Thursday, July 26, 2018

Advice for New Writers

As an author, I get interviewed often about the writing process. I think one of the most frequently  asked questions is "what advice would you give to new writers?" So, I thought I'd share my answer with you.

The best advice is to write every day, even if it's garbage. Easy to say, but not so easy to do. I think the biggest obstacle that keeps writers from writing is fear. Stephen King put it well when he said, "I'm convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing." We are afraid that what we are writing isn't good, no one will want to read it, the story will be hurtful to family, or it's a waste of time. But remember, when you're scribbling out that first draft, no one will read it but you. So, really, you have nothing to fear by writing it and everything to gain. For some great insight on writing, I strongly suggest reading Stephen King's memoir appropriately titled On Writing.

My advice is to just write and don't worry about it. But you will worry about. I know you. You're a writer, just like me. So, when you throw something down on paper and it feels like you've just vomited up last night's salmon all over your writing desk, consider what Ernest Hemingway said, "The first draft of everything is s**t." And look what he did! You will never get to the good stuff until you write the crap first. I wrote two whole novels--that will (hopefully) never get into the hands of a reader--before I wrote my now published novel The Windsome Tree: a ghost story. I never would have been able to accomplish that without barfing up some salmon first.

As hard as you try, though, you will inevitably run into writer's block. There are a rare few who can avoid it. One thing I do is take a break and read. When I give that advice in my classes, students sometimes bring up the fear that what they're reading will influence their writing and they could unintentionally plagiarize. The likelihood of that is slim at best. Reading someone else's work will help clear your mind from your own for a short time. It will allow you to see that each word on the page isn't a masterpiece on its own. The story forms only when the words are put together in sentences and then paragraphs. You may see that often the prose is simple, not overly flowery or complex. When you return to your story, you will not try so hard to be perfect, knowing that simpler is often better. 

Having said that, you should be reading all the time. You should be a voracious reader. The more you read, the better you write. Again, to quote Stephen King: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time to write." Plus, reading is fun. So, there you go.

A surprisingly overlooked bit of advice is to get yourself out of your room and into the world. Writing can be a solitary and lonely business. Break down the walls of solitude and go to conferences, public readings by other authors, anyplace where writers and readers connect. I met my agent at a writer's conference. I pitched my novel The Windsome Tree (then called Without Mercy) to her and she rejected it. I went home and revised it and the next year pitched it to her again and she eventually signed me. Join writer's organizations. The annual fees are usually small and the benefits, great. I belong to a wonderful organization called The Connecticut Author's and Publishers' Association. They have monthly meetings in all four corners of Connecticut with great speakers. There, I have a chance to connect and socialize with people of like minds. Additionally, they offer workshops and other events throughout the year. Join a writer's group. Libraries often have them, but they are open to the public, and sometimes the input is more damaging than helpful. Find a closed group that suits your needs and ask to be invited. Or form your own. I belong to a group called Artemis Rising and we meet at my house once a month. We've been together for twenty years!

That's my advice for today. If you think of anything that helps you to be a better writer, I would love to know!
~ Eileen


  1. Eileen, thanks! I write daily. It comes naturally for me, but I have had periods of time when I cannot write. I really need to join a group of writers. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts. Linda

    1. You are welcome, Linda. Joining a writer's group is wonderful on many levels. You get to share your work and get honest critique. You get to vent about your frustrations with writing, and they will empathize. And it forces you to write. If you meet once a month, you set a deadline to have something to share each time you meet. And don't worry. If you join a group and you find it's not right for you. Don't torture yourself. Find another or start your own. Not all groups are alike. I belonged to several that weren't good fits before finding my group. We, unfortunately are closed to new members at this time. But you'll find yours!