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Aspiring Writers: 10 Things I Wish I Knew As a Novice Writer
By William Ballard, Freelance Writer and Author
I’ve been writing for nearly 10+ years. The writing bug bit me way back when. Essentially, I began my writing journey writing poetry. Many of my middle school and high-school English teachers always complemented my wring and ability to express my feeling through the written word. And I will admit, when I was first writing I had no idea I would end up where I am today in this whole writing life.
Since then I’ve held a succession of professional jobs that have nothing to do with writing. Finally, after several years of heartache, and headaches, I am well on my way to publishing my first non-fiction book with Friesenpress.com,“The True Writer’s Life: Discovering the Author and Finisher of Our Faith” (scheduled to be available in the market within the next couple of months). It is actually a book that connects two of my most passionate desires: 1) ministry and God, and 2) writing. I am even closer now than I have ever been to my dream of writing full time.
Why did it take so long? Simply put, many mistakes! If I had a time machine and could go back and tell my nineteen to twenty year old self only ten things about writing, this is what they would be:
1. Learn and Remember the Basics of Writing Before you Even Attempt a Writing Career. I cannot stress this enough, even if you feel that writing comes naturally to you (and maybe it does, that’s good!), learn grammar and the mechanics of writing. Take classes, attend workshops or read books on your own. You will need to do so eventually and getting it out of the way first will save you very precious time.
2. Review! Unclutter! Edit Again! A piece is almost never done after the first draft is complete. I don’t know how many times I’ve emailed a pitch to a magazine, or posted a piece online that I thought was done only to have a new idea come to me or find a typo in the copy. I still struggle with this and my wife usually finds my mistakes before I can even notice them. My wife jokingly refers to herself as my “personal editor”, but after you have some years of writing under your belt you know when a piece is complete, and until it isn’t, the piece nags at you and you can’t stop thinking about it. I am still growing in this area.
3. Take Critiquing About Your Work from Those who are Close to You, or Even Know you with a Grain of Salt. I’m not saying to discount it altogether but those who know you are emotionally connected with you to some degree and their opinions will be biased. To get more unbiased feedback post your work on message boards or social media. Writers groups are also helpful but be careful about taking the opinions of other writers too seriously, especially when it comes to style. (for more on this topic see #9)
4. Diversify! It’s wise to create multiple revenue streams if you plan to make a comfortable living as a writer. If you want to write books, I suggest you also consider seeking freelance writing gigs and/or speaking engagements. Establish yourself as an expert on what you write about. To learn more about developing yourself as a freelance writer and blogger click here.
5. Transform from Introvert to Extrovert! Most writers I know, including myself, were at one time introverts by nature (and I actually still am). You need to work to become more outgoing and be ready at any moment to speak enthusiastically about your writing. Begin with baby steps and each time you step outside of your comfort zone you will build confidence. You must become your own biggest fan and best marketing salesperson. I’ve done things in the last ten years, like public speaking and pitching article ideas to magazine Pubs that would’ve terrified my nineteen to twenty year old self. There is an incredible amount of competition out there for the attention of readers and it doesn’t matter how good your work is: if it isn’t getting in front of readers it will never get noticed.
6. A Writing Career is Never Easy! It’s very easy to romanticize the writer’s life but most times it is far from glamorous and is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. To be a successful writer requires a mega dose of hard work, commitment, good networking skills, optimism, and a healthy dose of God’s divine favor. If you have the discipline to hone your craft, writing can be equally as rewarding as it is difficult.
7. Beware of any Publisher, Agent, or Editor Asking you for Money in order to do Business With You! There are plenty of unjust wicked individuals and companies out there who prey on both the vanity and naiveté of aspiring writers. Thankfully, reviews are now just a click away on the internet. Even if you are self-publishing your work, invest the time in reading online reviews before you sign a contract or upload your work.
8. Read Voraciously! Reading the work of other authors will expand your vocabulary and will make you a better writer. However, I’ve made it a rule of thumb not to read books from other authors while working on my books. If I do read other books I often find the writer’s style can unconsciously surface in my work.
9. Develop Your own Unique Voice and Learn How to Ignite Creativity! If you listen to the critiques and feedback of other writers too much in this regard you will lose your own unique style or voice. Your style is what eventually will set you apart and allow you to develop your niche, which will ultimately develop into your fan base (or tribe). Certain people say it’s wise to force yourself to fill up a blank page every day to stay salty. That doesn’t work for me. If I encounter writer’s burnout (or what others call ‘writer’s block’) I’ve learned it’s best to take the dog for a walk, go for a bike ride or do anything that has nothing to do with writing and pretty soon the ideas start flowing freely again.
10. As Writers we Don’t Choose to Write, We Have to Write! Writing is not only a form of personal expression, it is therapeutic and it is also a lifelong journey of self-discovery. If I stop writing I feel there is a huge void within me, life doesn’t seem as fulfilling. Ten plus years into my career I’m still learning new things and polishing my work with every project. Take your craft seriously, create a sacred space to write that is quiet and free from interruptions and distractions. Although writers spend lots of time crafting fictional characters (if you’re a fictional writer), ironically, the act of writing develops the character of the author more than anything else.
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About the Author
William Ballard is the author of, “My List of 21 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing” and "3 Steps to Blogging Success: Discovering Your Passion, Finding Your Audience, and Developing an Income Stream (Article Series)".
He has been writing professionally for over 10+ years and has much experience within the industry, both in publishing and in freelance writing. He has successfully self-published over 10 books and eBooks. Visit his Amazon Author Page to see list of his most recent projects.