When I think back to my early writing—the really early stuff, back when I thought that five pages was long enough to be a novel—I see a gigantic mess. Flat characters, rushed plots, things that little seven-year-old me didn’t think through that are now really creepy (like the fact that one of my characters accidentally had two wives), and fairytale romances. I have a document of those old stories that’s titled “The Cheese Factory.”
I can’t save you from cheesy stories or flat characters—and honestly you’ll run into those through your entire writing career if that’s what you decide you want to do, you’ll just grow more equipped to handle them—but I can give you a few starting tips, as someone who’s been there and someone who knows quite a few beginning writers.
1. Know that it’s a commitment
This is the most important. Whether you want to write one book or fifty, it’s a long-term commitment, and you need to know that before you begin. Decide now whether or not you care about this enough to commit to it for a long time. I don’t remember how long my tiny first stories took, but the first one I remember well – which was still not excellent – took seven years. I’ve finished others in a much shorter time (I’ve finished two of them in a month each, for instance), but there’s character development to be done, worldbuilding, several passes of editing afterward, etc. It’s not a small thing that you’re undertaking. In the words of my favorite author, Wayne Thomas Batson:
“Writing. Do not undertake this passion lightly. It is work, discipline, often the loneliness of duties. But if your spirit soars with the creative gift of the Father, Creator of all, then by all means have at it! ‘Cuz it’s a lot of fun!”
(For more encouraging quotes, check out this post.)
2. Don’t get a coach
Of course this tip is totally up to your discretion, because it depends somewhat on your personality, and you know yourself better than I do, but I wouldn’t suggest getting a writing coach when you first start writing. Wait until you’re sure that your story won’t be heavily influenced by an outside opinion. Now, if you get a professional coach this is likely not a problem, because they’ve practiced the art of encouraging and helping without taking over, but I’d still suggest being cautious. When you’re first starting out, you want your writing to be yours so that you can figure out what you enjoy writing, what you want to be firm on if someone does want you to change things, and you’re confident in your abilities. Now, by confident in your abilities I don’t mean thinking that your writing is perfect and you have everything figured out, I mean confident enough that you won’t bend to whatever an outside voice says.
I’d suggest instead finding a writing community (see my next point) and sharing small pieces of your work, so that you can get feedback without others potentially influencing your entire story.
3. Do find a community
Find a community that will support you, encourage you when you need it, and possibly critique excerpts of your work. My first suggestions would be the Christian Teens Together! thread on the NaNoWriMo website (you’ll need to make an account, but it’s free and simple and you’re not required to participate in any of the NaNoWriMo events) and the Young Writer group on Facebook.
For some reason I find groups more helpful than one-on-one in the majority of writing situations. Plus there’s the added advantage that if you want to share something, you don’t necessarily have to wait for your one person to be available, and there’s almost always someone around. I’ve made some of my best friends through writing groups. And if you do want to go the coaching route later on, you can usually find a more experienced author willing to help you out in one of your groups.
4. Be humble and open to growth
When you do feel that you’re ready to share your writing, be gracious when taking feedback. If someone doesn’t like something you’ve written, don’t get defensive about it. Instead, consider it. If it turns out they’re right about something needing to be improved, go ahead and make the change. If not, let it go. Your writing won’t suit everyone’s tastes, and that’s okay.
Also, know up front that there is always room to improve. Even now, I know that I have areas (almost all of them, honestly) where I’m good, but I know I could still be a lot better. In writing, you never stop learning more and getting better.
5. Allow yourself to mess up
You will mess up. Your writing will suck. It’s inevitable, and it’ll happen way more than once, so you need to be okay with it, or at least know it’s coming and tolerate it. As Jodi Picoult said, “You might not write well everyday, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
Notice the mistakes, make note of them, and then move on. Come back to it in editing. For now, just write.
Hopefully these tips were helpful to you, and if you’d like to share your thoughts on any of the points, please feel free to comment. To all of you beginning writers out there, I commend you, and I hope that you enjoy your writing. That’s one of the most important things about it, so don’t let these tips or any others zap the joy out of it. And in the end, your journey is your journey, and how you do it is up to you. Have fun. :)