Writing is perhaps the most deceptive talent. For most things, it’s easy to separate the people who know how something works from the ones who can take that ability and run with it. I may know how to play piano, but I won’t be playing Carnegie Hall with my rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” anytime soon, and I’m fine with that. Writing, though, should be easy for anyone, right? So long as you have a solid understanding of the language, you could pretty much become a writer overnight. Hell, I’ve got a great idea for a young adult novel running around my head as I’m writing this article; I should call up Penguin Random House and get this career off the ground! Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James did it, so why couldn’t I?
It’s easy to look at the success stories and think that anyone with a decent idea and the desire to succeed will become rich and famous. However, it’s important to realize that just having a good idea in your head isn’t going to make publishers want to break down your door. Whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, or a short poem, you’re going to have to take that idea, transfer it to paper, and develop it into a living, breathing story. And that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Here’s a few things to remember if you’re starting to put your ideas onto the page.
1. YOUR WRITING IS GOING TO SUCK
Have you ever found an old art project, or videos of you from a younger age? Chances are, your memories of that time were much more impressive than they might be at present. I remember making a short film in middle school, a parody of the TV show Extreme Makeover. At the time, it was the pinnacle of comedy in my eyes. Now? Well… thankfully, my sense of humor has developed over time.
The point is, as you grow and you get more experience, your writing is going to get better. Unless you’re a writing savant, then your early stuff is going to be a load of garbage. Everyone’s early stuff is. Until you get a firm grasp on how to develop characters, unfold a story, write believable, emotional imagery, and ultimately master the craft of writing, then everything you write will ultimately amount to good practice. And that’s okay! You have to start somewhere. You can’t expect to get lucky like Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James—the reason you hear about them is because their success stories are so unique, and chances are that wasn’t their very first time writing creatively, either. As time goes on, you’ll figure out your unique pattern and your process; be patient, and be willing to try and fail until you find your writing style.
2. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? KNOW WHAT YOU WRITE!
Writing about your own experiences is not only expected, but encouraged when you’re starting to write. After all, the better you know something, the less you have to come up with and the more you can elaborate on the specifics. There’s also no rules with how much of your writing comes from your own life; if you choose to write a memoir, then that’s where most of your material will be, anyway. And when it comes to poetry in particular, a majority of the best works come directly from personal experience, whether you’re reading the classics or the newest lit mags.
However, the problem arises when all you write about is what you know, and you suddenly find yourself pigeonholed. The time will likely arrive that you want to write something out of your comfort zone. Maybe you want to write a poem about the French Revolution, or a short story about surviving a doomsday scenario; chances are, you’ve never experienced those firsthand. Maybe you want to write a screenplay set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but you’ve never stepped foot outside your hometown. When this happens, you’re forced to stop writing what you know.
The easiest way to fix this? Get to know it! Interested in writing a historical novel? Pick up a history book, or pull up Wikipedia. Want to write about zombies? Pull up YouTube videos talking about the common myths, learn some tips and tricks to survive such an outbreak. A little of your own world-building will go into anything you write, but if you give yourself a framework to start with and go back to when you’re questioning logistics, you’ll find it much less challenging and less restrictive than going off what little you already know.
3. YOUR FRIENDS LIKE YOU TOO MUCH FOR YOUR OWN GOOD
Now, don’t get me wrong; your friends and family are an excellent resource when you’re starting out. They’ll give you the much-needed support and encouragement that a publishing house won’t, and may even be able to provide you with some writing ideas or suggestions. However, the problem will arise in the rewriting stage when you’ll need effective criticism to make a good piece into a great one, and most people in your close circle will care more about you than your writing. This will inevitably mean that everyone you ask will say your writing is great, even if it desperately needs work or could be vastly improved.
When you reach the stage of rewriting where your friends’ enthusiasm is no longer bettering your work, you’ll need to start looking elsewhere for helpful criticisms. This can come in the form of forums on writing sites, where you can post work and people can give you feedback, or you can join a writing group and collaborate one-on-one with fellow writers. These two resources will be exponentially helpful when developing your writing because their goal is to help improve your work, not to make you feel good or to be your friend. That being said, you’ll likely make a few new friends in your journey towards great writing.
4. GET OUT THERE, KIDDO!
If you enjoy writing for yourself with no intention of publishing, that’s just fine, and I hope that my suggestions up to this point have been helpful. However, if you’re serious about being a published author, then eventually you’ll have to submit something. If you’re lucky, your first chance to do this will be in a comforting environment, such as a student-run college magazine. For most, though, you’ll have to send your work to a privately owned magazine or a publishing company, both of which have no need to be kind or gentle with your work. Turning over something you’ve spent weeks or months putting your heart and soul into is a scary thing, especially when they could easily dismiss your writing (and, as it will likely feel by extension, you) as not worth their time or energy. It’s enough to turn away many potential writers.
As with anything else, the first submission, not to mention the first rejection, will be the hardest, but it’s something everyone has to go through. J. K. Rowling was rejected 10 times over the course of a year when trying to publish Harry Potter. Everyone deals with rejection; it’s never fun, but it happens. And if you let your first rejection letter deter you from pursuing writing, then everything you’ve done is wasted time and energy. So keep trying! Keep submitting your work to different places, and keep putting your name out there. Your time will come if it’s meant to. And as a fellow writer, I’ll be here, cheering you on.