A Beginner’s Guide To Writing

Many of the questions I receive in my e-mail inbox are from writers who are just starting out. These questions are from writers who have recently had an epiphany that they were meant to be writers; or they have always known they were writers, but had always postponed it and now have finally decided to embrace their passion and take it seriously.

So, today, I’d like to address these beginning writers and answer their most pressing questions.

Here we go:

“Hey Ollin, I’m a beginning writer.”

That’s awesome! Welcome to the writing community. It is a very supportive and loving community, as you will soon discover. Sure, there will be some bad apples, but don’t pay them any mind. Most of us writers are really cool people.

(Oh and by the way: just admitting that you are a writer is a very brave step. You should be very proud of yourself!)

“I don’t know if I’m good enough to be a writer, though. How can a person tell if they are good enough to be a writer?”

You know, believe it or not, I get asked this question a lot.

Look: everyone is good enough to be a writer. Everyone is always “good enough” to be something. But what they may not be is “skilled enough,” “experienced enough,” “mature enough,” “passionate enough,” or “practiced enough.”

So, for now, just assume that you are good enough to be a writer. If you have a passion for writing, feel free to begin to write.

But, further along the journey, you might wonder whether or not your writing is improving. When that is the case, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I practiced enough? How many hours have you put into actually writing? How long have you been taking writing seriously? If you haven’t practiced writing very long, you may need to give yourself more time to gain experience: practice a bit more. No writer (or artist) ever became good without years of practice.
  • Have I studied writing enough? Have you taken classes, read books, or worked with a writing mentor for a considerable amount of time? If you haven’t done any of that, then you may need to take some classes, read some writing books, or work with a mentor for some time in order to improve your writing. (For those considering doing a graduate program in creative writing please read: Is Getting A Masters In Creative Writing Really Worth It? As far as writing books go, I recommend Larry Brook’s Story Engineering and Victoria Mixon’s The Art and Craft of Fiction.)
  • Have I allowed myself to attain a certain level of “writing maturity”? I would define “writing maturity” as making a whole lot of mistakes and seeing what those mistakes got you. In a way, you can’t become a mature writer unless you tried a lot of stuff that really bombed, and then, afterwards, learned from those mistakes and improved. So, on top of practicing and studying craft, allow yourself to make a whole lot of mistakes, make note of them, and then try not repeating them again. That’s maturity.

“How do I find a great writing mentor?”

I recommend you read:

4 Helpful Tips For Finding A Really Great Mentor

“I want to learn from writing coaches, teachers, and books, but how do I know who is a real authority I can trust, and who’s a fake?”

I recommend you read my interview with former editor of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman, for the answer to that question:

Who Has Authority Online?

“How do I know if my book/book idea is good enough?”

If you’ve completed your manuscript, you should have people read your book. Have friends and family you trust and experts in the field give you honest and constructive feedback.

If you are at the “idea stage” of your manuscript, and are not sure about it, ask yourself: “Am I absolutely in love with this idea?”

If you are, then I would recommend that you get started on bringing that idea to life right away.

(If you aren’t absolutely in love with your current idea, then you might want to read “Hooked On The Right Idea” to find out how you can find an idea that you ARE absolutely in love with.)

“I’m having trouble setting up a regular writing routine, how do I manage to start one?”

The following posts should help you with this problem:

How to Get Off Your Lazy Butt and Start Writing Already

The Secret To Staying Loyal To Your Writing Schedule

10 Ways To Stay On The Writing Fast Track While You’re On It

“How do I find the time to write?”

Read the following posts for help on this:

4 Essential Elements of A Writing Schedule That Works For You

Don’t Try To Make It “Easy.” Just Try To Get It Done.

The 4 Hour Novel: How To Balance Work, Life, Blogging, and Your Passion (For those of you with really busy schedules.)

“How do I keep up my motivation to write on a daily basis?”

Please read:

10 Tricks To Motivate Yourself To Write—Right NOW

How To Make Yourself Write When You Really Really Really Don’t Want To

How To Cure Your Writer’s Block And Never Stop Being Productive–EVER

“How do I become a more disciplined writer?”

The image that comes to my mind when I hear the word “discipline” is always an unsettling one. It’s either an image of a surly dad taking off his belt and whipping a child, or an image of a nun smacking an unruly student with her ruler.

“Discipline” is a concept I despise because it never really works. We fail SO many times when we try to be more “disciplined.” This is because discipline always requires a punishment (or a moment of self-flagellation) if you fail at it.

Discipline is an idea left over from The Dark Ages that needs to be replaced with something more helpful and practical.

Let’s try this on for size:

You really don’t want to be a more disciplined writer—what you want to be is a more devoted writer. And the only thing that creates devotion is love: love for the work you do and love for the kind of person you are becoming. Love never leaves you feeling drained or so worthless that you can’t move forward (or so fearful that you feel incapacitated.)

That is why it’s so important that you find a story that you absolutely love to write. Trust me, if you love it so much you will never abandon it. Your love for it will keep you at that laptop typing away (even when it’s hard to do so).

“Anything else you want to say to a beginning writer like me?”

The best advice I can give you right now is just to begin. Begin to write.

Just start writing, and you will learn by doing.

much love,

Ollin

If you’re a beginning writer: are there any other questions you have for me that I didn’t answer? If you’re not a beginner: what advice would YOU give to a beginning writer? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

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26 comments on “A Beginner’s Guide To Writing

  1. merce says:

    I can’t find anything better but Rainer Maria Rilke’s advise. (I posted it to my blog, too)

    “You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you—no one.

    There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

    Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.”

    Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet. New World Library, 2000, pp. 10-11

  2. Loved this post!🙂

    Will definitely be reblogging!

    Xx

  3. This is wonderful! You’ve so thoroughly answered everything. So much information, so much encouragement. I enjoyed this very much! My advice to new writers, I think you already touched on it, but I always say, Believe in yourself. Just keep showing up, and keep pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. We want to hear what you have to say.

  4. Daniela says:

    Great post -:)!! Well as it happened I can safely say that I am both; a beginner writer, and an experienced writer. Impossible? Not necessarily; I am an experienced writer because I have been writing for a long time including time in my first country. In the same time I am also a beginner not only because I have not been writing in English for a very long time, but also because I am struggling with all the dilemmas and challenges every other beginner writer does. So as an experienced writer I can only say; write and continue to write, even when mortified of it – especially then. As a beginner I’d like to say read A LOT (especially ‘Bird by Bird’) first, and write whatever comes through your fingers after that. No editing, no second-guessing. You will need loads of patience. Eventually, through the share amount of ‘blood and sweat’ required you will find out whether you just love writing, or you are actually a writer. You will gain in either case.

  5. […] A Beginner’s Guide to Writing by Ollin Morales at Courage 2 Create […]

  6. Yvette Carol says:

    Hey Ollin!🙂 I told stories orally before I could write, then after learning this most magical of skills, I wrote stories. However I wanted to leap into getting my stories published before I was ready. In my early twenties I showed my first opus to my writing mentor/teacher Maria. She was in her 60’s. Maria said, “you need to go out and LIVE first, and then write…” I was stunned and hurt. It was my first ‘rejection’ and of course you always remember the first time! But I felt I knew plenty, and I didn’t need to go out and do anything in order to write. So I continued writing and the onslaught of rejections truly began. It really took me another good twenty years to understand what Maria in all her wisdom was trying to tell me…
    However so as not to end on a down note for all the beginners out there. Maria also told me something else later, that I’ll never ever forget. She read one of my children’s stories and said, “If you believe in your story, I mean really believe in it, then stick with it and develop it and one day, someone else will too.”

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Yvette. You don’t need to necessarily live life in order to begin to write, in my opinion, I think the living of life will happen in and of itself. I think you responsibility is just to follow your true nature. And if writing is your true nature, you will do it… well, naturally!

  7. RD Meyer says:

    I think there are two keys to getting better at writing:
    1. Sit down and start to write. You know, that whole practice makes perfect thing.
    2. Gain confidence. You usually do this when you realize that everyone else out there writing has the same doubts you do.

  8. Katie says:

    I think I have one foot outside of the ‘new writer’ door, but I still ask myself a few of these questions sometimes. I’m guessing all of us wonder if we have what it takes. This post is helpful, I love the kind tone of it- like talking to an old friend! Thanks, Ollin.

  9. Ginet says:

    Hi Ollin,
    I’m starting to immserse myself into the world of writing and your blog was the first one in my Google search results to interest me. I’ve found this particular post to be the most helpful and beneficial as a starting point. Thank you and I look forward to reading your past and future posts!

    • Ollin says:

      Interesting. Welcome aboard! I’m just curious what did you search to find my blog? Thanks!

      • Ginet says:

        Actually, I think I googled “blogs about writing” and found your blog through another blog listing Top Ten Blogs for Writers. I went to your link first because I liked the title “Courage 2 Create”.

  10. spinx says:

    The best advice I can give (to a beginning writer)?

    Take your favourite TV-show, book or movie, and write up a scene for it.

    (Btw……it took me exactly one year to put an “Today I became a writer”, under my notebook!)

  11. l0ve0utl0ud says:

    This is gold dust! I am putting aside an afternoon to read all these invaluable posts about all the questions I have been asking myself…I’m so grateful to have found the answers to them! Thank you very much!

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