If you are starting out as a fiction writer, or even if you are only thinking about, then first let me offer my congratulations. Writing can be rewarding, therapeutic, fun, liberating, frustrating, difficult, or just plain painful. Usually, it’s a mix of all those; there will be times when you feel like you can fly, and others when you feel utterly lost. Writing can, and will be, difficult. But don’t lose heart, it gets easier with practice. There will still be times when you’re stuck part way through a chapter, when the plot seems to fall apart in front of your eyes, but stick with it: it’s worth it. Because at the end, when you’ve finished your short story, novella, or novel, you’ll feel a wonderful sense of acheivement, a sense of having created something, something (hopefully) unique.
If you want to write a story then just do it. It’s that simple. Whether you’re planning on writing for your own enjoyment, or whether you ultimately want to be published, the hardest part is starting; a blank page has limitless possibilities. Before you start though, you might want to think about why you’re doing this. If you want to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King then, if you haven’t already, you should learn how to write fiction. Because writing a publishable fiction novel isn’t like the creative writing we learned at school – in many areas you have to unlearn what you learned at an early age; a horde of adjectives rarely makes everything better, and adverbs are no longer your friend – no, the adverb is now your nemesis.
If you’re doing this for fun, if you’re wondering whether this is something you can do in your spare time, or if you’re just curious, then you can just go ahead and write your story. In fact, I would encourage you to do just that. Starting on your own without any knowledge can be liberating, and you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to be a writer. If you don’t like it when your story’s finished, if you feel that writing’s not for you, then that’s fine, and you haven’t lost anything. But if you’re bitten by the writing bug, if you find yourself writing in spare moments, or every night after your day job, then at some point you’ll need to learn how to write fiction (assuming you don’t already know, of course). You’ll need to learn about things like first person and third person narrative, showing not telling, point of view (POV), and conflict to name but a few. You can get by without learning any of this, of course, but you’ll find it that much harder to get an agent or a publisher, because while you might write a great story you’re unlikely to write a great novel unless you understand how a novel is constructed, and the tools a writer employs in weaving a story.
How you learn the writer’s craft is entirely up to you: the modern world offers a variety of learning styles, many of which weren’t available even a few years ago. There are a multitude of books on the craft of writing, there are writing groups – real-world and online – and forums, YouTube channels, workshops, and websites. And, like anything popular, there those that are good, those that are bad, and some which, sadly, are just a scam to divest you of your money. Whichever path you take (heck, you can try all of them if you like), learning the craft of writing is only the beginning. Once you’ve gained a little knowledge, the best way to improve as a writer is to write – and write regularly, if at all possible – because writing isn’t just art, it is a craft, and the way to get better is to practice, practice, and practice some more. I took the long way round: I wrote over half a dozen books before I even considered learning how to write (I can be stubborn like that). Armed with nothing more than Steven King’s On Writing (and I don’t think I even had that for the first couple of years), I started writing novels. I made a lot of mistakes, and reading most of those early books leaves me a bright shade of scarlet now, but I learned, to some extent, what works and what doesn’t. Those novels will almost certainly never see the light of day, but they hold a treasured place in my mind because those were the books I wrote when I fell in love with writing fiction. You’ll have to choose your own path, and the winding route I took probably isn’t one I’d recommend, but if you want to know whether you’re a writer – whether you can be a writer – then the sooner you start writing, the better.
If you’re starting out now, taking the first few steps on the writer’s trail then permit me to make a few suggestions:
- Write. Write regularly. If you reach a point when you decide you want to keep doing it, start learning how to write – read books, attend courses, whatever suits you.
- Once you’ve finished your novel, don’t immediately self-publish it and don’t send it straight to an agent or publisher. Leave it locked away for several weeks before even touching it. The chances are when you come back to it with fresh eyes you’ll see things you missed because you were so close to it. And you want it to be as good as it can be, don’t you?
- Find people who will give you honest feedback about your work. Learn to accept the feedback and learn from it. It will help you become a better writer.
If you haven’t discovered it already, there’s a forest of creative writing classes, writing books, and websites out there. And if you look into them you’ll find a surprising truth: people disagree on just about every aspect of writing. Ultimately, you’ll have to discover for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t – do you plot the entire novel in detail, or fly by the seat of your pants without any plan and see what happens? There are great writers in both camps, and the key is finding what works for you.
Whatever you decide, I wish you luck.