There are a lot of lists of tips for how to be a writer out there – hundreds, probably thousands of seasoned writers have a top ten list of points for being a writer. I’ve read as many as I could find, and will keep on reading any that I can find. But I have found that that search has slowed down as I’ve started to take on the advice given. That is, the advice that works for me.
All the lists and articles I’ve read start with an intro about the writer, which is nice, and nice if you want to know my story, but if you’re impatient to get on with writing as I always was – scrolling quickly past the blurb to find the next list, then I totally get you. Go for it.
At the time I write this, my blog is in its nascent stages, my writing career barely begun. When this article is posted, that will make three whole blog posts, not counting the “About me” intro I agonised over for about a fortnight, starting off with some really dodgy words I threw together, thinking they sounded cool, or edgy, and describing something I wasn’t. Maybe down the track I will revisit these three articles, and properly revise them into something more sophisticated – because already I am seeing changes in my writing. I might even relent against my relatives, and take down the blog I wrote about them. Hmmm. Maybe. Maybe I will leave the articles as they are. They are clumsy, sure. And they are poorly revised. And that one about my relatives slightly inflammatory (don’t worry, we all dissolved into loved-up tears at the end, it was just awesome). But part of me knows that when I look back on these three articles, which I will, because I am a sentimental freak-pathetique, I will be able to see where I started. I will see how far I’ve come, and how all the hard work – and the advice in the lists – has paid off.
Top Tips for being a Writer
These are in no particular order of priority. Each is as important as the other, and you need to consider them all, and how you can accommodate them in your life.
Yep. Basic. This tops all the lists I’ve ever read, and is the best advice you will ever get. Go. Now. Write something down right now. Write what you did today, what you saw today, what was the traffic like, was the train packed. How many coffees/teas you drank, how many people you talked to, what you talked about, how much your boss irritated you, what you did with your friends on the weekend. Start somewhere. Write about anything. Get used to putting pen to paper. Stop dreaming about it, stop talking about it: write it.
- Write yourself
Be comfortable with your style, be who you are. Work on technique and manipulating writing styles later – first, write with your own voice, know who you are, and be comfortable with how you sound on paper. (Yes, all right – or how you look onscreen.) There is no other you. There is no one who appreciates humans, life, or who is influenced by life the way you are. You are what someone else wants to hear and read, your voice, not a duplicate of something or someone else. Don’t write what you think someone else wants to read or hear. You’ll see it straight away – it’ll be stilted and unnatural. When you’re starting out, get used to this first: get used to you.
- Write to a prompt, daily or weekly
There are many writing sites that offer a daily writing prompt, or a writing-prompt course. Mine is one of them. Take the challenge. Read the prompt, start putting words on the page. You might not have time to finish your response – a lot of the prompts I have done remain unfinished (time is something we can talk about later). But what you end up with is a wealth of notes, writings, characters, dialogue – whatever you’ve come up with goes into your reserve, something you can draw on later, grow and develop.
- Set writing goals
Measure your goals in a format that works for you. Count the hours that you work, or count the pages you produce over a defined period of time. I started by breaking it down into so-many pages of journal writing a week, plus so-many pages of the book I’m working on each week, on top of X-amount of blog articles a month, X-number of poems a month, etc. You guessed it – I lost track of everything, and so got nowhere. I have ended up just counting the number of pages I write each week – regardless of what it was I was writing. Some weeks, it was the book-writing that I got into, sometimes it was the prompts, some weeks I couldn’t put the journal-writing down. If, like me, you still have your ‘other job’ to work at, which is currently putting food on the table, then be realistic. 100 pages a week might be a tough ask. Start with what works for you.
- Set aside time to write
Yes – time. I always think of available time in the context of the adoring horde at home. To help you find the time, you’ve got to sit down and talk with your family, your people, and let them know what having this time means to you. Work out a schedule with them, and work out a system for interruptions. Nothing worse than being in the zone, and your partner/child/significant other picks that moment to tell you they love you, etc. If you can, get them to help you manage the zone, let them know what it is.Once you’ve got your loved ones on board, find out what is the best time of day for you to write. You might be able to put aside an hour in the morning before you get to the office (that’s me), but if your inner-writer is not a morning person, then what do you do? Writing when you don’t feel like it is hard to do, but it’s important. Imagine going to your current boss to say that you really don’t feel like being at work at 9.30, that you’re better starting in the afternoon. It’s the same with your writing. Sometimes you have to sit yourself down, and get into it, and get on with it. It is a balance, though – if you can find that better and fluent time of day, then do it, but always push past it.
Read. Read whatever you like. Read as much as you can. You take the train to work? Take a book (or your e-Reader) with you. Read at lunch. Listen to audio books when you drive. What reading does to broaden your mind and vocabulary is staggeringly good for you. But it also exposes you to technique, to how different authors use dialogue, develop their characters, develop their plots.
- Revise your stuff
One (!) of my biggest failings is my impatience to click on Post or Send. This probably can be traced back to my school days, when I left major assignments to the night before they were due. I would get ok-results, but if I had spent time on reviewing and revising my stuff – ! Gosh, where would I be now? Running the country, surely. Revising your work is critical to the process. Go back, read your stuff again. Revise it. Edit it. Read over it again. Get feedback. All of these steps serve to improve your writing. Take feedback on board, see what happens.
- Do a course, do a couple of courses
There are a lot of good courses out there that can be done online, and in your own time. Open colleges and universities are a good place to start looking, and look for Certificate IV courses, or industry-based courses offered by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). My workplace offers study leave and some financial remuneration for completion of certain courses – yours may, too. Look into it!
And have fun writing!