When I first started writing seriously, I looked up all my favorite authors online to see what they had to say. The advice I found there was invaluable, so for anyone interested in being a writer–whether you’re eight years old or one hundred and eight years old (it’s never too soon or too late to tell your story)–here’s my input…
Read a lot. Read old books. Read new books. Read short books. Read long books. Read popular books and unpopular books. Read books for kids and book for adults. Read nonfiction and fiction. Read mysteries and sci-fi and fantasy and Westerns and thrillers and…I think you get the idea. If you want to be a writer, first be a reader.
2. Be a thoughtful reader.
Read first (and foremost) for enjoyment, but then ask yourself questions. Analyze the storytelling as a writer, and consider things like…
- What did you like about the book?
- How did the writer hold your interest/keep you turning the pages?
- How did the writing balance exposition with action and dialogue?
- How did the author make the characters feel real?
- What sensory details stood out to you, and which ones could you have done without?
Write a lot. I know that sounds obvious, but (if you are anything like me) you will often find this the hardest item on the list.
There will be math homework to finish or dishes to dry or T.V. shows to watch or internet quizzes to take. There will be emails to write and phone calls to make and coffee to brew and friends to text. Every time you sit down to write, there will be a hundred other things you could be doing–maybe should be doing–but if you want to be a writer, then don’t feel guilty for taking the time to write.
Commit to your goal. Commit to your dreams. Respect yourself as a writer and give yourself permission to spend time each day writing. (Just don’t spend your entire writing time watching videos of cats being scared by cucumbers. Not that I speak from personal experience. And not that I would ever watch videos of people scaring cats. It’s not nice.)
4. Be a thoughtful writer.
Use the same types of questions from point two and apply them to your own writing.
5. Finish a project.
Every time I commit to a writing project, I get fifty ideas for new writing projects. The new ideas will always be more interesting, more exciting, have more possibilities, and–of course–they are guaranteed to succeed…whereas my current project is showing signs of failure. Learn to resist the siren call of the new project.
Sometimes your Muse really is speaking to you and you must obey. But usually if it’s a good idea, it will still be there when you finish your current work-in-progress, so ignore the voices that try to tempt you away. Choose a project, focus on it, and finish it. There is tremendous satisfaction in finishing a manuscript.
6. Enjoy each milestone.
When you do finish a project–take some time to celebrate your achievement.
Writing can be a challenging and competitive pursuit. Rather than compare yourself to others (which will almost always make you miserable–both in the writing life and outside of it), focus on your accomplishments and enjoy each victory, no matter how small.
7. Be open to feedback.
It can be hard to listen to feedback on your writing. You put a piece of yourself into your storytelling, and so criticism is often a little painful, but considering what trusted critique partners and skilled beta readers have to say can give you invaluable insight and help improve your manuscript drastically.
8. Learn the craft.
As much as we love overnight success stories–it’s fun to hear about someone who just sits down at their kitchen table and writes a bestselling novel in only a few weeks–most writers spend years developing their craft. There are excellent books, workshops, and graduate programs designed to help writers. Use whatever resources are available to you to refine your writing…whether it’s through reading, critique groups, professional organizations, etc…
For more ideas and inspiration, listed below are some of the books that have helped me on my own writing journey. (Please note, these are books I read and used as an adult.)
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Story by Robert McKee
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
- Mysteries and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
- The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard S. Marcus
- Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard S. Marcus
- A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson