How do you get started writing? 12 ways.

Nov 17, 2010Write!

Yesterday I received this email (and Andrea’s given me permission to use her question):

Hi Mary,

I would like to know how to get started writing. I have all of these ideas, thoughts, and memories running around in my head and am not sure how to coral them into story form. Can you give me a pointer or two to get me on my way to writing?


Andrea Atkins

Glad you asked, Andrea!

It really depends on what kind of writing you’d like to do and whether your goal is publication or not. I’m going to assume you would like to write in such a way that you’d eventually be published. This works for both nonfiction and fiction. Here are some steps.

  1. Make a decision. I know this sounds simplistic, but I run into wanna-be-authors a lot who tell me they have 76 journals they’ve saved over the years, that they have always wanted to publish, but just never got around to it. Today is the day you decide you will get around to it. Read through what you’ve written. Highlight and categorize your entries. Start brainstorming on how those ideas can become articles.
  2. Now decide to write an article for a magazine you know really, really well. Let’s say you’re a Better Homes and Gardens faithful subscriber. Note what kind of articles they like, then create one. Go to the magazine’s website and search “writers guidelines.” Usually they’ll have the name and email of the Managing Editor.
  3. Write a query letter. You can get a query writing tutorial on my Free Resources page.
  4. Since this will be your first query, please don’t be discouraged if you receive a rejection. It’s highly likely. See it instead as a notch in your belt of rejections. This is the normal thing that happens to someone who TRIES. If you don’t try, you won’t be rejected, yes, but you’ll never move forward.
  5. Be willing to pay your dues. If you’re thinking, “Gee, I’d rather not write for magazines or online opportunities,” consider quitting writing. Everyone has to pay dues. It is extremely rare that someone starts their writing career by publishing a book unless it’s self published. (Stay tuned for Friday where I discuss the differences between self publishing and traditional publishing). Besides, you learn so much by writing for publications. You learn to meet deadlines, accept editorial direction, and you might even make money. (Side note: writers who write for magazines and online entities make way more money than just writers of books on average, and they influence and reach many, many more readers.)
  6. Give yourself deadlines, then exceed them. Let’s say you’d like to write a piece by next Wednesday. Train yourself to write it and have it polished by Tuesday. Writing is sheer grit and discipline. Anyone trying to tell you any different is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.
  7. Join a critique group. There are usually crit groups in your area, or you can find them online. Too afraid? Consider if you really ought to write. Every single published writer I know has had to be critiqued/edited. Every. single. one. If you can’t take critique now, why do you think you’ll magically be able to take editorial direction later?
  8. Don’t discount the power of blogging. Blogging is a great way to consistently write every day and to hone your voice. A few tips: check your spelling and grammar, but don’t overthink your posts. Post frequently. Be sure you’re targeted toward a specific audience. Don’t spend tons of time at it; consider it as a warm up to your actual writing.
  9. Set writing goals every week. For me, it’s usually a word count goal like 8-10,000 words a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. Meet those goals. Put your BOC (behind on chair) and make yourself write.
  10. Set a financial goal. I know this seems odd, particularly if you’re just starting out, but setting a goal, even a small one, will help you be accountable to write. When I started writing, I made $100 a month writing a weekly column. I’ve continued to up the ante until I’ve started making a small living wage at writing. But I never would’ve done that had I not set goals monthly, then yearly.
  11. Treat your writing as a business. Keep great records. If you start making money on it, the IRS no longer considers it a hobby, so you’ll need to keep receipts, track your mileage, buy equipment, pay travel expenses to conferences, fork out money for publicity and marketing. Don’t be haphazard. The IRS is not haphazard about auditing! Besides if you take writing seriously, your whole demeanor will change. Aside: Next time someone asks you what you do, say “I am a writer.” Then believe it! Treating your writing as a business will help you say such things.
  12. Consider the scope of your writing. Every writer has his/her own influence. You may be called to write amazing thank you notes, or encouraging poems for friends in crisis, or speeches for local candidates. Don’t despise obscurity, even if it means you stay in obscurity. Just write. Write well. Become a passionate learner of the craft, but leave the acclaim at the door. Most of us who write do not achieve fame or even financial stability. We write because we’re made to write.

Andrea (and those reading this blog), I hope these suggestions help. Anyone else have advice for Andrea? Comment away.