5 things you have to know before you start
In this times of lock-downs and quarantines, everything’s uncertain and we’ve more free time than we used to. Many want to try and fix their thoughts and feelings on paper (or save them in a file). Many play with the idea of writing a book.
If you’re possessed by the Sacred Fire of the Writing Spirit and It has filled you with inspiration, this post is for you. Here’s 5 things you should know before you start.
- Think again
Writing down one’s thoughts and feelings during hard times has been “a thing” since forever. It’s good therapy, and it’s a practice better known with the technical expression “keeping a journal”. Nowadays everyone just post their words with no filter at all, so you may have the impression that your words are filled with a level of wisdom the rest of the world should be able to benefit from. You may be tempted to publish your stuff, but let’s be honest here: it’s probably best you didn’t.
If you have never written a word in your life, whatever you jot down in these days won’t be your masterpiece. Of that, you can be sure. Write it all down, fill those pages: you’ll feel better, and it will probably make the relationship with the people you share your household with easier and better. Forget about publication, though. It is not compulsory.
2. Consider your alternatives
You used to be a busy person, always on the run: you had your job, then there were the gym, the dinners out, cinemas with friends, weekends away… Now you’re forced to stay at home and you behave like a caged tiger. You can’t go jogging and your neighbor won’t let you borrow their dog; going to the grocery store isn’t enough and you spend hours on social networks, where you constantly bump into posts which remind you that being a writer is definitely an option for you.
Stop right there. Consider your alternatives. There are thousands of things you can spend your time doing, both fun and useful. Trust me.
Sure, you could Netflix & chill, but if you think that’s too old-fashioned, you can follow YouTube channels or Instagram accounts with free workouts. You can listen to all those interesting podcasts you never had time to listen to. You can start learning a new language, subscribe to a free course, download audio books or eBooks and start reading. You can cook, make a jigsaw puzzle, knit, crochet, cross-stitch. You can listen to music, you can dance. You can make Marie Kondo happy and organize your closet or your kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
If after carefully considering all alternatives, you still burn with the desire to write something beyond a journal, then please read on.
If you don’t like reading, do not consider being a writer. No, not even if you think you know how to do that. Let’s try and explain this with an example.
Imagine you want to cook something, but you haven’t ever cooked before, nor watched anyone doing it. What’s the problem, you think. I’ll just follow the recipe! Okay, let’s do that!
It’s highly likely that you’ve cooked something bin-destined, but let’s pretend it’s edible. It won’t be anything like Jamie Oliver — or any professional cook — would make anyway. Why is that? Well, they have spent years experimenting, trying, making mistakes. They have intuition, which you can’t master by merely following a recipe.
The same can be said about writing, so if you want to spend Covid time being a writer, first of all you have to read.
What should you read? Anything! Read different genres of novels, biographies, essays, chronicles. Find your favorite genre, the one you think you can handle and master, then read all you can find. Learn from the best, try and understand what the secret of their success is.
Remember to brush up those grammar rules, too. Don’t take it for granted that you know them all. It’s likely that you do not.
If you followed Point 3, the quarantine is probably ended and you can pick up where you left off. If, however, you still wish to be a writer, now’s the time to start writing!
What should you write? Anything. You just have to write, now. Your first attempts will be waste paper anyway.
Don’t be afraid to waste a good idea on a first attempt: if it’s worth it, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use it.
Be patient. Don’t be afraid of wasting time. Write the same story over and over again: change the ending; add details; cut something off; experiment! The best style in which to write one thing, won’t be good enough to write another: if you’ve read a lot, your intuition will help you see the difference.
If you’re not confident enough to prepare an outline, skip it, for the time being. Right now, the most important thing is: write. After you’ve filled pages after pages, you’ll realize that you need structure. Cut, move a sentence or a paragraph, edit. Open a new notebook (or a new file) and start again. Write the same story from a different perspective, change the setting, use your imagination!
If you’re honest with yourself, when you re-read your first writings you’ll agree they’re bad.
5. Keep writing
If you’re not ready to “waste” thousands upon thousands of words, no writing handbook will help you.
When you feel confident with the use of paragraphs, punctuation, logic, plausibility, and consistency; when you can keep your characters in check; when you can manage your inspiration… then is a writing handbook a great help!
The idea of creating an outline doesn’t scare you anymore: it helps you keep the structure, it allows your imagination to roam within set limits — which will prevent you from writing useless paragraphs that your editor will cut.
A good outline will take you maybe days to write, but it’ll save you weeks of revising and rewriting.
Do not forget to do the appropriate research: you might have heard the “write only what you know” advice. It’s not a bad advice, but unless you’re about to write a handbook, you won’t need a degree in a specific subject, in order to write about it in your book. What you need to do, though, is learn. In order to write about “TEN” you need to know all about “A HUNDRED”.
If you’ve followed all 5 points, your book may be ready for publication. You can have family and friends read it, of course, but they’re generally biased. You should try and find which publishers or literary agents may be interested in the genre you wrote, or find contests or calls for submissions. Good luck!
Follow my next posts for more detailed writing advice.