You’ve read the post on why people write and you want in. But where do you start and how do you do it?
I can tell you about how I write, and I should probably stick to that, but that will only help you so much. After all, if you have different goals, you shouldn’t walk my path.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a professional and I don’t want to act like I am, but I can at least get you started. So let’s begin where any good story does: with questions.
When writing anything, you want to be able to answer the very basic questions of who, what, when, where, how, and why. When writing the next chapter of your life, you want to ask the same. The answers will most likely change, but it’s important to know where you’re starting. Answer honestly, as these are important. You can find lies that match up with your own prejudices and familial pressures later. For now, make sure you really know what you’re about.
I answered this question in broad terms last week, but you want to think about your own why. Why do you want to write? What is so pressing in your heart and mind that you need to put words on paper? This is no time to get modest; we all have something to share. But for others to care, you need to know why you care.
This will inform many of your answers for the rest of the questions, and together they will all shape your next steps, so take time with this one.
It’s interesting – I haven’t considered this question myself until now. Why do I want to write? I want to entertain others, for sure. But I also want to inspire them. I saw a picture of an author posing with their first cosplayer and I wondered what it would feel like to be in that author’s shoes. To know that I inspired someone enough they felt inclined to make a costume.
But I would be okay with someone being inspired to write their own story completely unrelated to mine. Or to get up and dance. Or to remember to buy milk at the store (I don’t have a very high bar at this point). At the very least I hope that the fiction I write is entertaining enough to pull someone away from the news and the disappointments of the day long enough to relax.
Okay, so now you’ve determined that you want to write in order to, I don’t know, convince people to adopt dogs. That’s an oddly specific goal, but we’ll work with it. Who is it that you want to try to convince?
This question will help to inform not only the language you use, but also the platform (which is another question). Think about not only who you feel comfortable communicating with, but also who would benefit most from it. Think in terms of ages, genders, professions, dreams, and countless other categories. Your answer can still be “everyone” and again, it will likely change later on in your career. It helps to ask both why and who every so often.
What do you actually want to say to your intended audience? Do you want to tell stories? Write poetry? In our previous example with the dogs, you might want to use storytelling to showcase how awesome adopted dogs are. This answer is informed by your why, and will inform your when, how, and where.
This is just as much of “how often?” as it is “how quickly do you want to respond?” Some people will want to hole themselves up in their homes, write furiously for years and only come out when it’s time to do book tours. Others will want to hop onto Twitter and never leave. For this example, maybe your storytelling will be done mostly on a blog where you tweet out a link every four hours (I got exhausted just thinking about that).
You might also consider how vulnerable you are to criticism, as any communication can invoke it, deserved or not.
How do you want to address your audience? Casually, in 280 characters? Formally, in verse? Perhaps you would like to sing your work accompanied by an acoustic guitar. In this dog scenario, maybe you want to communicate in dog meme speak with weird spelling and terrible grammar. Hey, I didn’t say you would be good at your dog adoption agenda.
This is the last thing you need to consider before finally making the decision on platform:
Where do you want to reach your audience? This is important to decide as well, in order to know what means of publishing you are going to pursue. In this example, we’ve already decided on Twitter and a blogging platform, and it’s perfectly okay to have decided this ahead of time.
Knowing where you want to meet your audience will answer the medium you’ll write with as well – pen on paper, finger on key – as it’s much easier to get Tweet out on your computer than with carrier pigeon.
Another way to get started is also the easiest: just start writing! Grab that used envelope and that eyeliner pencil, and get to scrawling. Journal, ramble, describe, feel and just put words down. Don’t judge anything that you put onto paper just yet. That’s for later and if you try to do it now, you’ll just start second-guessing everything until you don’t write at all.
This is the stage an English teacher of mine used to call “vomiting on paper.” Train to have an uninterrupted connection between your fingers and your brain until the words flow out unimpeded. If you’re trying to stay organized, then try something I do: every day take 10 to 15 minutes and type random stuff into a document. Nothing fancy, no crazy exercises (though you’re welcome to include those if you wish), and no one is meant to read it. Just whatever your brain decides to say at that time, you type out. Or write out, if you are so inclined.
This gets you into a habit of putting unchecked words on paper, in a way proving to yourself that it’s okay. Then when you do some real writing, you will have a little more…let’s say lubrication when it comes to getting your thoughts out of your head.
If you are a brand spankin’ new writer, then I would caution you against trying to write a full-length novel. They can be a lot of fun, but they also take a lot of work and planning. If there’s anything to discourage you from writing, it’s putting a lot of work into a large project and finding out that most of it is unusable. This is generally how writing works, but it’s especially disheartening if your first time dealing with it is after months of bleeding on paper.
Some Prompts to Get You Started
Writing prompts are just hints of an idea. I’ll talk a little more about using them later, but for now take a look and see if any spark some kind of inspiration. I’m a firm believer in freely sharing prompts so if you take something I put on this site and run with it, it’s yours. Try something with any of these to get started:
- What happened to you today? What do you wish had happened to you today? Feel free to go crazy with this one.
- You get caught walking in the rain, when a person pulls up next to you and offers you a ride – why? who are they?
- What is your favorite historical event? Write about it as though you are watching it happen. Feel free to lie.
- Look out your window: what do you see? Animals? plants? sky? a brick wall? Describe it in as much detail as possible. (no story necessary, sometimes just working on your ability to describe things is helpful and even fun)
- What is your favorite product? What would you say to someone in order to get them to use it? Try not to lie here, unless you are writing about an imaginary product. If it is an imaginary product, try making up a terrible product, but try to sell it honestly (or don’t, I’m not a cop)
One More Thing…
Don’t give up because you wrote something terrible. Everyone is terrible at first. Everyone’s 8,752nd time first draft is terrible. That’s just how writing is. First drafts are terrible. They have to be. It’s like a misshapen lump of clay that you just cut off and slapped onto your worktable. You have to beat it and work it and shape it, and only then can you start to see the vase it was meant to be underneath.
What I’m saying is that writing is a skill. You have to practice, and while you do, you’re going to write a bunch of awful shit. Just make sure to have fun with it while you do.
Care to share any of your answers to the questions? I’d love to hear about your why!