A couple of years ago, I realised that I would always be in a state of learning. I would always be disappointed when I looked at my old writing. I would always find a new technique or writing style that I would like to assimilate into my own. I would be writing, editing, studying, rewriting and repeating all these steps. As the years go by, I will have more books with my name on them, but more than that, I would be better equipped for writing the next book.
However, if I could send some writing advice to my younger self, this is what I would tell him!
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Don’t Slow Down to Fix Mistakes
I did this all the time.
I didn’t stop to correct every chapter, I stopped to correct mistakes in almost every paragraph. I would read, rewrite…and then do it again. I wanted to make every sentence sound right before I moved on. When the story ended up going a different way than what I expected, if not plot-wise then ambience-wise, I would go back and make changes so it flowed better.
As you can imagine, this made writing a real chore. I would approach everything I wrote critically, wasting my energy and inspiration on critiquing my instinctual writing rather than using it to continue the story and get a lot more work done.
To make it worse, I would tell myself I’m just a bad writer for every mistake and struggling to write faster.
I fell into one of the worst traps a writer, or any creative person can fall into. A vicious cycle of self-doubt, where one’s work is plagued by anxiety, bad moods and inefficient use of inspiration. I know now that the best way to write is to write without looking back. There will always be mistakes, too many to count, not that you should.
By writing this way, one will finish their first draft quicker. From there, it’s all a matter of reading it through and then editing, with a few rewrites here and there. By the end, you know your story better, by reading it, you get a great idea of what needs to change. Editing is easier and far less taxing on one’s confidence.
If you suffer from this problem, then it might be time to tear yourself from constantly correcting and to charge forwards. Don’t slow down to fix your writing mistakes. There will be time for that when the book is done.
When You Don’t Feel Like Writing, Just Write 100 Words
The most common writing speed I have seen in myself is sporadic bursts of inspiration that have me writing four-thousand words a day for weeks, only to suddenly stop and write nothing for a month. Well, I still keep up with my short story posts and articles, but I don’t keep up with my passion projects, my novels.
It is the most average problem, as I learned from my students and the writing community in the comments.
We all lead normal lives, with ups-and-downs, responsibilities, good moments you want to saviour doing something else and bad moments where you don’t feel like doing anything. Now, establishing a good routine in one’s life helps negate most of these emotional fluctuations, but inspiration is a little more fickle.
What I discovered was that, at least in my case, the biggest part of the problem was urging myself to start. I found that if I could start, I would most likely lose myself in my writing and get a lot done. There are days when I don’t even think about my novel and without that thought, I can’t jump to the next idea which is motivating myself to sit down and write something. To just start.
The solution isn’t flawless, but it’s helped me a lot more than anything else. I set a simple goal…something easily achievable in a short space of time no matter what state of laziness I find myself wallowing in.
I challenge myself to write just 100 words. After that, I can leave it and try again tomorrow.
There are days when I don’t bother, sure, but most days I sit down and I start. Of course, I never just write a hundred words. That childish goal is just bait on the hook. I know it is bait, but like a dumb fish I still find myself hooked and reeled in. I will write f500 words on a bad day, but that’s 500 more than I would have. That’s satisfying progress. Better yet, that’s the momentum that will make getting into writing the next day easier.
Write Down Every Idea You Have
I suppose I do keep track of many ideas by writing so many short stories, but I am really talking about the ideas for novels. Ideas for characters, the plot, substories and scenes. Anything that I imagine while I am daydreaming or while I am sleeping. These are ideas that seem fantastic at the time and perhaps are fantastic later on if enough thought is put into them.
Yet, as any writer who wants to write a large world knows, a lot of these ideas disappear like a phantom in the night. One moment they are there, seeming so real and the next they are gone. It’s difficult to even picture them or the feeling you felt when they were there.
Funny thing is, my wife often tells me to write these ideas down when I relate them to her. Again, at the time, they feel so present in my mind that I laugh the advice off. After all, how could I forget such a simple/memorable idea?
Easily. The answer is ‘easily’.
I now know that the mind can be distracted by other tasks or new ideas, and of course, the power of time slowly taking thoughts and grinding them into dust to sprinkle into the past. Whenever you try to remember them, you find only tiny fragments, but it’s impossible to piece them all together in time.
Write your ideas down. I know I’ve forgotten a few ideas for some novels that were better than the ones I have on record now. If I could give that much advice to my past self, I would. Or better yet, I would just tell him to listen to his wife.
Organize All Your Projects
Now, keeping track of ideas is one thing, keeping track of projects is another.
I tend to start multiple projects at once. I know, that’s bad. It splits my attention, the quality of my work is divided, it makes everything more difficult and the results less satisfying. Yet, multitasking is a part of everyone’s life. I like to start creative projects and work on them in my off-time, my off-time being when I am not working on my business or my novels.
I could dabble with some art, some childish ideas, perhaps start a silly novella, anything that is fun for me and passes the time.
The problem is, these projects grow, become more important to me and join the list of tasks to tackle on a day-to-day basis. At least, I wish to tackle them on a day-to-day basis so I can finish them in good time. The real problem comes down to organisation and priority management.
Understand what is very important and is less important. List them all out, assign realistic time periods and establish a schedule. In other words, be an adult and take responsibility. When I finally did this, it made a big difference. Now, if I had done this earlier, the amount of productivity in my life would be mind-boggling.
Well, live and learn.
Another piece of advice I fling at my past self and towards anyone who likes starting things and stopping them, rather than keeping better track of them all.
Finish Writing One Novel, At Least, Each Year
One of the most time-friendly goals a writer can have is writing a novel in a year. Twelve months is a long time, even if you only spend half an hour a day working on your book. That’s enough time to write a book, rewrite it, edit it, edit it again and send it to a publisher or self publish it.
Yet, when December is fast approaching and your novel is only halfway there, that goal starts to seem pretty steep.
A better understanding of time management and willpower would have me reaching that goal with time to spare, but instead, I used to treat it like I did school projects. I would focus on everything else and try to accomplish the goal at the last minute. I would go against what my goal is now, which is to establish a habit of regular writing, rather than these short bursts of quick, thoughtless writing.
If I could go back and give myself this one simple goal, I would couple it with the advice to work at it consistently, every day if possible. Try to reach the goal before the year is over.
Again, this is something that I know now, but if I had known it eight, or seven years ago, it would have made a huge difference in my attitude towards writing and benefitted me in the long run.
Write More Short Stories
Now, as many of my followers know, I engaged in a year-long project to write a short story every day. When the year was out, I felt proud of myself and left it there. Yet, my ideas didn’t run out and I know if I started writing these short stories earlier, I would have many more on my website and a lot of practice to back my writing.
Of course, I wouldn’t advise writing a short story every day, but one or two a week is enough to keep one’s inspiration up.
It challenges the mind to approach a different theme, a different plot. A writer can experiment with different characters and styles, doing something they can’t really do when they are writing a lengthy novel. When you’re writing a novel, you are trying to be consistent to show quality work, but when you are writing short stories, you are free to do and try anything that comes to mind when you are writing them.
I tackled different genres, even genres that I don’t read. Yet, I learnt a lot when I did. It pays to try something new in one’s life, variety is the spice-of-life etc, but it benefitted me with a better understanding of certain scenes that are synonymous with those genres. Writing an action-packed short story will help you write action scenes, thriller short stories for tension, and so on.
It was a chance to practice and improve. That one year taught me a lot about writing and had I started the habit of writing short stories as a beginner writer, I would know a lot more than I do today.
Don’t Take Writing Too Seriously
That brings me to a very important fact and one that still troubles me today; writing stops being fun when you take it too seriously.
It’s a fact that cripples most writers’ enthusiasm, especially when they are investing themselves to an astounding degree. As a beginner writer, you find this deep passion for writing within you and you wish to pursue it with such admirable energy. You chase after it like a child chasing a bird in a field, skipping some places, tripping here and there, but always picking yourself up to follow the delightful creature.
There will be a time when that bird lands on a branch close to the ground. It will be fascinated with you and you become even more fascinated with it. It is so close, so beautiful. You learn more from it now that it’s standing still, no longer this pretty blur. It’s a special moment.
But, you take the bird in your hand, you place it in a cage and it begins to suffer. Something wild has been tamed, forced into the confinements of one’s obsession. The bird loses its spirit, and you notice this. Its feathers aren’t so colourful, it rarely chirps that song it used to sing and when it does it sounds hollow and broken.
The moment that bird was caged is the moment when you decided to take writing too seriously. It used to be this wonderful medium for creativity, now it’s just a soulless machine for churning out passionless thought. Don’t take writing so seriously, that’s how all art is killed. When passion is replaced obsession and the soul is replaced with quotas and deadlines.
This is advice that is less practical than the advice I have talked about before, but it’s still very important to me.
There you have it, some advice I wished I knew several years ago. This is advice that came from my ups and downs over the years, the lessons I learned the hard way. Yet, if you are just starting in the writing world, I hope this advice resonates with you. I hope that it makes sense and helps you tackle any future obstacles you might face.
Now, my question is for anyone who has been writing for a long time; if you could send a message to your past self, what writing advice would you give?
Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!