Welcome, friends, to a post about writing when you are new to the craft. First, let’s do a little housekeeping. You may have questions. I think I have guessed a couple of them. Let’s see if I’m right.
Isn’t it presumptuous of you to be giving writing advice when you aren’t published (indie or traditional)?
Yes and no. I’m not going to be telling you about “my sure fire way to get published”, “the top 10 things you MUST do as a writer”, or even “all the mistakes I made during my first year writing”. Believe me, do I ever have plenty of content for the last one.
But no. This is an experience report. An opinion piece on all the things I believe a new writer will probably notice as well. At least if they are half as dim-witted and brain-addled as I am.
Wait. Haven’t you been writing way more than a year?
Yes. Sort of. I’ll explain eventually, give me time. I REQUIRE TIME.
On to the experiences!
Your first year as a writer
The first year as a writer is one of the most frustrating things a person can experience.
You’re thrust from the world where people don’t see your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on display for full scrutiny. Now those same thoughts, feelings, and ideas are available in a format where anyone and everyone can analyze them at their leisure.
It’s like if you moved your funny bone from its semi-protected spot on your elbow all the way down onto your fingertips. Now every time you angry-text someone, you get a nerve zinger shooting up your arm.
It’s ok. Sometimes people are kind– oh wait. Sometimes Roy is right too:
You’ll spend hours revising and proofreading
You will spend hours checking the words you wrote. You’ll look for spelling errors, grammar gaffes, poor phrasing, long sentences, short sentences, too many sentences that all are the same length, use of all five senses, nice rhythm and flow, consistent persona and tense, and the list goes on and on.
Everyone goes through this. We all have to learn it. Good news: the longer we spend looking at these mistakes and fixing them, the less likely they are to get into our zero-draft work in the first place.
You’ll receive conflicting advice
You’ll get advice from other writers, much of it conflicting.
You’ll be drawn in different directions by people with more experience than you. Who’s opinion should you take on board? Who’s right and who’s wrong?
As a wiser person than me once said: there are very few absolutes in the world. What works for one writer may not work for another and vice versa.
Reserve judgment on the “facts” you see and hear. When a writer tells you that she thinks writing in 15-minute sprints is better than waiting for bigger blocks of time, ask her why she thinks that. If you’re lucky, you’ll get concrete reasons for the opinion, and you will have learned something. Collect ideas from more than one writer. Find out if there’s a consensus. Read the original material and do your own research. Take no-one’s opinion as gospel, but put effort into formulating your own.
Try some of the different ideas, but not all of them. You’ll be forever experimenting otherwise. Just be sure you quit the things that are not working.
You won’t know what to learn
Should you learn more about tactical sentence structure? Do you need to figure out how to make your characters life-like? Does creating a plot structure terrify you? How early should you start building a following and how do you do that? How do you world-build and how much world building is too much? Where do you find reliable resources on writing? And if you have to learn all this, what order should you learn it in?
It’s a hard enough to learn just exactly what the list of things you should learn are. Worse, you also have to prioritize the list.
I’ve gone down some rabbit holes in my time. My best experience thus far has been when I’m writing new words every day, and I try to get answers to the things that come up as I’m writing.
Also, having a good writing group at your back is an immense help here. If you aren’t part of a writing group… be part of a writing group.
Your ego is in your words
You’ll feel that a failing in your words is a failing in you as a writer. If someone finds mistakes in your writing, you’ll feel it’s an attack on you.
Learning to write well: you need to get some less desirable words out on paper/screen before you’ll start writing better ones. There isn’t a way around it. Just accept that you’ll be writing poorly at times.
Writers with more experience stay a little more detatched. They’ve already written tons of words even they consider terrible. Try to welcome criticism. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Man, sometimes I want so badly to get defensive about words just because I happened to be the one that wrote them. The good news is, as the old coding saying goes, your words are not your child. You can throw them out if they get unruly. No one will even bat an eyelash.
You’ll feel like you have to know everything
The good news is: you don’t.
You’ll probably quit a lot
Maybe you won’t. I did. This is the answer to the question above. I just now feel like I’ve really had a year’s worth of writing effort. I will say this (and break my rule about giving advice in this article in the process):
Quitting is how you lose. In fact, it’s the only way you lose. Keep writing. Write every day or nearly every day.
It will pay off.
Thanks to Najaf Ali for setting up a great template in his article about the first year writing code. In more than a few ways, coding and writing are alike. I shamelessly thieved Najaf’s format for this post.