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!

What I’ve Learned About Writing A Novel In One Year

It has been exactly one year since I started writing my first novel. I am currently 50,000 words into my first draft (which is roughly 49.5k words more than any other story I’d ever started and abandoned) and have another 45 to 50k-ish to go.

In 365 days there’s a lot to learn and discover about yourself, the type of story teller you are and the art of writing in general. I think it’s fair to say that I have changed and developed quite a bit since the start of this WIP.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned about writing and being a writer in the past year:

  • Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, the most important thing is to actually write and stick to it. It’s no use planning, planning and planning, or coming up with a hundred different ideas in the span of a minute if you never start writing.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. You know I mentioned all the stories that I abandoned after a measly 500 words? Well, that was me being a pantser. I thought I could make it up as I go but I’d always give up at the first sign of a dreaded plot hole. And when I finally decided on what to write for my current WIP, I thought I had to plan every little detail in advance to actually be able to write coherently. However, the further into the story I got, the more I veered off the minor details and changed around some major events. Now I know that there’s a middle ground – for me, at least (writers work in different ways). A basic list of plot points, a quick timeline and very simple character profiles would have been sufficient for me to work off of.

  • Do writing exercises as often as you can, even if they’re completely irrelevant to your main project. They can help keep the creativity flowing and develop your writing skills.

When I joined Twitter shortly after starting my WIP, I stumbled upon #vss365. For 365 days of the year, a range of hosts provide a single word prompt that writers have to use to create a tweet-length story/poem/dialogue. This is one of the best ways I’ve kept practicing writing, even during breaks from my novel. I’ve learned a bunch of new words, tried out styles of writing that I hadn’t been too comfortable with before and even broken through periods of “the block”. I was more of a reader than a writer prior to the start of my WIP, but now – even with just doing simple writing exercises – I feel more confident in calling myself a writer.

  • Be open to the idea of finding other writers to talk to. Having a supportive community of writers is a fantastic way to keep inspired, motivated and it really can help boost your confidence.

I didn’t have any writer friends before I joined Twitter. The #WritingCommunity on there is something special. When I’ve had bouts of self-doubt or anxiety regarding anything to do with writing (whether it be about how long it’s taking me to complete the first draft or my capabilities), I can see that there are many other writers out there in the world who are experiencing the same things as me. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone and it’s normal to have spells of frustration and wanting to give up… but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just ask my writer friends 😉

  • It’s okay to take a break from your WIP. You aren’t letting anyone down – or more importantly, yourself down – by taking some time away to refresh your mind.

I was scared to take a break from writing my novel because I thought if I stop I’ll never get back into it. But I got to a stage where I just couldn’t see a way through the scenes I was writing and both my mind and the story started to get very convoluted. I had to pause for a while, and when I got back to it, I felt ready and clear about where the scenes were headed. I’ve found that having small periods of time away keeps my writing fresh and me less stressed.

  • Write what you want to write. People will tell you what you should or shouldn’t be writing, or how you should or shouldn’t go about it. It’s up to you what you write.

Everyone has their own style and preferences, whether they’re the reader or the writer. Don’t force yourself into changing the stories you want to tell or the way you want to tell them just because it doesn’t appeal to or suit a couple of people that are in your circle. Keep true to you. If that means you want to expand out of your comfort zone and widen your horizons, then by all means, do it. Just don’t think you have to do it to make someone else happy; because someone will always be unsatisfied. Make sure that that someone isn’t you. It’s the best work you’ll do.

  • Setting yourself a daily word target is a useful tool to complete your project, but don’t freak out if you don’t hit it every day.

We all have lives away from writing. Responsibilities that take priority over your WIP, and unexpected events can make it hard to find the time to write every day. I set myself a word target of 1000 per day and there are times I’ve managed to keep to it. When I do, it makes me feel like I’m on track, I’m doing what I should be doing and like I’ve already accomplished something. I can almost see the end of it approaching. But then there are times that I don’t write for days, and it’s not because I don’t want to. I used to feel guilty for not reaching my target on those days, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just the way it is. Life gets in the way sometimes. Don’t give up just because there are days where you didn’t get to write as much as you planned to – or even at all. What’s important is that you keep coming back to your WIP. At the end of the day, I write because I love it. I don’t want to ruin the experience by pressuring myself day and night to get words out, especially if they’re not going to be any good.

  • Read. Expose yourself to different genres and widen your horizons, or keep to your favourite ones and learn from them. Whatever you read, just read.

I’ve loved reading my whole life. It’s what made me want to tell my own stories. But over the past year, I feel like I’ve not read as much as I wanted to or usually do. This disappoints me. When I read, my mind is overflowing with ideas that can be adapted for my current or future WIPs. Whether it’s real life events from the news, scientific or philosophic texts, or totally made up tales, there’s always something to be inspired and educated by. Also, I used to be terrified of not being 110% original but I realized so many successful books have recycled ideas. There are millions of books out in the world. How likely is it that you and someone else didn’t have similar themes and ideas? Once you accept that there may be a story out there that’s not so vastly different to your own, you can then focus on execution. How well will you tell your story?

  • There are no rules to writing.

If you’re serious about writing, you’ll find a way that suits you. Just grow into the writer you want to be.

Anything you want to add about your writing experience? Drop a comment below!

Writing a Novel: The Rules

“Beware of advice – even this.” ~ Carl Sandburg

How many writers out there have read through (or at least skimmed) dozens of books about the art of writing; looking for guidelines, rules and loads of other bits of advice on how to write the best book in the whole entire world, before finally putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?

I know I have.

I was so anxious for so many years about getting it wrong and being ridiculed by other writers, readers, publishers and, basically, just everyone, that I went on a mad search for all the highest rated novel writing books that I could get my hands on. I read through most of them trying to soak in all the do’s and don’ts and ooh’s and ahh’s of captivating a reader and publisher.

Here are just a few of the rules of novel writing I came across during this frenzied learning marathon:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you don’t know.
  • Write an outline.
  • Go with the flow.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Take your time.
  • Write everyday.
  • Only use “said” to carry dialogue.
  • Don’t start a book with the weather, or waking up, or looking at a reflection.

Boy, oh boy. As you can see, there are so many contradicting “rules”, that all I had achieved by the end of that information vortex, was giving myself a headache and piling on the confusion even more.

All I could really do at that point was to start. Just start writing. I started with an outline first; the plot, the conflicts, the character profiles etc. (Have I kept to the outline? That’s a different matter entirely. You can read about it on my previous post: Planner, Pantser… Maybe a Planster). Then I moved on to my first word, first sentence, first page, first chapter, and so on.

Then I realized…

There are no rules when it comes to writing. At least, not just one definitive set for every single writer in the world. Everyone is different, everyone has their own style, their own methods to keep motivated, organized, in control. By the time I was totally consumed in my story, I forgot all the rules I was supposed to be keeping to and just did my own thing.

I broke the “rules.”

  • I couldn’t only write what I knew. What I knew wasn’t enough to take my story to the places it had to go. So, I had more research and learning to do.
  • I wrote an outline, but ended up changing things around quite a bit. For the better.
  • I set a deadline (I set many), but disruptions in my schedule due to other responsibilities and unanticipated events forced me to put writing on hold.
  • That meant I couldn’t write everyday.
  • I use more than just “said.”
  • And, yes, I started off with the weather. Wanna know why? Because it’s crucial to my story, that’s why.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re setting off on this journey to writing your first novel, don’t worry about the rules. What works for 10,000 other writers might not work for you. Only after gaining some experience and practice, you can maybe set yourself some guidelines to keep yourself in check or to make the process easier.

Here are some tips that I think might be helpful:

  1. Write when you can. Forcing yourself to write (just to keep to schedule or hit your daily word target) when you have more urgent matters to take care of, will only lower the quality of your thinking and focus. You’ll probably have to change what you’ve done once you look back at it.design desk display eyewear
  2. Don’t neglect yourself. Sleep when you have to sleep, eat, drink, leave the house, meet up with friends or family, pamper yourself. Self-care is so important regardless of what you do, but especially more so when you’re writing a book. The countless hours you spend sitting down at a desk or with a laptop on your lap, straining your eyes on the screen, stressing out trying to get the words down on paper as you see the scene play out in your mind. As much fun, freeing and fulfilling writing can be, it can also be stressful and tense and lonely. DON’T FORGET YOU.backlit clouds dawn dusk
  3. When you get an idea, write it down. I can’t stress this enough. YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NOT REMEMBER IT WHEN YOU WAKE UP! Even if you are sure you will… Trust me.blur business close up composition
  4. Don’t let others get you down. Don’t let them stop you, or rush you. Do what you have to do to accomplish your dreams.man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

Drafts: How many is too many?

Before starting my first novel, I’d not given much thought to how many drafts I would need to work through to complete my story. I thought I would just write it once, edit it and that’s that.

… This could be one of the reasons it seemed like such a daunting task for so many years. I put too much pressure on myself for it to be perfect pretty much immediately, and anything less than what I expected of myself meant that I’m not talented enough to be a writer.

But having interacted with many writers over the past few months, and having dived into it myself, I’m starting to understand and accept that it is a constant work in progress. The results of a poll I posted on Twitter, showed that 88% (of the 26 that participated) go through 3+ drafts, 4% do 2 drafts, and 8% get it done in just 1. That’s amazing!

  • One writer told me that she usually writes extremely detailed outlines (up to 10k words!) before starting the main piece. If the bulk of the story remains the same, even after multiple edits, then she considers it as only one draft.
  • Another writer shared with me that he does one draft; writing the book from start to finish and sometimes going back to add a new plot element if he’s stuck. He then moves onto editing.
  • And one writer has done at least five rewrites on theirs, and it will still need further revisions!

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However, I’ve come to realize that the word ‘draft’ can take on various meanings and forms for different writers. So don’t feel that you have to stick to a certain number of drafts or even define the stages of your work with that term.

Look at Tolkien, for example. It’s said that it took him 12 years of writing (17, with breaks) to finish The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit. I can’t imagine how many drafts, revisions, edits he went through in that time to get his story just as he imagined it.

Some stories, like Tolkien’s, consist of much more complex worlds and plots and may need longer to compose. But everyone has a different speed, and a different story to tell. Do what works for you.