So, I wanted to write this list, not as a perfect tick box of what you should do to become successful (I am still working on that anyway), but rather as a list of the top 10 things I have learnt in my writing journey. This list is not definitive, and I am sure other writings would have their own opinions of the top 10 tips for new writers. None-the-less, we will forge ahead.
1. A lot of people have ideas for stories, very few write them.
This first one may seem like a meaningless platitude at first glance, but one of the most powerful things I have come to realise is that very few people actually do what we do. It takes a significant amount of dedication and discipline to complete a novel, giving up countless hours to build a whole new world, give life to your imaginary friends, and ultimately craft a tale to enthrall the masses (or at least a couple of dedicated fans). So, never let the naysayers get you down because in reality, they are jealous that you have dedicated yourself to something greater, and because of that, it is worth doing.
2. Writing is a skill. No matter how good you think you are, you could be better.
I think all writers have cringed at a piece of their own work at some point or another. When I first started writing, I thought every word that hit the page was pure gold… how very wrong I was. After years of writing and working to develop my craft, I returned to one of my early stories and the cringe factor was high. The tip in this, never stop honing your skills, no matter how you do this, and never stop critiquing your own work.
3. Be your own worst critic, but also your own greatest fan.
It is easy to be your own worst critic, trust me, I know. And this is important to push your writing boundaries, always seeking to improve and tell the best story possible. But you must also make sure you are also your biggest fan. You have to love the stories you tell, even when they are a bit clunky, and by loving them your passion will come across even if the words are clunky.
4. Motivation is fickle.
Motivation to write is never a bad thing, but motivation is fickle. If you want to make real progress, use your motivation when it comes up but what you really need to depend on is discipline. You need to set aside a specific time to write, even when you do not have the motivation. Make it a habit. But don't just make writing time a habit, make how you go about that writing time a habit as well. Write in the same place, at the same time, with the same cup of tea in the same mug. It doesn't matter how productive you are to begin with, because you are being more productive than you would be waiting for motivation. You are also hardwiring your brain to recognise writing time, which in time will make you more motivated and focused when carrying out these habits.
10 Tips for new writers
Pretty simple one, but important. How does someone learn to play a musical instrument? They learn their favourite band's songs and practice. Writing is no different. Read those authors you wish to be like and learn how they craft a scene or a character. Anytime reading is time well spent, whether you realise it or not.
6. Don't read.
Just to contradict myself, there is also a time to stop reading. Whenever I am committing significant time to writing and trying to get large chunks of work done, I will try to read as little as possible. Why? Firstly, to give my brain a rest from the constant stream or words running through it. Secondly, and probably more importantly from my perspective, is it becomes very easy to demoralize yourself. I have lost count of how many times I have been trying to write and cannot help but compare my work to one of my favourite authors that I was just reading, and I always feel like I come up short. So now, I will avoid reading during large periods of dedicated writing.
7. Proof reading… that's a tomorrow problem.
Don't read what you just wrote - just keep writing. I recently spoke with a young woman who had just started writing and she told me that she was struggling to get the first chapter finished because she kept re-reading it and finding mistake and fixing them… which would invariably lead to more mistakes. So, this tip is simply this - stop trying to proof-read and edit before you have finished the story. Get the story on a page, because it will probably change as you write it, and polish it later.
8. Have a plan and character maps.
Once you have that lightning strike moment for a brilliant story, you will be tempted to dive straight in and just start writing. As a new writer, my advice is don't so this. Have a plan, even if it is only a broad outline, before you start writing. What this does is gives you a roadmap when you get lost in the dark and forget where you are going. You may end up taking a different route, but at least you will be going in the right direction. Character maps will help you do the same thing for each character so you don't end up with a cast of the same person wearing different clothes.
9. Keep reference books handy.
Google is great when you need to quickly look something up. I use it a lot to help me explain a setting or what something looks like, it always helps to visualise it before trying to describe it with words. But also keep your reference books handy. One in particular I like to use, and use a lot, is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Pugluisi. It is always sitting on my desk before I start writing so I am not wasting time looking for it.
10. Join a writing group.
If you are a writer, chances are you are a massive introvert like me. It can be hard to go out and join groups, to share our work with strangers, but trust me, it's worth it. My first physical writers group gave me more ideas and refinements than all my social media groups combined had given me - and all I read to them of my work was the blurb. In short, other writers are your best support and tool in becoming a better writer, and the best medium for sharing ideas and learning is by physically being there.
And so, here we are at the end. I hope this has helped you in some way, even if only to show you that all writers struggle and feel the same things about our work. Don't give up and keep writing.