So, you want to be a writer. Do you already have a story floating around in your head just waiting to be told? Or do you want to be a writer, but have no idea of what to write about?
Well, I can’t give you ideas on what to write about – sorry! But I’m hoping that what I write here will point you in the right direction. My advice has come from years of training, research, experience and reading as much as I can.
I’m going to talk about the second group first, those who want to be a writer but do not know what to write about.
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself why. Why do you want to be a writer? Did you read a book and think, ‘I could have written this better’, or I could have written that scene better’? Maybe the storyline was weak, or you didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters. Maybe you dream of being a famous author with a million-dollar publishing deal and fans clamouring for an autograph … we can all dream.
Whatever your reason, writing needs to be a passion. And I’m sure if you sat down with a notebook and pen, you could brainstorm a few story ideas. Story ideas can come from anywhere. They can come from books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, the news, a story your grandma once told you, or even from a half-heard conversation from a table near you at a coffee shop. Write one idea per page. Even if it’s only one in total. Once you feel you have run out of ideas, go back over each of them and make some notes. These notes might include something about the main character (male, female, rich, poor, single, married etc). They might be about other possible characters that you think the story might need, or where the story could be set (time and place). You get the idea.
Even if you have only come up with one idea and a few notes, it is a start, and maybe this is the story you were meant to write. You have now joined the first group I mentioned, those with a story to write.
This first group should do the same exercise with their ideas and notes. It can make it all seem more real, more of a possibility.
If you genuinely want to be a writer, you need to make the decision to BE a writer. Stop procrastinating and (like Nike say) just do it.
In all my studying, experience, research and reading, the common consensus seems to be to approach your writing as you would a job. In other words, take it seriously.
Do you feel that you need some training before starting to write?
For me, I decided to become an editor and proofreader in about 2013. I was a stay-at-home mum, homeschooling my children fulltime. I felt I needed to do something for myself, and if it helped bring a little much-needed income in as well – so much the better. I knew that I had a good grasp of the ins and outs of the English language and that I knew what made a story good and gripping, but I wanted to make sure that I not only knew the difference between an adverb and a verb but that I would enjoy doing the work. After a lot of internet searching, I found a course that I believed could help me: Certificate in Professional Editing and Proofreading from the Australian College of Journalism. It looked to cover everything I felt I needed at the time, with the bonus of being via correspondence, which fit in with our family. Doing the course every day reinforced my desire to make a career out of editing and proofreading. It became a passion.
And my training hasn’t ended. I am constantly learning new skills and improving current skills. I have completed a few courses since then including a Diploma in Business, a Certificate in Creative Writing, a course in grammar, Certificate in Editing Mastery, and a Certificate in Writing for the Web, to name a few. Plus, I have grown my collection of references books to huge proportions – both printed and eBook – that my husband just says, ‘You’ve ordered another book?’ whenever a delivery comes!
Writing is about constantly learning and self-improvement too. Whether you want to learn how to craft a powerful dialogue or learn how to ‘show, not tell’ and audience, there are many resources out there. There are organisations and services across the world that can help. There are courses you can take online or off-campus, so many books that can be of help, and of course, there is free information to be found on the web (like my website!) that can offer anything from training to advice.
I am in the process of compiling a resource section for my website, so you can either follow my blog to keep updated or comment below or Contact Me and I’ll let you know as soon as it is up and running.
If you just want to jump into writing, here are some tips to help get you started, no matter what your personal style or needs are:
CREATE YOUR OWN WRITING SPACE
Try to find a place in your house where you can set up a desk (or even garden shed, I’ve read that all of Roald Dahl’s best-known works were written in a garden shed). You might be able to take over a portion of your dining table (like I did) or you might have to make do with a card table in the corner of a room at first. Make this YOUR space. For a year, while my family and I travelled in a camper trailer with two kids and two dogs, the corner of the couch was MY spot. When we settled back into suburbia, I was lucky that the house we moved into has a large dining room and we were able to pick up a cheap second-hand desk for me to squeeze into a corner. It is next to the clothes airer, but luckily, I like the smell of freshly washed clothes!
YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR WRITING SERIOUSLY
In the wise words of Janet Evanovich (best-selling author of the Stephanie Plum series, written in her great book ‘How I Write – Secrets of a Bestselling Author’), ‘When people ask what you do, tell them you are a writer. Put yourself on the line. Make a commitment.’
SCHEDULE TIME TO WRITE
The Creative Writing course I took suggests: ‘Try to isolate several, two-hour blocks in which to write. Two hours should be a minimum to settle, marshal your thoughts, begin your task, and make a little progress. Two hours is only a suggestion. What works for you may differ. If your only opportunity to write is while the kids are in the bath — write then! Some writers produce as little as 300 words a week, but those 300 words a week add up.
Ideally, you should negotiate. If your writing desk/card table is in the lounge room and sharing space with the television, it isn’t practical to want to write while the family’s favourite program is on. If possible, give yourself at least three days with two hours; preferably, if practicable, write every day. Some people write early, others like the quiet of the night. Many authors find that a rule of working 9–5 fits well with family commitments. As a bonus, other people seem to understand those hours.’
Whatever you choose, it needs to be what is best for you.
GET YOURSELF ORGANISED
If you are already extremely busy, like most of us are, you may need to give something else up. If you’ve just started a new job, or maybe you’ve just had a baby or anything else that is as time-consuming as these, you may need to think about leaving the writing for a year or so. But be aware, too, that a heightened state of emotion can be a valuable driver for inspirational writing. If you feel the need to write — write!
① Organise You Mind and Your Workspace
Before starting your writing project, you need to be able to focus on the project and push other things out of your mind for the time being. You could make a handwritten list of things that you need to do that are not related to the writing project and then put that list away to be looked at later. Then you could make a list — or an outline — for the project at hand. One thing that I find helpful is that I clear my desk of any other projects so they are out of view and don’t distract me while I work on the project at hand.
② Other Distractions
I am not able to get rid of ALL outside distractions during my business hours since I work from home. I schedule everything that needs to be done, and my children are old enough that they can easily amuse themselves if I need a specific amount of time distraction-free. While I am working on a client’s project, I put my phone on vibrate, and I shut down the browser window for my email account on my laptop.
③ Don’t Forget to Give Yourself a Break (or Two)
Set yourself some goals, whether it’s, ‘I’ll work for an hour, then make myself a cuppa and have a snack’ or ‘when I’ve written one page I’ll have a break’. Some people use an actual timer. You need to make sure you take time for yourself too. You could even ‘reward’ yourself with something else you enjoy doing if you reach your daily or weekly goals. Just remember to make the goals realistic.
④ Focus on Your Readers/Audience and Put Yourself in Their Shoes
This is particularly important and suggested by most experienced (famous) writers. You need to think about your readers or audience. Make notes if it helps. Imagine your target audience and ask yourself who will be reading or hearing the words you’re writing? What do they like or dislike? How can you grab — and keep — their attention? All successful writing projects are written for specific target audiences. One suggestion I read that do, said that the author sometimes pretends that she’s having a conversation with her readers. Maybe you could comment below and let me know what you think so we can continue the conversation – for real!
And most important – ALWAYS Carry a Notebook
This probably the most important advice to any aspiring writer: always — always — carry a notebook. And use it! You could hear snatches of conversation or phrases that grab your attention because of their colour, or passion, or pathos – write them down. You might see someone who looks just how you imagine one of your characters to look – write their description down! You might see objects and places and people that capture your imagination, write your perceptions down. You will have feelings that make you want to sing or weep, write them down too. Don’t think, ‘I’ll remember that later’ because you won’t! WRITE THEM DOWN!
Note from Jenni: I hope you found this post helpful. Next week I will be sharing more helpful information. Please follow my blog so you don’t miss out on any upcoming posts.
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me via my Contact Me page or leave a comment below. To find out more about my services, visit My Services page. You can also find me on Facebook by clicking the ‘F’ icon at the bottom of any page on my website.
Jenni Wade is a fiction copyeditor, line editor and proofreader who specialises in helping self-publishing authors, first-time authors, and helping businesses with their documentation. She is the Advertising Manager and an assistant editor for the Home Education Network magazine Otherways.
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