Things No One Told Me About Being A Writer

This one’s for all the new, innocent, writers out there.

Before I officially started writing the first draft of my first novel, I had no writer friends to warn me about the perils of being a writer. I dived into it with no idea of what was heading my way, so through my own experiences, I now feel it is my duty as a fellow writer to help you be ready for what’s to come as you embark on this journey. This post is in no way meant to discourage you from pursuing a career on this path. Every job in the world comes with its own advantages and difficulties.

Here we go:

1. Stress/Anxiety will be the devil on your shoulder ~ I never thought being a writer could be this stressful. For instance, I get anxious about the words I haven’t written, then I get anxious about the words I have written. I get anxious every other page I write, about the quality and arc of my story and characters. And I get anxious about the stages that come after writing, then I worry if I will ever even reach those stages.

2. You will probably start getting a little obsessive ~ I get obsessed over my settings and characters. I feel like even the minutest detail has to be perfect, then I get super obsessed about the words I use. I spend more time looking them up than I do writing them. I also get obsessed over how often I write. I try to make time for it even if it means I miss my workout, go out less often or sleep a little less. Is that a good thing? No. But I am obsessed with finishing my first draft.

3. You have to make time ~ I thought I would have been done with my first novel by now but I am still halfway through my first draft. It’s been 16 months since I started. Trust me when I say it takes a lot of time. What you imagine in an instant, can take days to put down into words. You have to try and squeeze in a writing session wherever you can otherwise it will eat away at your soul. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but seriously, it takes TIME! If a great book could be written in a matter of days, everyone would be doing it.

4. You can write wherever, whenever and however you like ~ Seriously. I don’t know any job as flexible as being a writer. Whether you’re an indoor cat and prefer coffee shops or your bed, or an outdoor cat and find inspiration at the park or on the beach – whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, plotter or a pantser, like pen and paper or keyboard and screen – there is always the possibility to just sit down and get to it.

5. There’s plenty to learn ~ So much to learn. From developing as a writer in the actual craft, to researching ways to self publish or get traditionally published, find an agent, an editor, beta readers, cover designers or learning to design covers yourself. The list goes on. There is more to this writing thing than just writing.

6. You need to be strong ~ I’m nowhere near finished yet but I can’t help thinking about the future. I am dreading getting rejection slips. It will knock my confidence and I’m worried about that because it took so long for me to find the confidence to actually start writing. But this is something most writers have experienced. From what I’ve gathered, the key is to stay strong, use the feedback you receive to your advantage and don’t let it stop you.

7. You’re not alone ~ There is a whole world of writers out there (mostly on Twitter – get back to work people!) that are going through the same difficulties, worries, joys and accomplishments as you. If you ever need advice, or a good moan to someone who will understand what you’re experiencing, the #WritingCommunity on Twitter is a pretty awesome place to make new friends.

Useful Tools for Writers

When I first started working on my novel, I struggled a little as I was unprepared in terms of knowing what tools I may need to make the creative process run smoother. So to save some of you the hassle of having to run around in the world wide web searching for which sites, software and other writing resources you could use, I’ve made a short list of all the tools that have helped me ease into writing.

  1. Scrivener (~£43): I initially started on Microsoft Word, and although it gets the job done, it doesn’t offer as much as Scrivener does for book writers. It has all the typical functions of other word processors but it also does so much more. You can do away with your five binders filled with notes and keep it all organized within Scrivener. You can import all your research and plans, photos and other bits of whatever inspires your work and store it all in one place, which I find to be way more efficient. Plus, it has cool tools like a name generator and direct Google links for dictionary/thesaurus searches. However, I do have to point out that Scrivener takes some getting used to. Learning your way around all of its features and functions may take time and commitment, but once you get a basic handle on it, it becomes a lifeline for your writing. Well, it is for mine, but whatever works for you!
  2. Scapple (~£17): Scapple is basically a large, digital piece of brainstorming paper. It is a mind mapping tool for anyone that does anything writing related as it allows the user to note down their ideas and form connections. You can see how this could be useful for plotting a story or developing a character.
  3. Google Keep (free): Personally, I use the Keep app on my phone as a handy notepad to quickly jot down an idea or some other kind of inspiration, while I’m out and about. I’ve realized – the hard way – that my memory isn’t that good, and no, I will not remember that super unique name I just heard in the supermarket by the time I get back to my laptop.
  4. Quora (free): If you need a question answered by an expert on the subject, then there’s bound to be one in Quora. You can find so much random and specific information in there, it really is a little research haven.
  5. Behind the Name – Generator (free): A useful tool to generate a name for your character. You can choose to generate a first name, middle name, a surname, with options to choose gender and origin. It can even generate a life story if you’re looking for that extra bit of detail or inspiration.
  6. Ted Talks (free): You can find a lot of information from the huge variety of topics that Ted Talks covers. Plus, they’re really interesting and as a writer, I try to expose myself to a lot of different subjects. You never know when inspiration will strike.
  7. Grammarly (free/premium at monthly subscription): I’ve only recently tested out the free version of Grammarly and I think it can be a very useful tool for writers, whatever their level or platform of writing. It can check and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar (and more) and boost the users writing style by improving their knowledge of the English language.
  8. Books: Yep. Just books. Reading other books is one of the best tools a writer can use. Whether they’re related to your genre of writing or not, or books about writing, you really should read as much as you can. And it doesn’t have to be costly. There are plenty of options in second-hand stores, and public libraries are a great way to keep your shelves clear and your purse (or wallet) shut.

I’m sure there are probably hundreds of other tools out there that other writers have found useful, but the ones listed above are what keep me going in this endeavour. If you have any that you’d like to share with the rest of us, please drop it in the comments!

Believe in the Write Stuff

I’ve always had trouble believing in myself… Or more specifically; that I can really do this writing thing.

It took many, many years for me to really have a go at it. The novel I started working on last September is the one that has finally stuck and I’ve finally hit the 50k mark on my first draft. That’s about 49k more than I’ve ever written for a book idea. It’s taken me roughly 8 months to get here and I really hope it doesn’t take me another 8 months for the next half. BUT even if it takes me another 2 years to turn the last page and to be able to say, “I’m done. This is it. My first book is complete,” what’s important is that I started and I finished. It would mean that I managed to believe in myself enough for all that time to actually achieve my goal.

If you’re a writer too then you’ll know the tremondous effort and commitment it takes to create your characters and plot, and to literally just pick an idea and try to build it into something that makes sense, is enjoyable and memorable. Especially if you have other responsibilities, like a day job or kids – because now you have time limitations too (not to mention a lack of energy). But you keep going. That’s why we call ourselves ‘writers’. We write. Whether we’re good at it or need some more time and practice is another matter.

So tell me, what happens after you spend countless hours pouring your head, heart and soul into your work, you beat yourself up then overcome the doubt (often on a daily basis), you tell yourself you got this and you dream about the success that might be waiting for you at the end of your finished manuscript… Then someone (whether it’s family or a friend) comes up to you and says something along these lines:

“You’re a shit writer. You will never succeed. The world doesn’t need anymore novelists. Why is it taking you so long? Get a real job.”

What do you do? What do you think? What do you even say?

Does it give you more drive to keep going and be better than before? Or does it put you in a slump and you end up thinking they might be right, I’m never going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King anyway?

I say fuck it. Whoever thinks that they can try to put you down like that and try to kill your self belief – the one you’ve spent years struggling with – can truly just fuck off.

Writing is a hard, time consuming, stressful, and often ego-killing job. But it’s also become my favourite thing to do. It can be freeing, fun and an escape for the writer – and one day, the reader.

Don’t stop doing what you love just because of the thoughtless, hurtful and spiteful words of someone who lacks empathy and understanding.

Be you. Believe in your talent. Believe in your dreams. Believe in what you write. Please, don’t give up.

Overcoming ‘The Block’

“Nothing will work unless you do.” 

Maya Angelou

To be clear, I don’t exactly believe in such a thing as ‘writer’s block’. There’s no invisible wall that surrounds our minds and creativity, or invisible handcuffs that prevent us from getting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)…

But even I am guilty of using ‘the block’ when I want to excuse my shameless procrastination.

I do think that there are periods where every writer struggles to come up with ideas, inspiration, the will to carry on. This is normal. Fear, stress, boredom and panic can deter a writer for a number of days (or even weeks, months or years)… If we let it.

The fear of being judged, the stress that comes with the amount of writing still left to do, getting bored of your own work, and panicking that you’ll never make it, are all factors in this ‘block’. Especially that of being overwhelmed by thoughts from day-to-day life.

The key is to get the ball rolling, then keep it rolling – however fast or slow.

here’s a quick list of tricks & strategies that might help you get back into the beautiful flow of writing:

  • Get primitive. As unsettling as it may be, disconnect yourself from the temptations of the world wide web. I am 100% guilty of jumping on Twitter (or the sort) every time the words take a pause. Then I realize I haven’t written anything for ten – fifteen (even twenty) minutes, and this makes it harder to get back into the flow. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, put your phone on airplane mode (unless you have kids in school… wouldn’t want to miss an emergency call), log out of all social media accounts, or just disable your Wi-Fi (if you don’t need to do any research or look anything up while writing).
  • Step away from the desk. Sometimes you just need to get up and move your workstation elsewhere; the park, the coffee shop – anywhere that’s not your usual spot. Fresh scenery and a change of atmosphere might trigger your creative juices.
  • Play music. Find a song without words or just some good old ambient noise that matches the current mood/scene of your WIP and keep it on in the background. There are so many times this has helped me get back into the flow. It’s honestly a great way to unlock the creativity within you. Personally, I love listening to pieces by Ludovico Einaudi.
  • Make notes. The moment inspiration strikes and you get that golden nugget of an idea drop into your hands, make note of it. Even if you can’t add into your WIP straight away, it will be there when you’re sitting at your laptop with twitching eyes and fingers, thinking of what to write.
  • Read. It can be a book of a similar genre to the one you’re writing to help you reclaim some of that excitement for your own work. Or, it can be the total opposite to clear your mind of spaceships, dragons, murderers, ghosts or sex… Basically a break from whatever you’re fed up of thinking and writing about.
  • Routine. Develop a routine for when it’s time to write. For example, once I take my kid to school, I put the little one to sleep with a bottle of milk, make a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate (whatever I’m feeling that day), grab a blanket and my laptop stand, and get comfy in my spot. I do this at noon, Monday through Friday (unless I have an appointment), and take the weekends off. Now my brain has been trained to realize when it’s time to get to workin’. Of course there are those days where I struggle and end up writing 1/4 of what I might write on a ‘good’ day. But routine has definitely helped me keep writing.
  • Just write. Seriously, write anything. It could even be totally unrelated to your WIP. The point is to keep the creativity going. The words are already in you. You just have to let them out.

So, what do you think… Is writer’s block a real thing that you just have to wait out and hope you break free? Or is it something under your control that you can power through?