Ten tips for writing like an amateur and there's nothing wrong with that

I don't know how many readers I have that are writers or aspiring writers (not even my best friends read this blog. I mean, mostly, it's like, my mom), so I try to keep my writing posts to a minimum, but a fellow writer recently tried to weasel (that's a joke--I love that you asked) some writing tips out of me, so I thought why not share? (shortly before I thought we should get a pizza).

These tips are for non-professional writers (that's pretty much most of us), people who have yet to call themselves author (but you will, oh yes, you will). Everyone's voice is unique and special, but I think there is beauty too in the process of becoming a writer. Here's how to do it.

1. Write. Write a lot. Write every day if you can, and if you can't, then you better be reading instead.This is not my own original tip. You hear it all over the place, and that is because it is the most important one. None of the other stuff (below) can happen if you do not have copy to work with. If you need help writing every day, check out NaNoWriMo. I highly recommend. (I am in no way affiliated with NaNo, but I did it for three years, thankyouverymuch, and I'm thinking of doing it this year).

2. Pinpoint what you want to write and develop your style. When you read a lot, you start to get an idea of what genres you like. Write in a genre you like. When you write a lot, you start to get a feel for what your voice can do. Don't be afraid to use it, even if (especially if) it is not like everyone else's.

3. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to say the wrong thing. Don't be afraid to cut the wrong thing out in editing if it is the wrong thing for the piece you're working. It doesn't mean it's bad or that you're a crappy writer. It doesn't mean you wasted your time. It means it doesn't fit. Anyone can leave excess in a manuscript just to boost word count, but it takes a gifted writer to know what is relevant and what is not.

4. Which reminds me, don't waste words. Cut out extraneous words, flowery descriptions, and obvious explanations. Give your reader some credit for having brains enough to know what you are talking about. I once read a book (which shall remain nameless) that made me feel like the author had patted me on the head after each paragraph and asked, "You see? Did you get it?" Blah. Don't do that.

5. Rough drafts exist and you should have one. Personally, my rough draft morphs into my final draft. I don't keep a copy and do one or two or three huge edits. I edit as I go. If having a bunch of separate drafts works for you, do it. Do what works, but under no circumstance should you think your first draft is your final draft. Trust me. It's not.

6. If you come to a hurdle, jump it. It's like taking a test: if you don't know the answer, skip it and come back to it. I don't know how many stories I've abandoned because I couldn't come up with a character name that felt right (I'm an imbecil, I know). Now I just plug in any old name as a placeholder until I come up with the right one. When I settle on one, I do a quick search and replace. Easy peasey. If I'm writing but find I need to do a little more research, I mark the place in the manuscript, move on, and come back to it when I have the info. If I can't think of a good way to say something (like my words sound awkward no matter how I phrase them), I just write it out in the awkward way, mark it, and come back to it when I'm feeling more eloquent. I use this technique (if you can call it a technique) a lot when I write poems.

7. Learn to love research, which goes along with

8. Develop a way to organize your research, your ideas, your thoughts, and your storyline. Some people make an outline, some people use sticky notes, some people use a fresh notebook with a page for each chapter. Find what works for you. I use a voice recorder and listen to the stories a gagillion times until I know all the details by heart. Yes, I felt like an idiot at first. Yes, I was uncomfortable listening to my own voice, but now I'd rather listen to my own voice than anything else in the world. Take some time to develop the key elements of your story: setting, charcters, plot, climax, happy ending (there is no other kind of ending).

9. Have faith in yourself. Your voice is needed, relevant and beautiful. Take yourself seriously (but not too seriously). Realize that no one can say something the way you can say it. Every story has already been told, but you have not told every story.

10. Learn grammar. I beg of you, learn grammar. And while you're at it, learn to spell. Learn when to use commas and when not to. Learn the difference between homophones. Look up homophones. Learn the difference between there, they're and their. Learn the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, and then never use them. Learn when to find answers to grammar questions. Learn the rules so that when you break them, you break them on purpose for a creative reason.

Now, if you want to know how to develop plot, I'm not your girl. I'm not good with plots. I think the reason historical fiction is a good fit for me is that the main outline of my story is already done, and I just have to fill in the details. Details, I can do. However, it has been my experience that plot comes as you write. I mean, you can have merely a basic idea to start with, but if you just get writing, it will write itself. And that takes us back to #1 (see above if you forgot).

Um...any questions?


Great post, Misty. Next time someone asks me this question, I can refer them here. I do all of this stuff, except I'm really bad at "have faith in yourself." Thanks for that one though. I needed to hear it.

I have never done NaNoWriMo, but I'm thinking of doing it this year. I've got a manuscript raring to go.