If Everybody’s Right, Then Nobody’s Right
This post originally appeared on Medium.com.
Congratulations! You’ve decided you want to be a writer when you grow up. But wait! What comes next?
First, you ask for advice from that one author friend of yours. They tell you not to plot. It’s so much better to have your story come to you organically. Oh, and don’t forget to have a “writing place”. You need a space that is just for writing to help you get in the zone. Also, don’t read someone else’s work while you’re busy with yours, otherwise their voice and yours will mesh and…that’s just not good (this advice is garbage, by the way.)
Second, you start looking elsewhere for tips. Books, podcasts, writing groups, classes. All involved have been doing this longer than you, so they must be pros. This “pro” says to have a time goal — thirty minutes of writing (at least) per day. This “pro” says to write 1,000 words a day. Use paper and pen because it helps the words flow. Don’t plot the ending so it’s more natural. Stay focused. Don’t edit as you go.
Do this. Don’t do that.
You’ve been absorbing all this info and now you’re ready. The next step is easy. You sit down and write.
This is where the real important lessons are learned.
I kinda, sorta decided I wanted to be a writer in High School, but I lacked the confidence to actually do anything about it. I became serious about it in College, but still didn’t do anything about it. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to get to work.
Once I got serious I actually started doing the leg work it takes to figure out how to write. I received every one of the tips mentioned above (and countless others) during that time. It was pretty confusing when so many of the tips contradicted each other or just went against my instincts. But, I wasn’t a pro so they were probably right…
I learned a LOT of things writing my first novel. The most important lesson? My process is going to be different than yours.
My father, an author, told me to not plot. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, said he avoids plotting. He definitely knows what he’s talking about, right? I tried it. It didn’t work (for me.) I moved on from that method, did some reading on different plotting methods, and started making note cards.
That worked for me.
King also says to have a writing space free of distraction. And he’s not the only one. I am a stay-at-home mom with three busy girls which means mischief, school, piano, sports, and home-work. There is no distraction-free space. There is no quiet. There is no time. I write whenever and where ever I can. Does this mean I’m doomed to never be a published author? Well, I hope not.
Through this journey of pursuing my dream I have relied on other’s tips and critiques. At times, it has been helpful, but there have been times where it has caused more harm than good. Someone is always going to have something to say about your method and your work. It’s your job to figure out whether what they have to say is actually helpful or not.
Here are some other tips/opinions I have discarded, and I’m giving you permission to do the same. Or, if they work for you, congrats! Keep at it!
- Join a writing group. I did. It was awful. One of the writer’s didn’t have any feedback, only compliments and excitement. Good for the confidence, not great when I knew I needed improvements. The other writer had his very decided opinions on my story and where it should be going. It was my story, not his. So, I quit the group and haven’t looked back. Maybe someday I’ll try this one again with different people. If I do, I’ll let ya’ know how it goes.
- Have a specific time in which you write and write every day. Neither one of these things are feasible as long as motherhood trumps being an author (and it always will for me.) I write when I can. I recently took a year off of writing. Not by choice but because morning sickness is a beast, and having a new-born is a beast, and adjusting to having three kids is a beast. It’ll take me longer to reach my goals, but I still believe I will get there.
There are really only two universal tips that I believe are a MUST.
- Read as often as you are able.
- Write as often as you are able.
Your method will come. How you plot, how you name characters, where you write, how you write, all of it will fall into place as you explore different tactics and find what works for you. Listen to all the advice, good and bad, and discard what you don’t need and use what works. This is your creative process. You are free to do it your way. Just keep working at it. It’ll come.
Thanks to Jacob Wright.