I spent so many years as a wishful writer. A writer who didn’t quite acknowledge she was a writer, but read with more envy than satisfaction, wished to be able to create, had a wealth of ideas that went nowhere, who wished for some kind of magic to fall upon my life to suddenly turn me into the person I wanted to be, doing the work I dreamed of doing.
I spent those years letting my imagination run wild in the wrong direction on all the ways I could be a writer if my life were different (instead of using my imagination to, oh, I don’t know, write?!). I let this go on until that voice inside who needed to create grew so bright and loud that I couldn’t ignore it anymore for fear of, quite simply, imploding.
I’ve been writing so long now (I mean, for me), that I had almost forgotten how much work went into those crucial first steps of STARTING. When you are brand new to a calling, a hobby, a job, the how of it is as challenging as anything.
When a (lovely, amazing!) fellow blogger emailed asking me for some advice on getting started on a book, she inspired me to write it down in a quick guide for all the other wishful writers out there, too. (I must note that I spent so long feeling like a dumb outsider who would never write, that I am truly humbled and amazed that I’ve had so many messages asking me for writing advice lately! You’re the real MVPs.)
Let’s get to it!
1. Choose an idea to run with. If you’re a wishful writer, even if you haven’t written a single word, chances are you know you could write because you have an idea (or thousand), filling pages of notebooks, or falling out of your head every other day. Take one of these ideas and just run with it. I had so many ideas, I often felt paralyzed by them. How do you know which one to choose? Short answer: you don’t. But a major element of writing is choice. Choice of plot, character, style, dialogue. But before all of that, it’s choosing the idea to explore and develop in the first place. I recommend choosing the one that gives you the biggest stomach flip, the one that feels the most exciting to you, because you’re about to spend a lot of time together.
2. Identify your obstacles. Whether they are internal (imposter syndrome- hello, me) or external (you don’t have a place to write), it is only through identifying them, then addressing them, that you’ll be able to tear them down. Don’t have a great desk space at home? Coffee shop or library. Feel like an imposter? Welcome to the club, that’s literally every author ever. Don’t have a ton of time? Wake up twenty minutes earlier. For every obstacle there is a solution! Once you tear them down, you are well on your way.
3. Identify whether you are a Gardener or Architect. One of my favorite concepts about writing is from George R.R. Martin who says there are two kinds of writers: gardeners and architects. Architects plan their plots, their characters, are incredibly organized over the actual story long before they write it. The major work of the architect is in the preparation. Gardeners plant seeds, watering, nurturing them to see what kind of plants they will become. The major work of the gardener is in the writing.
You may be an architect who needs to really have a game plan before you begin. If that is the case, building character backstories, plotting scenes and developing a full outline of the story may be where you need to begin.
If you’re a gardener, you may just need to write tons of scenes, excess dialogue, meandering description, to get to know your characters and figure out your plot as you go. (I’m definitely a gardener, in case that wasn’t clear).
4. Stamina. Build up your stamina by figuring out a way to write as often as possible. Sitting down every day to chisel away at a story is WORK. It takes focus, concentration, dedication, and an endurance and stamina that doesn’t always come naturally (at least not to me!). It is a muscle I’ve really had to develop over the years. Every form of writing applies, blogging, journaling, as well as the actual creative writing on your story. Whatever helps you form the habit of writing as often as possible will serve your story.
5. A goal or community. It’s different for everyone, but what finally pushed me through the actual creative start, was doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago. It was so helpful to join that community. It was extremely helpful to have an external, specific goal of writing 50,000 words in a month to work toward and update every day. There are also tons of people who host word sprints and post writing prompts on social media. Instagram is great for this too, where you can find tons of writers and budding authors that are supportive and in the same headspace.
6. Write, write, write. Ultimately, you start by starting. I know this is the hardest part, but I have also begrudgingly accepted that it’s really the only way to ever make progress. Start with that spark of an idea and just give yourself permission to have fun and write on it as long as you are able. Let it be terrible, let it be hard, but don’t give up on the voice inside of you who has something to say! When in doubt, keep writing.