Another “National Day” is upon us and as I will focus on this from tim to time for the OTD posts, they will be writer focused. I’m really excited about this one though. I still remember much of my emotions, story ideas and thoughts when I first started writing. There was a new joy that I stumbled into and could not be stopped from advancing into the arena of storytelling.
Being self-taught in many ways (I was decent at English/Literature classes but nowhere near scholar level), there’s a great deal I learned and want to use this post as a lessons learned for younger writers. My hope is to provide some things I’ve experienced and come to value over the years. All of this based on my own experience and I know I’ve touched upon these in previous posts but here’s more emphasis. When you start off writing, you truly do tread unknown waters. There are no dangers swimming underneath you, but rather, treasures that can be found if you know exactly where to dive and search.
These are the top words of encouragement I have for young writers in no particular order:
1. Finish what you start
Depending on your level of writing, you will no doubt (it’s more than likely but not definite) write something that’s not very good. This is not a knock on you or your capacity to be a great storyteller. Very few have likely had an idea, formulated the characters, settings, themes, etc. and produced a product that is instantly picked up by a publisher and released to the world without much revision or editing. Has it happened? Probably but I can’t tell you of any I’ve ever heard of (not unless you’re Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie, Limitless, and in that case, you should ditch the mind-opening drug. It didn’t end well for him).
I was there. I wrote my first book, thinking it was the next best thing. It wasn’t. I wrote my second book and thought that was better and would surely be my launching point! It wasn’t. Lol. I’ve written my third book and only now am I convinced I’ve written a well-thought out story that only I can tell. It takes time and patience and you have to be willing to fail a few times before you find success. So, finish those stories. Don’t touch them for a few months and return. If you still feel they are worth your investment, begin editing and revising.
2. Don’t neglect doing your research
This is a big one and requires discipline. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing. Fiction or Non-fiction. Biography or History. Fantasy or Mystery. All of these require a some level of research not only to be accurate but most-importantly: believable. When I started writing my first fantasy book, I researched everything from characterization to culture. Clothing, agriculture, and architecture. None of these could be ignored because as I wrote, I ran into these aspects and knew I couldn’t use modern terminology or technology. The lack of these were an obvious sign to my being an amateur. Readers want to be immersed in the world but if there are obvious mistakes and/or inaccuracies when it comes to the time period and setting the story takes place in without reasonable explanation, then they will not keep reading. That’s the opposite of what you want!
No, seriously. Read. You cannot write well if you do not read. Why? Because there’s something that takes place in the brain when you read and consume content professionally edited. You brain picks up patterns and conventions that you may know from school (elementary to high school English classes only to so much) but are denied later in life without practice and exposure.
One thing I wish I had done more of during my early years of writing is read more. I probably only read a dozen books a year back then. This is not enough. I recently joined Goodreads.com and I recommend you do so to. They have a yearly reading challenge that you initiate for yourself and are able to update and track your progress. I only learned of this last year but I challenged myself to read at least 25 books. I read 36. That’s huge for me! This year, I set my challenge to 50 books. I have no idea if I can do that but that’s the point of a goal.
Also, read genres you wouldn’t otherwise read. If you’re writing horror, then try reading romance or sci-fi. Subject yourself to styles you’re not familiar with. I could read fantasy at any time but it’s a chore to find something more dramatic or set in modern settings. I’m purposefully doing this more and more because exposure to these other genres helps me break away from that fantasy box. Non-fiction is a great starting place. Find books about people or times in history that interest you. When you understand real people and what motivated them or real historical periods/events, how they were influenced and how they impact the future, this transfers into your own writing.
Call to Action: Do all of these things! In fact, if you’re not a writer but love to read, you can easily do number 3.