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Three Things Beginning Writers Should Know

New Writer Tips

Listen to your elders.

It’s not just an adage. University researchers who asked twenty-somethings and sixty-somethings to perform decision-making tasks discovered that the older group made better long-term decisions. Here’s some advice from experienced writers for those just starting out.

James Maxey, a science fiction writer, won the Phobos Fiction Contest. He gives this advice to newbies:

Write a bad story.

No one expects a masterpiece from a three-year-old. Anticipating no more than squiggles and scratches, parents still encourage their toddlers to draw. Your first draft will be clumsy, but that’s part of the process. As James says, “Much of the real craft of writing comes in rewriting.” Like a sculptor, a writer progressively refines and polishes his work over time. You can’t expect a first draft to be a perfect Pulitzer Prize winner. It’s just “a block of rough marble.” Second, you can learn from your mistakes. A great place to get feedback is a writer’s group. Only when you know what’s wrong with your writing can you fix it.

Author Anne Lamott’s writing career spans three decades. She’s published both novels and nonfiction books. She quotes her inspiration, writer E.L. Doctorow, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

Just write, even if you don’t have the idea firm in your head.

“E. L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going; you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

Stephen King, a bestselling horror author, gives great writing advice in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. As much as he embraces scary things, he encourages beginners not to be afraid of a reasonable deadline:

Set target dates.

According to King, “the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” Not to put you on the spot, but how long have you been writing your latest piece? If it’s been more than three months, perhaps you need to reorganize some responsibilities to give priority to your writing. Set aside and keep sacred a certain amount of time per day. If you stick to your schedule, you will be surprised at how much you can write in a few short months.

Remember your first drawings? You didn’t agonize over every crayon stroke, did you? Do yourself a favor and listen to your elders! Don’t worry so much about the details. Schedule time to write every day, and see where the story takes you. Your three-month mission starts right now!

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