I’ve been writing seriously for about fifteen years. I’ve learned a lot in that time, some things from listening to others and some from making plenty of mistakes of my own. While I can’t share everything in one post, here are some words of advice for aspiring writers.
Number one: Read a lot and write a lot!
Most of us learn by doing and by analyzing examples. The best way to become a writer is to read a lot and write a lot. We learn much by reading and noticing what works and doesn’t work to make a good book (or poem or essay or whatever you are writing). We also learn by doing. Writing practice, from exercises to character studies to whole books, makes you a better writer. Just like they say, you need to put in your ten thousand hours to become a master.
Rules versus guidelines: Don’t believe everything you read.
Keep in mind that there are only a few rules in writing, but there are many guidelines. Not every one will apply in every case. Rules like “You need a plot and characters for a story” probably apply to you. Guidelines like “Never use adverbs”? Maybe not. Take any advice that says “never” or “always” with a grain of salt. Plus, keep in mind that each writer is an individual with a unique writing style and process. What works for me, or that world-famous author, might not work for you. Try things that resonate with you and see what makes sense for the way you think and learn. Use the advice that helps you. Discard the rest.
Finding the time: It all counts as writing.
You don’t have to commit to whole days of writing to consider yourself a writer, but you will need to practice your craft. Writing time varies with individual writers and their work, family, and other obligations. Start out with small bits of time. Can you fit in a twenty-minute brainstorming session before your workday starts, or at the end of the day? Or write for an hour or two on the weekend? Or read and analyze a romance novel for a half hour while you wait for your kid to finish soccer practice? It’s all writing. Even thinking about writing counts!
Develop a routine: Stick with it, in a healthy way.
Once you find your writing routine, you’ll need to make it official. Tell your friends and family when you need time alone to write. You’ll make them take you seriously by taking it seriously yourself. Be prepared to get some pushback on this. If your family is typical, it will take time before they believe you. I knew I’d reached my goal when I heard my husband say, “If the study door’s closed, don’t go in there.”
On the flip side, it’s okay if you break your routine now and then. Life happens, and you may need to take a break or change up your writing routine from time to time. That’s normal, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get back in the habit when you can. That counts double in times like our COVID-19 pandemic. Be gentle with yourself.
Curious to hear more? I’m leading an online webinar on “Nuts and Bolts for Newbies” on May 6 for the Alaska Writers Guild. For more information, check out their Facebook page or their website at