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. It’s easy, and therefore common, for writers to languish in the beginner stage. 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.
Here are some ways to 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 things 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.