You love writing, the process of developing a story idea, fleshing out the characters, “drawing” the setting with your words and crafting the best story that was ever written. Dreams of top awards dance in your head – hold on right there. You’ve just put the end before the beginning.
Define your idea of “writing success.” Is it being published? Seeing your bank account growing? Winning a top writing award? Or is it just getting a daily word count on the page? Start small and grow from there. The successes will come the more you practice your craft. Yes, you do have to practice – every day. You can’t hang up the writing hat for months on end, then decide you’re going to sit down and bang out a novel in 365 days. Writing well means you have to work at it every day, even if you just write down a journal entry.
Your Writing Needs
I mean any areas in which you are weak. Punctuation, grammar, spelling, English mechanics. If you are weak in any of these areas or others, buy a grammar book at the used book store or log onto a grammar website and practice those weak areas until you know them better than you know your cat.
This could mean using “which” when you should use “that.” Homonyms such as “your or you’re, their, there or they’re” could trip you up. Why is this so important? If your readers pick up on errors you make, you’ll lose them. They’ll fling the book or e-reader across the room and they won’t buy any more of your books. So, dear writer, get strong on any English usage issues you’ve got.
Of course, once you know the rules, you can break them – intentionally. If you have a character with such an individual voice that grammatical errors describe him or her, this livens up your writing. (“I don’t want no animals in here! Git rid of him now!”)
Does writer’s block truly exist? Only those who’ve experienced it can say. You know the drill. You sit down to write several pages of your novel or a nonfiction assignment you’re writing for pay. Your mind is focused on BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) and it happens. You can’t think of how to start. You struggle, write nonsense sentences, get up for a bottle of water, candy, piece of fruit or your sixth cup of coffee. You run to the bathroom. Clean your desk. Nothing works.
Ernest Hemingway used to write down one true sentence to break through writer’s block. Openculture.com says that Hemingway would remind himself that he’d written books before and he would do so again. Then, he’d find and write down one true sentence – the truest sentence he knew. From there, he would begin writing his assigned quota for the day.
You may be blocking because you’re striving for perfection the first time out. The Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recommends that you take notes. If you’re worried about accuracy in your manuscript, research that point! The Center also suggests freewriting. Write down anything that comes to mind for ten minutes. Get the words on paper so they don’t distract you. Approach your day’s quota by starting in the middle. Write chapter three, then go back to the second chapter, if need be. You can always revise later. Are you looking for “just the right word?” Scuttle that. Instead, satisfice. Yes, satisfice. This is satisfy and suffice blended together. Choose a “good enough” word for now and highlight it. Go back later, thesaurus in hand so you can search for the perfect word.
Read and read some more. Read in your chosen genre; read in other genres. See how other writers write. Nicholas Sparks suggests that, as you read in your chosen genre, take notes. How many plot lines are in these books? Characters? How many pages are these books? What kept you turning pages? Did the authors stop chapters on cliffhangers? Did s/he use foreshadowing? What was the proportion of dialogue to narrative? As you start to write, imitate your favorite writers – and know why you’re doing so. While you’re imitating a chosen writer, work to develop your own unique voice.
Start Small, Ignore the Non-Believers and Write for the Joy of It
The late Ray Bradbury recommended starting with “a hell of a lot of short stories,” according to the OpenCulture website. As you write these short stories, make errors and learn what they are. Once you’ve written several shorties, examine what you’ve learned. Then – and only then, start with a novel.
If you have anyone in your circle who doesn’t believe in what you’re doing, ignore him or her. If this person is a family member, you can’t quite get rid of them. If it’s an acquaintance, you can. (Maybe you can put them in your next book – and kill them!)
Next, when you write, do so just for the happiness it gives you. If a story stops being fun, save it in your computer and write something else.