Do you ever wish you could go back and have a chat with "Baby Writer You?" I think about that sometimes, about the things I'd tell that shiny, awkward, clueless soul.
But like parenting or dating, or any other hands-on life thing, you have to figure it out for yourself. Like learning how to adult, until you really get the hang of it, you don't know how much you don't know.
Besides, shiny "New Writer You" wouldn't believe you anyway.
So logical, practical advice only then. Advice that even clueless Baby Writer Me could relate to...
A few *cough* decades ago, I listened to an audiotape (on cassette!) of Nora Roberts in a Q&A session. When asked what she wished she had known when she began, she answered: "It gets harder. It gets harder. It gets harder."
This is the biggest oxymoron of our chosen path.
As the writing itself gets easier, the writing life gets harder. You have higher standards, more pro-writer tricks up your sleeve, and many more demands on your time as you try to execute those stellar skills.
If you are published, and earning a living as a writer, there are demanding deadlines to adhere to. If you are unpublished, or not quite able to quit your day job, you have a double set of deadlines - those from the day job and those from your writing life.
In each of those scenarios, you have the rest of your world clamoring for attention too: kids, spouses, parents, volunteer commitments.
I truly believe this is why most writers have an insatiable caffeine addiction. We need the extra zing to juggle all those flaming commitments while still nurturing the creative juggernaut in our brains who sends out the stories.
Perhaps that's why so many of us write in our pajamas. It's our little rebellion against all that adulting Grown-up Writer Us has to do.
Lisa Cron wrote a wonderful book called Wired for Story. She's done several posts here at Writers In the Storm. (My favorite is her explanation of the "Origin Scene.")
She's quoted in this Jerry Jenkins piece, explaining how and why story is the most important element of any story.
What grabs readers isn’t beautiful writing, a rip-roaring plot, or surface drama; what grabs readers is what gives those things their meaning and power: the story itself.
And so first you have to create the story, which doesn’t start on page one, but long before it. Because the story is not about an external plot-level change. The story is about an internal change — a change that the protagonist enters the story already needing to make. Thus the protagonist walks onto the first page with a long standing driving desire — an agenda — that she hasn’t been able to achieve because an equally long standing misbelief (about human nature) stands in her way.
And here’s the last thing I wish I’d known: backstory is the most fundamental, present, and meaningful foundation of the story. Or as Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
Bonus: I highly recommend reading that entire Jerry Jenkins list when you are done here. Forty established authors and writing instructors answer the question asked by the title of this post: Writing Tips 40 Experts Wish They’d Known as Beginners.
Stories like Fifty Shades of Grey really brought this home to me. The writing doesn't have to be brilliant. It just has to contain themes that are relatable and universal.
And the book has to be done so people can buy it and experience it for themselves.
Despite Anastasia's penchant for saying "Holy Crap!" and her preoccupation with her "inner goddess" (not to mention Christian's preoccupation with bondage), millions of people downloaded this book.
Why? Because the story had a compelling hook. The story grabbed them, and the author kept upping the stakes so they would stay glued to the page.
At its heart, Fifty Shades was a love story, not a spanking story. Mega-agent Donald Maass pointed out that, "The prose is plain." and "The unfolding of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship happens mostly through dialogue." In other words, it was easy to read.
Yet, most of the writers I know couldn't read it. Probably because of those skills in their writing toolbox, etc. They couldn't see that the finished compelling story trumped the beautiful sentences we all strive for.
As important as those sentences are to us, Fifty Shades proved that the readers couldn't care less. Pretty sentences don't feed their reading addiction, story does.
Bonus: Donald Maass and Lisa Cron - both amazing teachers - analyze Fifty Shades across three posts. The links to all three are here.
We've done many posts on this topic here at WITS because it's hugely important. Call it what you will: your peeps, partners, writing tribe, critique group. But writers need writing friends. Period.
No one else will understand the joy of writing classes and conferences or the addictive frenzy of NaNoWriMo. Get some writing pals so you can experience these things with friends who will share your giddy happiness.
Plus, when the going gets tough -- and it will -- it's your writing friends who will help carry you through those hard times until things get fun again.
We're writers...we LOVE fun.
For most of us behind the scenes here at WITS, this blog is one of the ways we pay forward all the help and advice we were given during our newbie stage.
Although the writing world is small, it is easy to get lost, particularly for introverts. Volunteering and giving to others is one way to expand your writing world and to join hands with others. If you do that often enough, you will end up with your own set of writing peeps!
But what about giving back to yourself?
Exercise and proper nutrition and hydration are the simplest ways to give back to yourself. Sure, it's hard to get motivated. (And put on makeup. Or pants.) But you'll feel better if you do.
Continuous learning is another fantastic way to give back to yourself. It expands your knowledge and your network.
It might be a conference you go to every year, an online class or an active Facebook group, but DO expand your own knowledge. It will tap into your inner superhero, and help you tell better stories.
I'll leave you with this quote by Ray Bradbury, one of my faves.
Bonus: If you need more Bradbury quotes, we have a whole post on him.
What advice would you give to "Baby Writer You?" Is there a piece of advice you were given that really resonated? Share it in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm.
Top image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Wonderful piece, Jenny! I think the inverse is also true—that is, what can “baby writer” tell me or remind me of, now? I’m thinking of that special quality a “beginner” has. Call it naivete, the sense of hope and possibility and excitement. " I can do this amazing thing!"
As “babies,” we’re open to learning from anyone and everyone. We haven’t settled on “our way,” so there’s a sense of curiosity and experimentation. No agent or publisher has told us that our work isn’t marketable or (that awful euphemism) “a fit for my list at this time.” We still believe in ourselves. Maybe it’s arrogant or naïve or both, but it spurs us on to search for our own voice, without being muted by fear and doubt.
Wouldn’t it be great if our two writer selves could have coffee once a month and talk to each other?
This is wonderful, Barbara, and right on. Jenny, love the quotes from Lisa Cron. I was constantly making up backstory for my work colleagues. LOL.
Barbara, I would LOVE to have coffee with my younger self. I've got some things to say to her. And you're 100% right...she has some marvelous things to teach me too. 🙂
Love yours, Jenny. All I'd add is:
Small daily word counts add up-if you write every day.
Rejection IS the norm. Acceptance is the exception.
Don't go looking for a better process. Yours is what it is.
Jealousy is inevitable. Acknowledge it and move on.
NEVER STOP LEARNING.
I nodded for every single one of your six gems of advice, Laura. They're ALL true!
Oh man, there are soooo many things I'd like to go back and tell my baby writer self. If I had to choose one thing, it would be don't put the writing on hold for thirty years. I stopped writing because life got in the way and I didn't think I had what it took to be a writer. Of course I didn't have the tools--I was young and inexperienced. But the only way to become a writer is to write, make mistakes, and learn from them. That's how you gain the experience.
I didn't know you 'd stopped for 30 years, Bob! I'm so glad you started back up again!
Great post, Jenny. I'd add: BE A SPONGE. Be a fun sponge like Sponge Bob or a gnarly one under the kitchen sink. The point is, be absorbent. About craft. About the market. About marketing. About whatever other authors generously share with you. Wring out that sponge from time to time. Pick and choose what's right for you. I keep learning that lesson over and over again...but I wish I'd realized it sooner on my journey.
This is wonderful advice, Chris! And you are amazeballs at doing this. I always love to watch you soak up all the knowledge. 🙂
And I'm laughing at your Sponge Bob analogy!
Oh, and the folks who play here at WITS are the kind of people new writers should be tuning into. So many Chicken McNuggets of wisdom. So many tactical, put-to-work-now advice. Thank you!!!
It just makes me depressed if I think of stuff like that so I try not to. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
LOLOLOLOL. I totally understand!
The more you write consistently, whether a few words here or there or a marathon session, the easier the words come and allow the story to unfold.
I completely agree, Denise. Great advice!
Save online thesaurus tools for your revisions. You may waste many precious hours searching for the perfect word for your early drafts, only to have to kill that darling anyway!
I hear you on this one, Karen. Boy, do I hear you!
Thank you for this!
You're so very welcome, CRBWriter!
Jenny, this post is packed with resources and tips for the baby writer in me! It is wonderful to have a place to interact and learn from experienced writers.
I am a strong believer in giving back to keep creative synergy alive and I'm currently mentoring a high school student through a novel revision. As I share my writing journey with her, I am learning how to encourage her, but also how to take a step back.
Steven Spielberg talked about mentoring in that it is not creating someone in your "own image" but "giving them the opportunity to create themselves." We can become that better writer with resources like Writers in the Storm. Kudos Jenny, to you and to this blog for helping others along.
I love that Spielberg quote, Kris! I swear that man is brilliant. The best part about mentoring is watching someone begin to believe in themselves and their story. It's like watching a beautiful sunrise move over the night sky.
I want to tell Baby Writer me: "Don't let any grand, expert advice screw up how you write!" I wasted months—nay, years—trying to put into practice stuff that just flat out did not work for me. And I should have known better, because I understood my personality and could have articulated why that advice, great as it was for someone else, would not work for me.
Another one would probably be: "Focus on writing the book." It's easy to get distracted with other writing-related activities, some that matter and some that don't. But even those that matter shouldn't keep you from writing the books.
Hey little me baby
A) Since you are planning a life of being an introvert, start getting out into the extrovert arena more just to acclimate. Don't worry, you can still run back to your desk for periodic "moments" of silence. It will be worth its weight in gold to be able to speak clearly, speak to a crowd, speak to a stranger without saying curse words at the end of every sentence, dammit.
B) Get used to the used diaper smell. Wait till you become a writer and some critic just start flinging crap for no apparent reason.
C) Buy 10,000 notepads. Just do it. Writers love them. Your future house looks like a bookstore and you love that.