Not so long ago, I was considered a “new writer.” (Heck, I’m still a new writer, to be honest!) I entered a couple of short stories into a contest, and that was what started me on this journey. As soon as I submitted those, I got to work on an idea for a book that had been brewing for two decades. I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote day and night for six weeks. When I finished it, I got some advice from a Facebook group on what to do next. And what was next? Beta readers. (Insert wide-eyed nervous emoji here.) I knew this was an important step, but I was nervous to put my precious book baby into the hands of a couple strangers. As I cautiously took the steps toward becoming an author, I learned a lot along the way, but I knew there was still a lot more knowledge to gather. I still felt “new.”
The list of must-read tips begins below, but let’s talk about the things I first did when I first decided I was going to get serious about this writing thing. I googled. I posted questions. I read about other authors’ journeys. I purchased a domain and built my website, I joined various other social media groups – Twitter, Instagram. Pinterest as well. And I kept it all separate from my personal social media accounts by adopting a pen name.
Everything was going great. I was meeting people (virtually, thanks to pandemic lockdowns) and getting some great tips and advice. Because of the pandemic, I’ve been able to put all my time into writing and I think that has helped advanced me much faster and further than where I would be if I had to work on top of this. Yes, it sucks not having a job right now, but it enabled me to put all that time into my passion that’s been nagging at me for decades, and I’m so thankful for it now. I look back at where I was not even a year ago, and I’ve grown so much. Suddenly, I don’t feel so green anymore.
My rock has been Twitter. Joining it as an author completely changed my poor view of Twitter (and yes, you’ll still see negativity on Twitter, but you can ignore it/block it/mute it and carry on). On it, I’ve connected with a wonderful community of writers (I cannot express how wonderful they are!) who have either been where I’ve been or are going through it with me. And now, I’m starting to see writers who are going through what I went through not so long ago. One of the things I love to do is help others, so it feels great to share the knowledge that I’ve learned.
So, it goes without saying that the first tip would be to find other writers. Build a community of like-minded authors in various stages of writing. They don’t have to be in the same genre as you (although having another genre-based group is helpful, too). Know that you all come from different backgrounds and you all have different tools you can bring to the table.
It feels good to surround yourself with others you can bounce ideas off of, ask for help, get answers to burning questions, share a laugh with, etc. And also, when you’ve completed a writing piece, you need people you feel you can trust with your work so you can get valuable feedback that will help you grow as a writer.
No one can write the perfect piece right off the bat. Even if you think it’s the most fabulous thing ever written, I promise you, it’s not. And I don’t want that to sound harsh, but it is reality. Be open-minded. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s where other writers come in. You’ll learn things you had absolutely no idea about, and then you’ll apply what you know to your first round of revisions.
And guess what? It doesn’t stop there, either. Usually, there will be several rounds of revisions, especially when you’re a new writer, because you’re going to make mistakes (in writing and in the process in general) and you’re going to keep learning new things. And that’s ok, that’s normal. It’s how we improve our skills.
So, without further ado, here is a list of eleven things to keep in mind when you’re a new writer:
1. Connect with others. ENGAGE with others. Participate in meaningful discussion about writing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And share answers to questions that others ask, if you’ve learned what they’re asking about. Bounce ideas off others. A great place to start is by joining Twitter and following these great hashtags: #writingcommunity #writer #writers #author #authors #strictlywriting #writerschat #writerscafe Not sure who to follow on Twitter? Start by searching for a few of your favourite authors and follow them. Twitter will use that information to suggest others to follow. Type in a hashtag and follow others who uses that hashtag. Look at their bio before you follow to make sure they’re someone you’re interested in following. Pretty soon, your feed will fill up with a bunch of other writers. Don’t be scared to chime in. Introduce yourself—you will be welcomed, I promise! The writing community on Twitter is very welcoming and helpful. I can say the same thing about Instagram, and the hashtags work the same way there. (Still not sure who to follow? Follow me! Look at the list of people I follow and see if any of them interest you—then follow them. Do the same for several of those people to get yourself established in the community.)
2. Keep it professional. You don’t want to be trying to climb the ladder as a successful author and be airing out your dirty laundry. I’ve trained myself to walk away from controversial conversations and it’s been hard to do because sometimes I want to interject with my opinion but really, who cares about my opinion? Keep your writing profile about writing. It’s ok to joke around a bit or add a picture of your cat because it’s #Caturday but keep it light and be respectful. Think about how you want others to see you—agents, peers, big-time authors. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, but do try to project the image you want to be known for. In my experience, it is best to stay focused on your writing, be graceful and thankful, helpful and courteous.
3. Once you get comfortable with some other writers, let the community know that you’re looking for a few critique partners and/or beta readers to give you honest feedback on your work. Pick a small handful that you feel connected to and offer to return the favour—swap pages. Are you good with grammar and spelling? Mention that. Do you pick up on plot holes and lack of flow or character arc? Tell them that’s what you can offer. (And remember, you’ll learn as you grow, so don’t be afraid to start critiquing and beta reading. Other writers want an opinion as a reader out there in the world before it’s out there in the world, and anyone who reads can do that). Professional editing services can cost thousands of dollars, and you don’t want to be spending that if you haven’t done some editing and revisions yourself first. And in order to do that, you NEED feedback from others. Also, if you’re going the traditional publishing route, it is not necessary to fork out a tonne of money for editing because you’ll get that anyway in the publishing process. If you’re going the self-publishing route, you want to do all the editing you possibly can first to cut down on professional editing costs later. Critique partners are heaven sent!
4. A good idea when you send pages for critiquing is to add a few questions at the bottom that the reader can answer. It will help you to gauge where they think the story is going, what their thoughts are on certain areas, etc. A critique partner of mine did this and I thought it was such a fabulous idea that I now incorporate it into my pages for critiquing. You can also ask them if they wouldn’t mind adding their own questions at the bottom. This will help you get an even better idea of what’s missing, or what areas you need to work on.
5. Take feedback gracefully. Use the suggestions to help you improve. They might find a habit you didn’t know you had. They might see holes you didn’t think of. In your head, you wrote this wonderful thing—and your brain knows the story better than anyone else. But sometimes, how it comes out on paper isn’t the same as you see it in playing out in your mind. Critique partners can catch these errors or holes and you can work on them to improve your story writing. Don’t feel stupid, don’t get down on yourself. There is always room for improvement, no matter how many books you’ve written. No one ever improves if they don’t get honest, thoughtful feedback, and tough love is important here. Use it to fuel a fire in you to do better at writing, and also in editing your own work. You’ll start to catch those bad habits of yours (too much exposition, too many exclamation marks, too much passive voice, the en vs. em dashes, etc.) when you’re editing and then, you’ll start noticing it when you’re writing and this is a whole new level of greatness!
6. Participate in writing conferences and workshops. I cannot.stress.this.enough. This is probably the best thing I did to take my writing to the next level. Yes, they might cost you a few bucks, but this is money well spent. For example, the first con I registered for was Sleuthfest. This one is specific to mystery and thriller writers, but you can find ones that cater to your preferred genre(s). The workshops/reading sessions I attended were all fantastic. I learned a lot from established, successful writers who’ve been where I was. The next one I attended was through Writer’s Digest—their annual con and it was FABULOUS. Again, established, successful authors who were teaching a class in a specific area. And again, this catered to my chosen genre. A more general one was a 3-hour workshop taught by Bianca Marais called “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level.” Excellent, excellent information. It was jam-packed full of really helpful methods and tips and things you can use no matter what genre you write in. Do yourself a favour and take some writing workshops/classes. Not only do you learn invaluable information, you also connect with other writers in all stages. These are your friends! These are your peers! These are the people you want in your circle.
7. Participate in writing contests. These are fun and exciting! Will you win? Who knows? But the act of trying means you’re thinking positively about your writing and you’re serious about succeeding. You’ll meet others in the same contest, you can cheer each other on, and you can learn from them. Even if you don’t win, that’s still a success. You created a piece of writing, you finished it, you polished it the best you could, and you presented it for others to read. That’s a huge accomplishment! Be proud of yourself! If you don’t win—that’s ok! Use the experience to improve your skills for the next one and don’t ever give up. Get some feedback on the piece you submitted, revise it, and try again.
8. You’ll hear the phrase “write what you know” floating around. Yes, write what you know. Use your personal experiences in life to add confidence to your writing. But also, write what you don’t know! Research things. Ask an expert about their experiences in their field. Travel to places if you can, to inject the senses into your writing. Do virtual tours of museums or even cities (that’s becoming a thing!) and read informative books. Google search. Learn. You’re finding out all kinds of cool information, and you never know which bits of info will be useful. You don’t have to be an expert about something you want to write about, you just have to be willing to learn about it. You’ll be writing and all of a sudden, you’ll think, “OOooo that thing I learned in that YouTube video the other day will be perfect here!”
9. Try writing in other formats. Have you read flash fiction, micro fiction or short stories? Do you think you have what it takes? I will caution that shorter pieces of fiction is an entity all on it’s own. It’s not “easier” to do because it’s shorter. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s just as hard, if not harder than writing a novel-length piece. There’s so much that goes into writing short pieces, but if it’s something that you think you can tackle, try it! I find it fun to write in other genres, or write literary pieces, even non-fiction pieces. Writing micro and flash/short pieces challenges my creativity and keeps my mind active in between writing the big stuff. I quite enjoy it. And you know what? It’s how I got my first real published piece! (If you’re reading this before mid-May of 2021, it’s not out yet, but once the issue is out at Eucalyptus and Rose Literary Magazine, I’ll post the link here!) I really like writing different stuff, even though I’m a novelist. It’s hugely satisfying to put effort into such a small piece and finish it, perfect it, and send it out there to be seen. Who knows? If you work at it hard enough, you might get published this way, too. This can help you get yourself established (but it is by no means necessary in order to be a successful author). If it’s something you enjoy, go for it! It certainly can’t hurt your career. It helps you learn and grow as a writer.
10. Never, ever, ever think that your writing sucks. I say this with a little giggle, because we all feel at one point or another that our writing sucks. Something I’ve heard time and time again is that the worst thing you wrote is better than the best thing you didn’t write. We all start at the beginning. Our skills are lacking, our knowledge base is small, our experience is nil. But just starting the process is a big step, and as soon as you start writing, you learn, and you improve. If you put everything you’ve got into that piece, your heart and soul, your emotion, your personal experience, your voice will begin to shine through.
11. Breathe. Take time to yourself to step away from your writing and do something you enjoy. Go for a walk, exercise. Have a glass of wine if that’s your thing. (Better yet, join me for one!) Go out for the day. Find a new hobby. Go to the beach, the forest, or somewhere that grounds you. Fill your lungs with fresh air and maybe even some inspiration for something new. Reward yourself for even the littlest things—celebrate your wins. You finished a book? That’s a HUGE win. Congratulations! You are a badass—now go celebrate it!
Once you really start to get the hang of things, once you build up a great circle of writer friends, once you get some rejections (and maybe even some acceptances!) under your belt, you’re going to start to feel better about yourself as a writer. If writing is something you’re serious about, I encourage you to follow these tips. One day, you’ll suddenly realize how much you’ve learned and gained, and when you can start to share that knowledge to the young grasshoppers who are just starting out, you’ll be helping others the way you were (hopefully!) helped as a fledgling writer, and that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. It’s an important part of the writing journey, too. Look up to others, learn as much as you can, improve, and be someone that others can look up to. I cannot tell you how much of an honour it is to have someone tell me that something I said or did helped them tremendously.
These are just some of the many tips that writers should keep in mind when they’re just entering the field. Do you have any to add? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! If you know new writers who are following you on your social media, do them a favour and share this post for them to read! Don’t forget to hit the like button if you enjoyed it 😊