Recently, one of my Facebook friends asked me for pointers on writing. She asked what to do before “trying to create a story, how to go about it, etc.” I didn’t come up with specific things to do while preparing to write a story, but I did come up with seven pointers that I believe can lead to a full and satisfying writing life, one that could include writing stories if that’s what an individual wants to do. So here are my seven suggestions.
1. Write, write, write every day. It doesn’t matter so much how many words you produce or how much time you devote at first. Consistency is what counts. And give yourself permission to write whatever you want in whatever form you want. You will learn by doing.
2. Start a journal. This isn’t the same thing as a diary, although it can contain diary-type entries. It’s a place to jot down ideas you might want to develop, snippets of intriguing conversations, quotes from books, magazines and so forth, word play, lists: a catch-all of what grabs your imagination or what’s on your mind. Some people use pen and notebook, others use smart-phone apps or regular word processing programs. Some folks carry 3 x 5 cards and a pen in a purse or pocket, and then categorize them back at home.
3. Read, read, read every day. Read anything and everything: novels in diverse genres, poetry, nonfiction, magazines, recipes, travelogues, essays, encyclopedias, scientific and trade journals—and books on writing. Read what you’re drawn to and what you tend to ignore. Feed your curiosity and stimulate your brain. That said, if you check out, say, The Scarlet Letter from the library, and Hawthorne’s prose makes your eyes cross or your stomach churn, close the book and take it right back and try something else; this isn’t a lit class assignment; it’s an exploration, an adventure.
4. Revel in the authors you discover and the language they use. When you run across phrases that are particularly pleasing, pause, re-read them, read them aloud, dance to them, sing them. Don’t beat yourself up by thinking things like, Why can’t I do that? Just enjoy the process, both what you love about what others are doing and what you are learning to do.
5. Share your work with others, either in a group of kind, insightful people or one-on-one with a writing buddy. It’s important to find people who will look for your strengths and help you build on them. If you try out a group, and you’re not comfortable for some reason, politely withdraw and move on. And keep looking until you find the kind of support and feedback that helps you develop. Some people find this kind of support online, as well as in writing clubs and at writers’ conferences.
6. Expect great things, but don’t push yourself so hard that you stop enjoying your writing activities. We all want to create works of art that touch other people; we want to build an audience. But being a writer is really more about discovery and process than it is about product. Do seek opportunities to become published when you feel ready to do so, but believe in yourself as a writer even before you see your name in print.
7. Be true to yourself—and honest. Don’t write something because you think you ought to (unless it’s a paid assignment; then do your best to follow the guidelines given to you). Learn to listen to your inner voice, and let that direct your creative path.
I hope these sugestions are helpful. If you’d like to add some tips of your own, jump right in using the comments section. That’ll make this even more useful to my new-writer friend and any other aspiring writers who happen upon this page.