As I near the end of my college career, I've been thinking about the steps I've taken to become a better writer. And today, during my "shower thoughts session," I got to thinking about what I wish I had known as a new writer. So here I've compiled five tips and tricks for new writers.
1. Get an Education:
Alright, alright. Settle down. I know the words "get an education" can have a negative connotation in today's fast-paced society, but bear with me. First off, I'm with you (or, at least, I've been there) regarding not wanting to go to college. But you know what? You don't have to go to college to be a good or even great writer. Will it help? Hell yeah! But that doesn't mean it's the only option for you.
Here's what I mean by "get an education."
The obvious: go to college.
Hire a book coach/other private tutor.
Pick up and study the crap out of "how to write" books.
Read/watch/listen writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts.
(This one may be obvious, at least I hope it is) READ!
Okay, let's break these down real quick:
For number one, I recommend you go to college to learn how to write because the writing classes will start with the fundamentals and work your way up to more advanced stuff. And while you're waiting to get into the more advanced courses, you have a plethora of generals to take, which (if you're smart) you can choose classes like Geography, Anthropology, Astronomy, etc., to help in your world building.
For number two: This is a quicker option but more intense. Everything that you learn in college will be covered by your private book coach/tutor. But in a much more condensed setting. This option is not for the faint of heart, but it is so worth it. *Pro-tip; if you plan to go to college like I am and go with a book coach like I did, do the book coaching between semesters. Trust me. It will save you a lot of stress and worry... and many headaches.
Number three: This one's pretty self-explanatory, but it's one I've done/do. And, if you choose the college route, you'll pick up a ton of "how to read" books along the way.
Number four: This one is also self-explanatory. There are tons of blogs/vlogs/podcasts out there that give excellent writing advice.
Number five: I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone who writes say, "I don't really read books." Just the thought makes me cringe. Let me put this clearly: If you want to be a writer of any genre, YOU NEED TO READ THAT GENRE! If you don't know what modern authors write and what modern readers are into, how will you know what to write for them? Also, have you ever read a writer's work who doesn't read? If you haven't, count yourself lucky.
The main thing to remember with education is to know yourself and your work ethic. As much as I hate bureaucracy, and all the crap that comes with college, I recognize that without a sort of structure to my learning, I'm simply not motivated enough on my own to thoroughly study from books and podcasts alone. So, it doesn't matter which route you take when it comes to your writing education, so long as it fits you.
2. Put Away your Phone:
I know this is hard, especially in this day and age of constant messages and social media notifications, but trust me, the sooner you can get into this habit of not having your phone on you when you write, the better your production will be. For example, when I write with my phone near me, I'm constantly distracted by notifications, or I just get bored (due to ADHD) and pick it up. The next thing I know, it's been half an hour of precious writing time that I'm never gonna get back. When I write with my phone nearby, I write between 250-500 words an hour. Now, that's not bad, especially if you're just starting out. However, When I decide to put away my phone (with it turned off and it's in a completely different room), I write anywhere between 1,000-1,500 words an hour (that--according to his class he posted on YouTube--is roughly as many as Brandon Sanderson writes in an hour)!
So, ask yourself this, is it worth your precious writing time (trust me, I know it's precious to all of us, some more than others, who work full-time jobs or go to school full-time) to spend more than half your limited writing time on your phone?
No. The answer is no.
3. Be Specific:
One of the things my book coach ingrained in me was specificity. For me, this has a lot to do with show don't tell, but also, I suck at writing scenery when it comes to my first drafts. I've definitely gotten better since I started writing back in 2014, but that means so much more work for me when I'm revising. This comes from the mentality of not wanting to waste my time (or the reader's time) with unimportant details. Trust me, they're important. Let me say that again; they're important! If you're writing something and you glaze over details because you think they're too minor to be necessary, include them anyway! The worst thing that could happen is you have to remove stuff after you've had some proof/beta reading. Plus, it's just a good practice for revising something later.
4. Write Everyday:
When I say every day, do I mean every day? Yes and no. If I could do the physical act of writing every single day for the rest of my life, I would. I have been able to write every day for a few months in a row, in fact, and I look forward to the next time I'm able to do that because nothing feels better. But, I get it; writing every day is hard. Suppose you're not dealing with typical everyday problems. In that case, there are always the mental challenges that get in the way: lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, lack of confidence, and the ever frustrating imposter syndrome.
So, when life gets rough and the physical act of writing seems like too much to handle, what can you do instead? There are many things that I count as writing, such as reading/listening to an audiobook, storyboarding, outlining, drawing a map, fleshing out a character or culture, going for a walk to think about story ideas, listening to writing podcasts, or even writing a different project.
Many different things count as writing, so long as it's productive to your craft, that's all that matters!
5. Be Authentic:
I think one of the biggest things people miss in writing is to be themselves. They want to emulate specific authors, but they try to copy their style exactly by doing so. This isn't a bad idea, especially for starting out, but don't be afraid to branch out and create your own style. Which, of course, will come with time and effort.
Along those same lines, there is no wrong answer when it comes to what you should write. What you want to write is what you should write. Wanna write about pirates? Write about pirates. Wanna write horror? Write that! There's no wrong answer. So long as you love it, that's what matters.
Writing can be challenging but very rewarding. The thing is, though, you're not going to get better by making excuses. So what are you waiting for? Go and write something amazing!