Advice for New Writers

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Overwhelmed yet?

A couple weeks ago, my mom asked me for advice on setting up a writers group for some of her students. She’s a language arts teacher at a small middle school, maybe 60 or 70 kids total, and at least a dozen are really into writing. She asked about how my own writing group functions, but with kids that age the emphasis really needs to be on encouragement rather than critique. It got me thinking about how the advice that will work for a given writer depends so much on where they are in their journey.

For the very new and the very young, for those who may not be sure this writing gig is really for them, I say: write. Don’t worry about if it’s any good. All the craft in the world won’t help if you don’t love it. Writing is hard. Take some time at the start to be sure it’s what you want, to strengthen your resolve; it’s the only thing that will get you through the tough spots.

For the new and determined first-time novelist: forget about publishing. I know it’s super-easy these days and everybody’s doing it, but put it out of your mind and focus on actually writing the book. Lots of people start writing a novel, but it takes real determination and hard work to finish.

This is also the stage when a new writer will start to need help. I’ve been doing this for almost four years now, and it’s tempting to make a list of every book and website and podcast I’ve ever found helpful: Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know About Writing. But that’s the last thing a newbie needs. Reading about how to do something doesn’t automatically translate into skill; that takes time and practice. When a writer’s knowledge far exceeds their skill to put it into practice, well, that is frustrating. That’s when they’re most in danger of tearing their hair out and ripping up their manuscript and quitting, because their writing sucks, and they’ll never be able any good, and what’s the use of even trying.

So, experienced writers: resist the temptation to drown newbies in your font of knowledge.

Newbies: resist the urge to buy all the writing books and read all the writing blogs and never get around to actually writing your book. Pick one or two to get you started. Focus on what you’re having trouble with, and leave the rest for later. When writing feels like a breeze, you know you’re ready for another dose of learning.

A final piece of advice: all the so-called “rules” of writing are made to be broken. There are as many ways of writing as there are writers, so if something doesn’t work for you, ignore it.

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