Advice to a New Writer

Waiting for Dad to come home

I attended a writers’ conference for the third year recently. At the dinner table, a newer writer began asking me questions about what I’ve written and what had been my experience in submitting to magazines and where to go to learn the skills she wanted.

I have a hard time giving writing advice. First, there are always exceptions. Second, I have a long way to go to reach my dreams. But I have started.

I was told years ago that no matter where you are in your journey, there will be people ahead of you, and behind you. You can always find someone who can benefit from what you had learned.

So, what would be my advice for people thinking about writing or are just starting?

Write. Just get to it and write.

It’s easy to say that you’ll start some day, or when it’s convenient, or when you have more time. But it’ll never be convenient and your days are not going to get any longer. Just write whenever you can. A couple of hours a day or week will add up quickly. If you can only write five hundred words a day, you’ll have the first draft of an eighty thousand words novel finished in six months. (Then the fun of rewriting begins.)

Decide why you want to write.

Do you want to share something that has really touched you with others? Do you want to teach, inspire, entertain, make someone laugh, or record an event? All of these are great reasons. When you are in the middle of your piece, it helps to remind yourself why you wanted to do this. Are you doing this as a hobby, just for family or friends, or to make money?

Or, just buy lottery tickets. You may get richer quicker.

If you want to do this professionally, you need to work on your craft, read other books and books about writing. You can make money, good money, writing articles, ad copy, ghostwriting, and/or books. But it is very competitive, and very subjective. Take it as a serious job.

Determine what you want to write.

There are all types of writing you can do. You can write flash fiction of less than a thousand words, or a historical romance novel of over a hundred thousand words. You can write articles for the newspaper where you’re articles will be published the same week, for a magazine and see them in print in a few months, or a book, where the average time after signing the contract, is eighteen months.

Look in the bookstore or the aisle at the supermarket and see all the different types of magazines from Homelife to Mens Fitness to Goodhousekeeping to Earth News. If you have a hobby, there’s a magazine for it.

A great thing about writing is that you don’t have to concentrate on only one thing. I’ve written devotions for a blog, christiandevotions.us, which is a great place for beginners. I’ve written an article for Guidepost and book reviews for a career counselor’s journal. I’m now working on novels, but I also plan to later write additional articles. You can write Bible Studies and fly-fishing articles for a magazine.

 Find a community.

Writing can be a lonely job. The negative voices in your head will have a field day trying to discourage you.

I was shocked, when I first decided to write, at the support I found in my local community. So many writers were willing to share what they knew. One of the groups, Cross n Pens, a local Christian writers’ group, includes published authors, poets, regular magazine contributors, conference directors, and other beginners like myself. I could ask someone about sending an article to a magazine, or setting up my blog.

Like one of the members said, “We were all beginners sometime. And we all are still learning in a lot of areas.”

You can also go online to join critic groups and classes. A popular one is Word Weavers International. James Patterson has started online classes and then you can continue as part of their group.

 Learn the craft.

This is where books and classes on writing come in. And there are a number of them. They can get expensive. When I went to Clemson, it was expensive and a huge burden on my parents, but they knew in the long run the education would pay off. (The other stuff we won’t discuss.)

You need to look at learning the craft and business of writing not as an expense but as an investment in making your writing better. Within reason.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, though. There are free or inexpensive classes online and through your local library. And there are a galaxy of websites and blogs. I would recommend The Write Conversation, a blog I write for, as a great starting place. You can learn the basics and about a host of other resources there as well.

And find a writers conference in the type of writing you’re interested in. It is the great way to learn the craft, meet other writers, and realize that you can fit into this world.

Finally, write.

If you want to become a writer, there’s room for you. At the writers’ conference, someone said we all have different stories to tell. It’s not bad if they are similar, that’s why magazines can publishing stories for years.

Who knows, you may find that writing becomes not just a hobby, but your career.

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