I only started writing seriously five years ago. Since then, with hard work, good friends, and luck, I’ve written eight novellas, all published or being published, a number of short stories that were published in various places, and just finished the first draft of a new novel.
So, while I’m not remotely qualified to give career advice for writers — and there are plenty who are qualified and have done so — I am ready to give some advice on the hardest part — The Beginning.
So many writers post on social media that they “just don’t know where to begin,” and mid-career authors always say the same thing, “Write. Then write some more.” Which is all well and good, but not really an answer for those who are struggling.
This is a short list of things that helped me get started, and I hope will help you. These are The Beginner’s Rules.
- If you are writing, you are a writer. If you aren’t, then you are not.
When I attended my first convention, a lovely woman asked me my name and if I was a writer. I couldn’t say the words. I got out, “My name is Joelle, and I want to be a writer.” Or, “My name is Joelle and I’m sorta, kinda, a writer.” This lovely woman made me repeat this until I could say, “My name is Joelle and I’m a writer.” I didn’t believe it, but I said it. You are a writer if you are writing. Publishing is not the qualification. Then you are a published writer. The one and only thing that counts is writing.
- It doesn’t matter how you write.
Computer? Pen and paper? One of those cool new Rocket Notebooks? All good. Chalk on a wall? Still counts. Pencil on a legal pad? You know it. Words on page. Words on page. Say it with me.
- It won’t be good.
This is the hardest thing to get over. You will suck. You will suck like a black hole in the middle of the universe. That’s fine. Everyone sucks at the beginning. It is expected and not something to be ashamed of. Stephen King says you have to write a million bad words before you write a good one, so get that first million out of the way.
- What? Did you say a million? That’s impossible.
Yes, at the beginning it is. Don’t get spooked. This leads to the next, and I what I think is the most important rule.
- Write in small increments.
Make yourself write one sentence. Then, two sentences. Finish a paragraph. This is how you start. One word at a time. Don’t worry about the next one hundred words. They don’t exist yet so they don’t require any care and tending. One word, one sentence, on paragraph. Now, when I don’t feel like writing, I tell myself to write five hundred words and that is enough. I often write more, but at least I write something.
- Having trouble thinking of a plot or characters? Okay’d’okay.
Write opening lines to stories that don’t exist yet that you think sound cool. What is your, “Once it was a dark and stormy night?” For me, it was “Kill me,” she said, sliding down the wall leaving a smear of blood. Do dozens of these, hundreds. Something will eventually click and you’ll want to write the second sentence, and then a third.
- Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation too much.
Write the way you write. Grammar and punctuation are necessary components, but when you are at this stage, don’t fret the commas.
- Join a writers’ group.
I found one at my public library. Even if you don’t submit, be a fly on the wall. You can learn a lot, and meeting other beginner writers helps you start a community. This is essential.
- Gather that community.
I would not be writing if it wasn’t for other writers inspiring me, encouraging me, and nudging me forward. My community lives on Facebook and if you would like to follow me at JD Blackrose, please, please do. Join in, comment every once in a while. Post a question. This is what social media does best. I’m on Twitter as well, and you can subscribe to this blog.
- Get brave.
Eventually, every writer has to push his or her writing into the wild. Understanding the rules above, especially Rule #3, give something you’ve written to someone else to read, and it is best if it is a friend/acquaintance who doesn’t love you. This isn’t because family will be too nice, it is because you will be devastated and resentful of anything negative they slip in. Don’t do that to your relationships. I gave a lecture recently and immediately had a coaching student just for this reason.
- This is the Bonus Rule. Do it all again. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Remember, you are a writer if you are writing. You aren’t if you’re not. Don’t ever give up the dream.
I’m considering expanding on these rules and making it a book. Let me know if you would like to see that, and I hope this list helps someone out there.