Getting Up to Speed: Six Tips for Beginning Writers
Every writer was a beginner once, but the smart ones don’t stay there long. And by “smart” I simply mean the writers who are willing to immediately start putting together their personal writing tool kit and knowledge base. If you want to make progress and achieve some “success”, whatever that means for you, I encourage you to seek out resources that will nurture your natural talent. I’ve put together some tips for beginning writers to help you fast-track it through that early writing stage:
1-Listen to podcasts
We live in a podcast age. In fact, my exposure to new music has decreased dramatically because I’m always listening to podcasts when I’m driving or walking. There are lots of writing podcasts to choose from, so dig around a bit and then venture down some rabbit holes when your app gives you recommendations. The Writing Excuses podcast is a great starting point and the episodes are only about 15 minutes long. One of the things you’ll start picking up is writing lingo. In no time you’ll feel comfortable tossing around terms like inciting incident, in medias res, and beat.
2-Read classic books
I know you want to be reading in the genre you’re writing in, and you should read in that genre. But if you’re new to this, it’s a must that you expose yourself to great sentences as part of your training. Whether or not a book itself is “great” is somewhat arbitrary and contemporary books can certainly qualify. But that’s a discussion for another time. Pick up something short—Toni Morrison’s Sula or True Grit by Charles Portis. Dive in, and if you don’t like the book you don’t have to read more than a couple of chapters. But this is for sure—you must read sentences that are better than the ones you know how to write if you want to improve.
3-Find a teacher
Google “literary center” and you’ll find many links to organizations offering in-person and online classes. Here’s a list to get you going. If you live in a decent-sized metro area there are almost certainly classes close to where you live. And many organizations offer affordable online workshops so you can join from anywhere. The big digital course creation companies offer self-paced courses that I’m sure could be valuable to you, but those are no substitute for getting personalized advice from a good writing coach or instructor.
4-Start loving critique
The faster you fall in love with receiving feedback on your work, the closer you are to achieving your writing goals. You need to understand what is working in your writing and where you need to improve. I personally love getting a good critique. It’s like washing my filthy car or getting my dry split-ends cut off. It feels so good. And rejection from publishers? Not a problem at all. Bring it, I say. If you want to become a published author, you must get comfortable with rejection. There’s no getting there without it.
5-Pay close attention
The novelist John Gardner said, “Details are proofs. They prove the existence of the world.” I’ve found that beginning writers sometimes struggle with being vague in their writing. They will focus on abstract concepts like love, beauty, or grief and then be surprised when the ideas in their work don’t seem to resonate with readers. Readers connect with writing that creates images in their minds, and abstractions do not create images. “Things” and details create images. And images convey ideas. Learning to pay attention to sensory detail is essential for learning to write well.
6-Write about what preoccupies you
It’s rare that a writer needs to spend time thinking about what to write about. I mean, we do, but we don’t really need to. All of us have deep questions, intemperate interests, obsessions. But we can get distracted from those things when we start wondering what we should be writing about, or what topic others might be interested in reading, or what is selling out there. Even if the universe of your book resembles Middle Earth more than Manhattan, its themes will flow from your experience in this world, from the impressions that your own life has made on you. Don’t write the story/essay/book that someone else should write, write the one that only you can.
Writing well is hard, I won’t lie, but the tips for beginning writers I’ve recommended here are relatively easy to start doing. And incremental improvements add up quickly. If you’re just starting out, getting on these things pronto will help propel you through the beginning stage of writing and set you on the path toward feeling like a writing insider.
Such valuable information … even for writers who have been at the pen and paper for decades! Thank you, Kim. I know these are sometimes dark and days of grief for so many. Just coming out of Covid that hit me with a vengeance, I do understand the physical and emotional strain as well as the daily isolation.
I will send you a visual of my journal and a sample of what the inside layout consists of. Daily, I write. I must! Writing is what breathes freshness in the early morning hours at the kitchen table. Writing sends me out the door with visions, new ideas and hopes that the day will go well. Writing reveals something of myself that had been turning around in my head and paused for the pen to make such thoughts evident on the page. It might be phrases from scripture reading, a morning meditation of my own creation, snippets of ideas, even lists of how I will spend my day with items checked off at dinner time.
Writing surprises me after I’ve realized I just wrote an essay about love when I was contemplating yet another Valentine’s Day of being single. All these” journal thoughts” are seeds for future stories, poems, and perhaps even the outline for chapters of a book. Will I ever be published? Will I ever be disciplined enough to keep at it as the literary greats? Only if I declutter and put all other minuscules of busy-ness aside do I think that could be a possibility… even if it is just one little page of pondering or a short story. Sharing with other readers/writers (not for fame) a piece of my soul would indeed bring a great thrill.
Though there are a certain beauty and solitude in charcoal trees and white hills, I so long for the 1st of March which will turn my thoughts from the frigid February to redesigning the garden patch below my office window. It’s now a desert of ice and snow. Mrs. Peter Rabbit who I shoo out every summer is huddled under the sage. I seem to have more sympathy as her marble eyes stare, perhaps she too longing for the sustenance of flowers and nibbling cucumbers.
Yes, writing is hard, but oh how one’s life blossoms at the end of a long-enduring winter!
Such beautiful sentiments, Patricia. I love the winter landscapes yet I too share your longing for spring. And what is writing without longing? Here’s to you and your future garden and Mrs. Rabbit.