring writers. I DO think there is a huge value in beginning a blog early in a writing career (See this post: 3 Reasons to Start Blogging Before a Book Contract). And I also think there are plenty of benefits from other social media. However, all too often I see beginning writers put the development of a web presence up too high in this list. All of the other above points should take priority.
9. Network with other writers.
Perhaps go to a writer’s conference. Join writing organizations. Develop genuine friendships. These relationships are invaluable to a writer’s career for encouragement, support, help, and promotion.
10. Most importantly, keep writing new books and always strive to learn more.
We never “make it.” We’re never finished learning and growing. We should never stop with one book while we wait to hear from agents and publishers. We need to write the next and challenge ourselves to make it better than last. Then repeat ad infinitum.
I admit. The above top ten list is my process. It’s what I did. And in the writing world, there’s no one-size fits-all journey. I spent years and years writing and learning before I reached a publishable point in my career. And yet, there’s no magic formula, no set number of years, and no required number of “practice” books before a writer is ready for publication.
However, the more we practice and study the craft of writing, the closer we’ll get to realizing the dream of publication.
Your turn! What’s your top advice to beginning writers? What do you think is most important from my top ten list?