Five Things Every Beginning Writer Should Know
1. There Is More Than One Way To Write.
If anyone tells you that the strategy they used to write their book is the only way — run in the opposite direction.
As a new writer, there is a lot of information coming at you. Podcasts, books, tips, tools, you name it, it’s out there. What’s important to remember is that there is no single set of rules or path to completing your novel or making it more fulfilling to your reader.
Rules and story structure are important elements of writing, but they should be observed more like guidelines. You can break them if you do it well. I recommend having a good understanding of a rule’s purpose before breaking it. By understanding the purpose of the rule, you will have greater control over its effect on your story when and if you choose to break it.
One last point. Don’t let one person’s negative opinion stop you from writing or trying something new. You might be right, or they might be, but you won’t know for sure until you work it out in your manuscript.
2. Are You A Pantser, Plotter, or Plantser? (What Does That Even Mean?)
A Pantser, or an organic writer, is an author who writes without a preplanned outline. People who write in this style refer to it often as ‘writing by the seat of their pants.’ As they write, they sense organically what their characters would choose to do next, and their story unfolds on the page before them. Another word for this is free writing, writing what first comes to mind.
A Plotter is an author who writes from an outline. These authors range from having short bullet points about what will happen in each chapter to detailed notes. The story is preplanned and follows the prescribed outline.
A Plantser is an author who mixes both strategies of the plotter and pantser. They use an outline but allow themselves the freedom to deviate from the plan.
Is one style better than another?
The answer is simple, no. There are very successful authors out there who are plotters and just as many that are pantsers. Use the strategy that works best for you.
Here’s a tip that has helped me. Not all the books you write will use the same strategy. If you are experiencing writer’s block, try a new way of doing things. If you are stuck and a hardcore plotter, try freewriting and see what happens. The same goes if you’re a pantser, try plotting things out. Sometimes the key to getting unstuck is trying the opposite strategy.
3. Read Everyday. Seriously.
This advice was one of my favorites when I first started writing. It was also very true, which made me love it even more.
I try to dedicate one or two hours a day to reading. Typically, I divide this time between three books. The first book I read is a writing craft book, usually about structure, characterization, or genre writing. The next book will be in the same genre I am currently writing in, with the same point of view (POV). Lastly, I read a book purely for fun.
Here’s why I feel reading these types of books is important.
First off, craft books are not all dry and boring. A lot of them are even engaging. They offer valuable tools, strategies, and ideas that push your novel to the next level and help sidestep story pitfalls. The old saying is true, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ If you come across a craft book that doesn’t completely line up with how you write, consider finishing it anyways. These books often contain wisdom that may not be relevant now but may help you overcome a problem in the future. It’s always good to keep learning.
I would also urge you to read in the genre you write for many reasons. It helps you stay current with what is on the market, understand reader expectations, and avoid what has fallen out of favor. You can also learn a lot about writing from your fellow genre authors. When I read these books, I stick colored tabs on the tops of pages to signify the scenes or techniques that I find very enjoyable. After reading the book, I’ll go back to those scenes and break down what I liked about them and their effect on me as a reader. For example, one author’s descriptions made me feel like I was standing in an Italian garden without boring me with frivolous words. By analyzing her style, I saw that her delicate use of sensory details (sight, smell, sound, touch) brought the scene to life. You can learn a lot by studying the techniques of other authors.
Lastly, I read a book for pure fun. It’s important to foster your love of reading and not view it as a chore. I, for one, never want to lose that immersive feeling.
4. You Don’t Have To Write Chapter One First
When I began meeting other authors, I was shocked to learn that not all of them wrote chapter one first. Some started by writing the middle of their novels. They wrote the scenes they were the most excited about or the ones they could envision most completely and worked forward or backward from that point
Feel free to start your writing journey with the scene you want to write, even if it’s something that will happen toward the end of your book. Your excitement will undoubtedly come out on the written page, making the scene more compelling. Also, when we know where a character’s growth is heading, it can reveal to us as authors where the character’s development needs to start, shedding great insight into our first chapters.
The most essential step in your novel writing journey is to begin writing. So, why not start with what makes you excited to write each day.
5. First Drafts Are Meant To Be Awful.
Have you ever sat in your writing chair and stared at the cursor blinking before you and wondered what to type next? I know I have. One of the best things about writing is that you don’t have to have everything all perfectly figured out on your first attempt. All you need to do is get words on the page and reach an ending.
Your first draft does not need to be brilliant, or witty, or funny, or whatever it is that’s keeping you stuck. It just needs to propel characters toward an end.
So what do you do when you know you need an action scene and can’t think of something? Try what I call the square bracket tip. When you’re stuck, insert a square bracket and write what you want from the scene. For example, [Insert action scene here later] or [Needs funny dialogue here]. Then keep writing. Doing this keeps the story moving forward, prevents you from remaining stuck on one scene and gets you closer to your ending. This tip helped me shut off my internal editor and stop repeatedly revising my first few chapters. True, I needed to fix many things in my first draft, but this strategy gave me the framework of a story and helped me finish my first novel.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and found them helpful.