Last week, I reached a small personal social media milestone—I hit (and broke) 400 followers on Twitter. Considering 1) I’m an introvert, 2) I’ve been on Twitter for about three months (since mid-May 2016), and 3) I interpret this achievement as meaning someone out there is listening to me, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some writing insights and advice. In the following series of blog posts, I’ll attempt to distill what I feel are essential strategies for beginning a successful writing adventure.
*Disclaimer* My personal goal when writing is to publish my work along the traditional route, so my musings will keep that goal in mind. As I’m currently unpublished (with regard to fiction, anyway), I’ll hew to the pre-publishing stages of writing (the actual creative stuff) and the beginnings of querying literary agents for representation.
0. Find what works for you.
Before I even dole out my suggestions, I’ll preface by saying that there’s a veritable smorgasbord of writing advice at your fingertips, especially in the Internet Age. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the often contradicting “rules” that you might read in your quest to improve and succeed as a writer. So here’s a tip: don’t try to force yourself into other people’s molds, methods, styles, etc. Everyone is different, and what works well for a New York Times best-seller may not hold up for a single parent working two jobs while trying to publish a debut (note: those two hypothetical writer-types are not mutually exclusive). Soak up what you find, but don’t forget to wring yourself out once in a while to get rid of things that aren’t working for you. Take most advice you read with a grain of salt, a dash of skepticism. Try new things, by all means, but ultimately, you have to find your own way.
1. First and foremost, write!
Seems simple, no? If you want to be a writer, string those words together in your structure of choice and tell that story in your head!
Well, yes, that is the crux of writing, but nothing’s ever that easy. Writing is work. It takes time. So many other things can get in the way—life, health, jobs, family, and those are just the somewhat predictable ones. It may become essential, then, to schedule regular writing time into the myriad tasks and obligations of life. Flip open that laptop with your morning caffeine. Get out your favorite notebook and pen on your lunch break. Swipe some thoughts into your smartphone during your commute (but only on public transportation!). Make some notes before bed to plan out the next day’s writing.
“But wait!” you cry. “What about inspiration? You can’t force the creative process!” To which I reply, “Now we’re talking about two different things.”
I wholeheartedly agree that inspiration is a fickle brute, elusive to the point of maddening—until it’s least convenient for you. I’ve had ideas strike me in the middle of an experiment in lab, at work seminars and meetings, on bus rides home, while running weekend errands, and while drifting to sleep in bed. My advice would be to arm yourself with as many note-making tools and strategies as possible. Personally, I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a small notebook around for unexpected bursts of creativity. It even sleeps on the nightstand next to me, just in case.
Winding back to my original point, transforming those tidbits of genius into actual narration and dialogue is a much more physical process requiring time, patience, and perseverance. If you wait for the perfect moment at which to put your thoughts on paper, a million other responsibilities and distractions will inevitably forestall the creative process. But what if you turn writing into one of those responsibilities? If you make the time to write, even a little here and there every day, you’ll have produced something you can go back and work with at the end of the day/week/month. You did it! Words on the page, related at least a bit to the story you want to tell. Tweak it later; revisions are a whole other beast. What’s important is to generate that body of writing, in whatever reasonable way works for you. So schedule time for writing, protect it, and make the most of it.
Please stay tuned for the next installment of “Jump-starting Your Writing Adventure,” in which I discuss the benefits of research at various points of the quest to publish!