One of the questions I get asked the most--by friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers, is "what advice would you give to aspiring writers?" Sometimes, I feel thoroughly unqualified to answer this question since I still feel like such a newbie myself. I've only been published for just shy of two years, so I'm probably not the most qualified person to give advice. But on the other hand, I was aspiring not that long ago, so maybe I can provide some insight that authors who've been published for, say, ten years, might not be able to.
A lot of you might set a New Year's resolution to finally start (or finish) that book. You might have a nebulous goal (write something, anything, and let someone, anyone read it) or something much more concrete (get an agent, self-publish, or sell to a publisher). So, here are my top ten tips for aspiring writers (in no particular order) based on what I've learned, where I've been, and what I wish someone had told me three or four years ago.
- If you want writing to be your career one day, you have to treat it like one. Take it seriously and give it a place of priority in your daily life. Don't make writing one of those things you'll get to if you have time. It'll never happen. This might mean giving up other things, like spending your weekends bingeing Netflix or going to bed earlier so you can get up before work to write. If you really want to do it, you have to actually do the work. Make time, not excuses. Sometimes the hardest part is just starting.
- Believe in yourself. Sounds super cheesy, I know, but it's important. Writing is really hard, and you have to put in a lot of work behind the scenes before you see any sort of progress. If you don't think you can do it, you probably won't. So stay positive, post little sticky notes with inspirational quotes on your desktop, change your computer's wallpaper to something that motivates you and keep going. You will face rejection (over and over again) so you need to be your own biggest cheerleader.
- Realize that you are Jon Snow. You know nothing. Take classes (online or in person). Read books on writing. Read books on creativity. Read books, period. Study your genre intensely and pay attention to what you like, and what you don't like. Learn. Apply. Learn some more. Join a critique group. Enter contests. Go to conferences. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses and work to continuously improve. Don't be afraid to push yourself.
- Find your tribe. These are the people who will support you, give you advice, cheer you on, and commiserate with you. Your tribe can be family, friends, co-workers, fellow writers or any combination of the above. Surround yourself with people who will boost you up—and give you a kick in the pants when you need it.
- Stay in your lane. No good comes from comparing yourself to other writers, especially ones at different career stages than you. Someone else’s success isn’t your failure. Remember that there are many paths, all of them valid. Focus on yours.
- Open your mind to the inspiration around you. Ideas are everywhere. Keep a notebook handy, or a file on your phone to jot things down as they come to you. You think you'll remember that amazing bit of dialogue, but I bet you won't. Pay attention to the world. Soak it in. Listen. Observe. Let things marinate in your brain.
- Pay attention to the industry, to trends and awards and bestsellers. Understand what it is you're trying to participate in, but don't let it dictate what you write. Write what you're passionate about, not what you think will sell (while still striving to understand where you may fit in the publishing world).
- Seek out feedback and advice. Be humble, gracious, and kind to those who give you time and advice, even if you don't necessarily agree with it. Your writing can't exist in a vacuum. Share it. Get notes. Learn. Improve.
- Ignore most writing advice. You don't have to write every single day. You don't have to write what you know. Use adverbs if you want. Flashbacks work sometimes. Find what works for you and run with it. Don't worry about pleasing others--write the story the way you want. It might be a stinky first draft, but hey. You'll have a complete first draft!
- Don't give up.