Sometimes at the ELEW we get mail. Sometimes it’s fan mail, or questions, or spam, but other times it’s a legit question. If it’s one that others might wonder, it can become a blog post. This is one such email.
I must be stubborn or just a lover of pain that I am willing to take a kick in my arse to recieve your guidance. I am very new to this idea fo writing eventhough[sic] I have been told I should for decades, can I please recieve[sic] some ways to go about it? I would like to write poems, short stories or maybe a novel(I have enough voices in my head that I am sure I could). I would just like to learn from someone that isnt out to take advantage of my ideas and creativity and use it as thier[sic] own, I have read that that actually has happend.
First, this is a question I see often, and it always gives me pause because…I’ve never been in this position (as a writer–as a runner, well, yes). I never had to start as a writer later in life. My bios often talk about how I have been writing since I could hold a pencil and that isn’t an exaggeration. I was reading by the time I was two and a half, telling stories to entertain myself with Barbies, and putting words to page before kindergarten. I wrote (but didn’t finish) horror novels when I was in fifth grade; I won poetry competitions and had work published as early as seventh. I breathe stories, I always have.
That doesn’t make me better or worse than writers who started later, just different. But it always takes me a little while to really think about it and how I would advise someone to get started. (I have, fortunately, done this as a writing teacher some years ago.) It also means that my advice might not be the best advice for this situation, however I did try to really get to the heart of starting ANYTHING, whether writing or any other endeavor. If you have your own advice for this kind of situation, please leave it in the comments.
So here is my response to D. It is a bare bones bit of advice that, if you pared down everything we post here to the essentials, is something we’ve said again and again.
If you want to write, write.
It’s that simple and that difficult.
It means sitting down regularly–preferably every day–and putting words down, even if only for fifteen minutes a day, to build up the habit. Write anything and everything. The first million words will be bad. That is normal and okay; it’s just like learning to run a marathon, you’re going to be slow and it’s going to be hard, but you can’t get there if you don’t take steps every day. You will learn things from writing and finishing stories/poems/whatever that absolutely no one can teach you, because your process of writing will be unique to you.
While you’re working on your million words of practice, follow other writers who talk about craft and soak it up like a sponge. Listen, go back and read archives, because odds are whatever questions you have are common and have been asked already. Not all writing advice will apply to you, but some will resonate. When you are ready to start getting feedback about your work, you will want to take your time and seek out critique groups with productive writers. Watch for mentoring opportunities, often during fundraisers within the writing community, which can offer you a chance at a critique from someone experienced. Keep working on your craft and strive to get better–it will take years if not a decade or more to make any kind of money, if that’s what you want. Ninety-nine percent of “overnight successes” are people who have been working their tails off for years without recognition. It’s also okay if it’s hobby–not everything written has to (or should) be published and not every writer has to make it a career.
No one is going to steal your ideas or creativity. Writers have enough of their own ideas, they don’t need other people’s. Stories of plagiarism are becoming more common but those are people lifting entire books word for word that are already published, not taking ideas from unpublished, unwritten stories. Ideas are easy; the hard work comes from actually making something of them.
That’s it, that’s the key: you want to write, you write. You get started by sitting down with a keyboard or a pen and paper, setting a timer for fifteen minutes, and writing anything. You make sacrifices to make writing a priority, every single day. It’s a long road–usually solitary, often thankless and hard–but can be incredibly rewarding if you enjoy it, if you find yourself living and breathing words.
Skyla Dawn Cameron, ELEW
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* Real name removed for privacy.