A Note to New Writers

Photo credit: William Arthur Fine Stationary on Flickr
Deciding you want to be a writer is scary. It’s also exciting, depending on the day of the week, and difficult, and fun and sometimes overwhelming. On especially interesting days, it’ll be all five.

I often get e-mails from new writers asking for tips—something to help them write their book, whether they’ve just started, haven’t started, have tried and failed to finish several times, or are just stuck with a particularly challenging WIP. So I’m going to share with you the advice I repeat most often: finish the book. 

IMO, the first book is the hardest to finish. It’s the one where you fight the most doubts about your ability to finish a novel, where you haven’t yet figured out the process that works best for you, where you question whether or not you’re really an actual writer. (Those doubts, struggles and questions never really go away, but they’re often the loudest when writing that first ever book).

Finishing a book isn’t easy. There are going to be days when you seriously doubt your ability to reach the end. There will be days when you think your writing completely sucks, days when you hate your characters or your plot or you think your dialogue is stupid. There will be days when you start to wonder if maybe you should give up and try something else.

Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t look back.

The truth is, your first draft will probably suck. Many published writers will tell you that their first drafts are laughably bad, but here’s the thing to remember: it doesn’t matter. The first draft isn’t about getting it right, it’s about getting it done. That’s it.

Next, you need to be reading. This isn’t optional. Read the popular and obscure, read whatever you can get your hands on, and most importantly, read the genre and category that you’re writing in. You need to know what’s out there in order to be able to write a book that’ll fit on the shelf. Not only that, but you’ll discover so much when reading—for example, I never would have learned how much I love dual-POV novels or Sci-Fi if I hadn’t read Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.

Read read read read read. You won’t regret the time you take to keep aware of what’s on the market (but I promise you, you will regret it if you skip this step).

Now you’re writing and reading. Awesome. The next thing you need to accept is you have to edit. A lot.

One of the best things I’ve done for my career thus far is to learn to love to edit. That’s right—I didn’t always love it, in fact, I kind of skimped on it with my first couple WIPs (learn from my mistakes, writers: do not skimp).

But even if you don’t learn to love to edit, you need to accept that it’s going to be a part of your life if writing is truly what you want to do. And yes, for those of you editing while first drafting, you will still have to edit again. Most likely several times.

Related to this note, you need critique partners that aren’t close friends or relatives. You need feedback from other writers, and not only that, you need the experience of critiquing someone else’s work. Make the effort to find some good critique partners, because they are truly invaluable to the writing process.

The next unfortunate truth is you’re going to get rejected. This doesn’t apply to just new writers—you’ll face rejection throughout your career, regardless of where you’re at. You’ll be rejected by agents, by editors and by negative reviews.You’ll learn the difference between a form rejection and a personalized rejection (and you’ll learn that personalized rejections are a thing to be cherished).

You may hear a lot of no’s for many many years before you hear your first yes (for me, it took eight years to hear the yes that landed me an agent). You may have to trunk manuscripts and write book after book that you then have to put away, but I promise you, this is normal and it’s okay. It’s not a waste of time—you’re learning and growing and beginning to get a feel for the tough part of the writing life.

The good news is this: the writing community is wonderful. I can’t encourage you enough to get involved—start a Twitter and follow other writers, read writing blogs, check out forums, whatever you have to. The writing community is full of people in all stages of their journey, people who understand the rejection and the tough days when you want to give up on this writing dream. People who are there to help you when they can and encourage you when you’re feeling down. People who will dance with you when good things happen and beam when you share good news.

If you don’t listen to anything I’ve written, please please please do this: get involved with the writing community. You’ll learn so much from that alone.

Finally, know that you are, actually, a writer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an agent, or a book contract, or a published book. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write every day, or you’re not getting paid, or no one knows your name. If you write and you love to write, you’re a writer. Embrace it. Love it. Live it.

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae shares an open letter to new writers, with truths, tips and encouragement. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares a letter on the hardest aspects of writing & some encouragement for those just starting out. (Click to tweet


Anne girl said...

Yes, the first one is the hardest, but in other ways I wish I could have that back. That moment when I first realized "I can do this" that moment was worth the tears late at night when my sister was asleep and not knowing what to do with all those characters and tearing my hair out wondering how you get characters across a room when there isn't any reason for them to go.

And I wish someone had told me earlier on that you do actually have to edit. It would have saved me that July when I was convinced that I might as well stop. So yeah new writers! First drafts stink. Roll with it, you are too awesome to let one foul smelling draft get you down.

Jeremy Feijten said...

Once again wonderfully written down. You've successfully summarised the basics of writing. Even before they'll learn about outlines, character development and plot, this is what writers need to know. Write, read and edit. If that goes well, you should be just fine.

And hurray for the writing community. I'm not too involved, but I definitely appreciate it. This blog is also one of the rare writing related websites I keep checking, even when there's some time in between two visits. So, thumbs up, Ava Jae.

I wonder, though. Could you ever edit too much? If there's one thing I'm really good at, it's editing. I can write a great scene, hate it the next day and consequently rewrite the whole piece to fall in love with it again. Then, some days later, I (once again) feel the need to dramatically rewrite the scene. This can go on forever, in my opinion. There's always something that can be better formulated. I guess that at some point you should be brave enough to let go and accept that it's the best you could do. That's a tough call too make, though :-)

But we ARE writers. Let's just embrace that wonderful fact and carry on. If it's made to happen, it will.

Ava Jae said...

I think it's really sweet that you hang on to that "I can do this" moment! The realization can definitely be motivating long after it comes.

I also agree about the editing thing—I initially thought edits were the equivalent of polishing. How so very wrong I was...

Go new writers!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks so much, Jeremy! ^_^

As far as editing goes, I once saw a quote floating around that went along the lines of "a book is never finished, just published." For better or worse, there are always changes that could be made. Critique partners can be very helpful for helping you to determine that "ready to send out" point, if you're having trouble pinpointing it yourself.

And I agree!

Aimee Hyndman said...

Very good advice. One can never underestimate the value of determination or the support of the writing community. Sometimes it seems like you can't see the end of the tunnel but your fellow writers always have something to say to pick you back up.
Great post :)

Kelly said...

(Just realized this is my first time EVER posting on a blog. You should be honored that it's your post I loved enough to comment on lol)

Anyways, I just starting writing my first book last week. Before that I hadn't even considered writing a book so it's quite surprising how quickly the desire to write has become a part of my life.

I found this post incredibly helpful so thank you for writing it! One question I had while reading was how do you decide to give up on a WIP? What makes you decide you can't take it any further? As someone who plans to write on the side and not as a career (although I have to admit getting published one day would be cool) I want to write and feel the personal fulfillment that I can only assume would come with finishing a book. Are there warning signs that you can look for to see if your book will be finish-able? I don't want to waste my time writing two thirds of a book and giving up. I also don't want to prematurely give up on a potential masterpiece just because I'm unsure of myself.

I never thought about the reading tip! Although I often read for fun I'll have to think more about reading books with the intent of learning the market and anything else I can to help me with my own writing.

Also, I have been trying to get involved with the writing community by finding blogs (glad to have found this one!) but didn't think about joining a forum. I'm sure hearing from fellow writers would definitely help motivate me if nothing else so I appreciate the tip!

Your last paragraph is very inspiring. I'll have to remember that!

Ellen said...

Kelly -- Didn't see Ava Jae's response, so I hope she doesn't mind I jump in. First -- kudos to plunging into writing! A book can feel overwhelming (even when you've written a few of them), But here's the thing: you won't know if it's that masterpiece you're after or not unless you draft the entire thing. One famous writer once said (I'll paraphrase) that if you can stop, don't start. If you're wondering now when would be the right time to give up on a manuscript, you're going to be very tempted to give up on it too soon. Resist that temptation.

Writing a book isn't a fast process. It can take a year to draft, another year to revise and edit, a year in between to simmer awhile... We live in a fast world, but some things just take time to be good, and books are one of those things.

Most writers who write and publish fast end up with lousy books (unless they've been at it a long time, like Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates). Especially beginning writers.

Take your time. Read. And know that nothing. NOTHING is wasted. The pages you write that you end up not using aren't bad -- they were practice. They were pages spent while you learned your craft.

Trust me. You'll look back on page one when you're on page 200 and see how much better those pages in between made you.

Have patience with the process. Have patience with yourself. It takes time to be good, if that's what you want. And you should want that.

Good luck and happy writing!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Aimee! I totally agree about the writing community—they can really be wonderful encouragement when you're feeling down.

Ava Jae said...

(Firstly, wow! I'm totally honored that your very first blog comment is on my blog. Thank you so much! ^_^)

Now, congratulations on starting your first book! That's very exciting and I'm so happy for you! If you have any questions along the way, don't be afraid to ask through my contact page, in the comments on a relevant post, or through Twitter (I'm @Ava Jae ). :)

As far as WIP-writing goes, I have two stages of putting it away. The first is more of an experimental mode—I assume that I might put it away until I've hit around 10,000 words or so. If I reach that point and I still love the story, chances are likely that I'm going to finish the manuscript (and from then on I refer to it as a Work In Progress rather than an experiment). Are there exceptions? Sure. But I've only put down a manuscript after reaching that 10k point twice, so for me the odds are pretty promising.

The second, and the one I was referring to in the post, is trunking the manuscript after I've written it. There are many reasons for trunking a manuscript, and I've written a little about it in this post and this post.

The thing to remember, I think, is writing is never a waste of time, even if you trunk the manuscript. There's so very much to be learned and I truly 100% believe I've learned something from every manuscript I've written, including the nine or so that I eventually trunked.

Reading is so important! The best part, to me, is we writers can read for enjoyment and education at the same time. It's a very nice perk of the job.

I definitely encourage you to get involved however you can. Twitter has been a wonderful outlet for me—I've met so many truly amazing people, including most of my CPs that way, and have even landed two internships through Twitter. Absolute Write also has a fantastic forum for writers, which I've browsed through but haven't really gotten involved in. However, if you're more comfortable with forums, I definitely recommend it. :)

Finally, yay! I'm very happy to encourage.

Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts!

Ava Jae said...

Ellen! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I never mind anyone jumping in—in fact, I love to see the community interacting with each other. :)

Also, your response is wonderful.

Denise Covey said...

This is a great post, covering the most salient points for new writers. The best way to learn is to write stories that may never see the light of day, but boy, will you learn a lot.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Denise! I definitely agree—there's a lot to be learned from every manuscript you write. :)

Candace Ishmael said...

This is so beautiful, Ava! Love it.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Candace! Very happy to hear you enjoyed it! ^_^

Michelle Irwin said...

Perfect post :)

Ava Jae said...

Aw, thank you so much, Michelle! :)

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