Are you a beginner writer, staring at a blank page wondering where on earth to start? Want to be the next Stephen King? Author Bryan Fagan continues his series with something a little different this week; he’s talking through his tips for new writers, how to get started on the writing process and hone your writing skills through creative writing, to take you from your very first sentence to a complete first draft.
‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
I am lucky. I have surrounded myself with people who are smarter than I’ll ever be. For a long time I wrote and for a long time I wrote to myself, lacking the courage to share with others. Because of these people and their advice, I found the courage to share and eventually to publish. Below are some of the writing skills they taught me. I hope some of it will help you as much as it helped me.
My Best Tips for an Aspiring Writer
Writing is a tough gig
You are entering a tough gig. Can you handle it? Be honest with yourself, before you start your first draft. If your goal is to become a better writer you are going to experience highs and lows. True hard work. Frustration and doubt. Success and failure. Sometimes all in one day. You need to have the mental edge to handle it day after day, and you have to believe in your own writing skills.
Keep reading to become a better writer
Read. If you are going to write a book you are going to have to read. Have a book in your hand. Have a book within reach. Read Everyday. A great writer learns from other great writers. The best way to become a better writer is to read.
Know your target audience
Picture a person reading your book on their morning train to work or curled up in their favourite chair. Why are they? What entertains them? Why would they want to read your book and what will it take to keep them entertained? This is your target audience.
Work on your writing skills
Reading is fun, writing is hard. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Some of the best times I’ve had are mornings spent filling up a plot hole. Enjoy the challenge. Embrace it.
Failure is learning
The most important thing is this: Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is learning. Failure is not a bad work if you use it right. It’s the best way to start writing. It can be a tool to fix things and without a tool things stay broken.
Not everything is meant to be a book
Sometimes a good idea is all you’re going to get. If that happens, let the story die. Not every idea is meant to be a book. Sometimes they are just passing thoughts. Fun things to think of for a moment or two. Sometimes, they are blog posts or a fleeting short story.
Start a blog
Or start writing blog posts on someone else’s magazine…
Get on social media
Social media can seem tedious, especially for beginner writers, but it’s the best way to meet other, successful writers, which will help you to become a better writer and publicise your book when it’s written.
Read more from Bryan…
Do what feels natural, especially in a first draft
Create your own style no matter how strange it may seem to others. It’s the best way to start writing. I write freehand, pen and paper. I wish I didn’t but that’s how my mind works. I write at the kitchen table with the backyard facing to my right. When I’m finished I go to my desk and type everything up. Strange but productive.
You want to be a good writer? Watch, listen and learn dialog. If dialog is your weakness, learn to fix it. Weak, robotic dialog will ruin your story. Listen to conversations through real life or through movies and TV. Study your favourite authors. How do they do it? Write them down. Do whatever it takes to make dialog your strength.
Don’t underestimate your reader
Your reader is the smartest person you will ever meet. You will never, ever fool them and if you try, you will lose them forever.
Write without apology
So you come from a non-swearing family but your character drops F-Bombs on every page? Do the F-Bombs. Yes, your grandmother will be disappointed. Oh, well.
Don’t do everything by-the-book
Be cautious and careful with how-to-books. Read them if you must and find some things that work but if you need a study guide, read your favourite novel. What did the author do that worked? Why are you drawn to it? See what they did in certain scenes. Study their use of dialog and the ease it was used. Write down the way their story flowed. Use their book as a reference whenever you are having trouble with your own.
Write something you believe in
If you are not emotionally invested your book will fail. Writing a novel or short stories is a journey. An emotionally exhausting journey. I am nearing the end of my third novel and I am mentally drained. That tells me I’m doing something right. If you are not exhausted by the end, chances are you wrote it wrong.
Read more from our writers section…
Invest in your thick skin
Get used to bad people. Some of them want you to fail. Learn to brush them off. They are not worth your time.
Let the real you out
Everything you write will have a piece of you in it. Writing is stripping down the real you.
Everybody is different
Embrace your weirdness. I have a friend who does not read fiction. She finds it weird. She calls it a 300 page lie. She thinks I’m weird. I embrace it.
Know the power of what you’re doing
You are a writer. Because of that you have the power to impact a person’s life in a positive way. This person may be at a crossroads and your book may lead them on the right path. That’s a huge responsibility and one not taken lightly.
Consistency really is key
Consistency leads to personal success.. Writing when the mood strikes doesn’t work. You write when you have a cold, a headache, a broken finger or when your cat throws up in the sink. Your book will be a fantasy if you wait for inspiration. Create a day to day schedule and stick to it. Got writers block? Bust through it.
Put your phone down
Turn it off. Leave it in your pocket. Your phone, and especially social media, wants your attention. It doesn’t like to share. As long as your phone is within reach it will keep you from your writing goal.
Make writer friends
And last but not least: Keep a small circle of friends with the same writing goal as you. Discuss scenes and structure, strengths and weaknesses. Discuss the building blocks of the story. In other words, the meat and bones. Fellow writers are your partners, not your target audience and they will become a key ingredient in your writing career.
Not everything on this list will apply to you but I hope some of it will. Use them, write them down or drop me a line if you have comments or questions.
Remember: You’re not alone. We are in this together. Good luck!