Rookie to Rookie: Advice for New Writers

After years of daydreaming about it, and maybe even dabbling halfheartedly, you’re really going for it. You’re writing.

Awesome. So now what?

If you’re looking for advice on how to improve your writing, how to market your work, or how to get published, this isn’t necessarily the place. I’m groping around in the dark and just beginning to see glimmers of light myself.

But for most new writers, the first hurdle has nothing to do with that. Those challenges are there too, and if they aren’t yet you can bet your butt they will be. But your first battle is more often with the strange array of emotions and life changes that come with getting serious about your writing. Some of them are exhilarating and wonderful and make you think you can dance on the ceiling. Others make you want to curl into a little ball with your teddy bear and cry your eyes out. Or, if you’re more macho than me, to go beat something up.

If you’re going to stick with this game, though, you’ll have to deal with them all.

A little more than a year into my adventures in writing, I’m still learning the ins and outs of the craft and the business itself. But I’ve also learned a whole lot about managing this person who is both my best friend and worst enemy in the process – me.

I’m hoping that by sharing what I’ve learned with other new writers, I’ll help you get more “dancing on the ceiling” than “curl up in a ball and cry” days out of chasing your dream.

1. Ditch the whole “aspiring” thing.

Do you write regularly? Are you constantly making progress on your written work? If so, then you are NOT an “aspiring writer.” You are a writer, period. You may be aspiring to finish your novel. You may be aspiring to get published. You may be aspiring to write better (newsflash: you’ll still be doing that in ten years, if you’re serious about your craft. Even your favorite author is always trying to do better when he or she writes).

But while you’re aspiring to do all those things, if you are writing, then you are a writer. Take off those verbal training wheels and try it out for size. “I am a writer,” is such a freeing thing to say. The more you say it, the more you’ll feel it. The more you feel it, the more you’ll live it.

2. Eat Rejection for Breakfast.

Unless you are going to go the self-publishing route with everything you write, prepare to be rejected. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, but I personally don’t know any authors who haven’t dealt with a publisher or fifty saying “no thanks.” And I can rattle off the names of many well-known authors who dealt with several turn-downs before they finally got a date with a publishing deal.

I don’t say that to discourage you. Because while I don’t know any authors who haven’t been rejected, I do know many published writers. They got there when they found the perfect market for their work, when their writing landed in the right place at the right time. They got there by being thick-skinned. Maybe they cried over some of those rejections. Maybe they felt as discouraged and frustrated as I do when I get mine. But they sucked it up, learned from each “no,” and used it to get closer to a “yes.”

Learn what you can each time a query or a submission doesn’t get accepted. But always remember when you look a rejection in the eye that you are in very, very good company.

3. Learn. Experiment. Network. But most of all, WRITE.

Learn all you can about the business of writing. Research your options in self-publishing as well as submitting to traditional markets. Read a variety of literary magazines, e-zines or journals that publish in your genre and try your hand at submitting to them. Don’t be afraid to give a writing contest a go now and then.

Blog. Tweet. Reach out to other writers and learn how warm and welcoming the writing community can be. Read books and blogs about the craft of writing. Take a writing or publishing course now and then if you can.

Do all of these things, but only in the time increments you can afford AFTER you have met your weekly writing goals. If you’re like me, diving into all the networking and learning there is to do will exhilarate you. It will feel like you’re a goldfish who has been dumped into a big, exciting pond after spending all your life swimming in a teeny tiny bowl. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself spending hours and hours communicating and learning but very little time actually writing.

Many of us go through this. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just one of the growing pains in the writing process. After years of stuffing our writing dreams into some musty closet, discovering this whole wide web of writers and publishers is like finally getting a car after years of taking the bus. You want to go everywhere, and do everything.

But don’t forget your most important destination.

Make time for all the wonderful resources and writing friendships available to you. But remember to spend more time actually writing than on doing “writing related” things. As a full-time day-jobber with other interests and obligations, I get about 15 hours a week to work on my craft (if I’m lucky). I make sure to spend 10 of those hours actually writing, and then I give the leftover time to other things.

Just keep swimming in this big new pond, and you’ll find a balance that works for you.

4. Say No, Let Go

Chances are that one of the reasons you’re just now getting serious about your craft is that you never had “enough free time” before.

Another newsflash:  unless you’ve had a major change in your life such as hitting the lottery or retiring, you still don’t. Life is busy. If you work full-time, are a homemaker raising young children, a student, or some combination of the above, your days are already jam-packed.

But if we let the hectic pace of life keep us from writing, then what we’re saying to ourselves and to the world is that our creativity isn’t worth our time. We can’t all quit our day jobs and we’d never want to sacrifice making memories with loved ones, but if we want to write, we’ve got to squeeze time into our days.

You might have to learn to say no to some social invitations. Sometimes, that means sacrificing things you’d really like to do to make room for your words. Other times, it just means learning to say “no thanks” to invites you’d normally accept to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. I’m not saying you should become a hermit. A writer with no new life experiences quickly becomes a boring read. But you’ll have to make some compromises. Your true friends will understand if you aren’t out quite as much as you used to be. The part of you that REALLY wanted to go to happy hour for the second time this week will thank you when you go out next week to celebrate finishing that story.

It isn’t all about kicking fun to the curb, either. To make it work, some of the icky stuff in life has to give a little, too. I’m not saying you need to live on peanut butter and jelly and grow science experiments under your furniture. But if you’re a perfectionist, you’re going to have to learn to cut yourself some slack. A little dust won’t kill you. The laundry will be there tomorrow. And sometimes, you and your family CAN eat sandwiches or cereal rather than dealing with cooking and cleaning up after a full-course meal.

5. Move Your Butt. A Lot.

My worst rookie mistake as a writer was to stop moving. Ok, not literally. I went to work 8-10 hours a day. On my days off, I moved from my bed to my computer. I occasionally went out and drank a beer or had dinner.

At work, I sat at a computer, or in meetings. At home, I sat in front of my screen and wrote.

My wordcount grew, and so did my ass. I put back on weight I had worked hard to lose. When my skinny jeans got too tight, I sunk into a bout of mewling self-pity.

“Life is soooooo unfair. It isn’t MY fault I have to work all day at a sit-down job. If only I had this or that or this, I could be a writer AND a fit person …woe is me. Pass the freakin’ cheese dip.”

Well, I didn’t hit the lottery, so I had to make some tough choices. Gaining weight depressed me. I know we all have this image of writers as at their creative best when they’re full of angst and despair, but you know what? That doesn’t work for me. My writing SUCKED when I was obsessing about ruining my health and needing my own zip code for my butt.

So I did the only thing I could do. I gave up some writing time to get back in the gym. I went from writing about 8,000 words a week to getting in 2-4 thousand when I was lucky.

The weight is coming off and I look and feel much better – like myself again. But more importantly from a writer’s perspective, I learned just how much a happier body impacts my mind and my creativity. My weekly wordcount is smaller than it was before, but the words themselves flow much better and say more. I actually do some of my best writing right after a workout, when my adrenaline is still pumping and my mind feels alive and alert. I’m more focused, because my muscles aren’t screaming for a good stretch. 

Feeling better about my health and my body gives me more confidence, which steels me against those inevitable rejections, gives me faith in the value of my work, and makes me much less shy about networking and marketing myself as an author. When magazines or publishers I’ve submitted to ask me for a pic to go with my bio, I no longer have to go back to photos taken in 2009 to find one I can stand to have appear with my article or story.

You don’t have to join a gym. But you do have to make sure your body is getting enough stretching and cardiovascular activity. As much as we love to write, we can’t create our best stories when our bodies feel like cramped, tired lumps.

Other writers who have been at the game as long or longer than me, what advice would you offer to new writers? Newcomers to the writing world, what lessons have you learned so far?

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About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Creativity, Exercise, Fitness and Weight Loss, Goal-Setting, Writer's Resources, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Rookie to Rookie: Advice for New Writers

  1. L.S. Engler says:

    This is a great list of advice! I don’t know if someone who has “aspired” to be a writer since she was ten can really call herself a novice, but this year was the year I finally got “serious” about it, too. I’ve found that the most helpful bit of advice that’s come to me so far (although all of it has been productive!) is that, if you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like a job. Ever since I told myself in firm tones that writing was just as important, if not more so, than my “real” job, my perspective on writing has improved, I’ve been significantly more productive, and I really think that, one of these days, I might actually get somewhere with it.

    I’m still rubbish at finishing things and that’s something I’m working on, as well, but I have a lot more ambition, a lot more productivity, and a much more enjoyment out of dedicating a few hours a day to my craft, whenever I can squeeze them in.

    I think I might finally be getting a good grip on your “Say No, Let Go” suggestion, soon. The beginning of the week tends to be all about writing, but there’s a little leeway for fun on the weekends (when my day job actually takes over my soul….)

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I’m bad at crossing the finish line too on bigger projects. And then I ignore them and work on smaller projects that I know I WILL finish to prove to myself that I can see something through. Getting better, but very slowly : ). Our writing schedules are similar, only for me I devote more end of the week/weekend time to my writing, because it is the beginning of the week when my dayjob sucks away my soul. Funny how that’s a common thread though!

  2. I went to a workshop put on by bestselling author, Susan Wiggs, and she said something that completely changed my outlook as a writer–“Writings not for sissies.” Don’t expect writing to be easy. You may have moments when the stars align and your creativity is effortless, but don’t expect it to stay that way. Everytime I feel like quitting because it seems like it’s just too hard, I remind myself that “Writing’s not for sissies.”

  3. l'empress says:

    I like it — not that I’m gonna do it. I satisfy myself by writing a journal, when I feel like it. I admire people who can make themselves write regularly, even if they have to scrap a lot of it. (Learning what not to keep is a huge lesson.)

    I would say, however, that Tweeting doesn’t count. I think it stunts your growth, unless you are simply using it to remind yourself to write next time you sit down at the keyboard. My opinion, of course.

    • Actually, tweeting is a great way to build a platform of readers who might want to read your books when you get them on the market. I understand that one thing agents look for is a large Twitter following and a large blog subscription base. And for self-epubbing these are essential. Otherwise who would even know your book is there, much less buy it?

      • hawleywood40 says:

        So true, David. I’ve made some great connections and gotten some new readers through Twitter – and also discovered writers who have a lot to teach me. It isn’t Twitter’s fault when I get sucked into a Tweet Trail and spend my allotted writing time for a day poking around and exploring. Its all about discipline, which was never one of my strongest gifts. Oh look, a bird … : ).

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Tweeting is definitely not the way to finish your masterpiece. But it does help make some great connections with other writers and share your work. And for me, trying to say something meaningful in 140 characters is a good exercise, because we all know how I like to blather : ).

  4. Selena Wolff says:

    Excellent post for new writers. You hit good key notes, and not just one sore spot. Thanks!

  5. Jess Witkins says:

    Such wise advice Pam. I wish I’d read this a year ago when I started up writing again. But then, that would be neglecting the past year of discovery. It’s a wonderful feeling to be writing again, I still struggle to get as much done as I “aspire” to, but I’m working on it nonetheless.

    Hope this reaches lots of new authors out there.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Oh, me too, Jess. I think we all aspire to more than we do, but that’s part of the fun. Because once we conquer what we’re aspiring to now, we’re just gonna start a whole new list : ).

  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    Writers do have to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection and criticism of their work. That is the hardest part for me. The best thing I’ve learned is not to baby myself. Get back to work. See if I can make that piece of writing better. If not, put it to bed and write something else. Whoever said this gig ain’t for sissies is right. 😀

    Thanks for the pick-me-up. I’ve been sick and seriously need to get back on my game.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Fear of rejection, and reacting poorly when it does happen, is still one of my struggles too Catie. But I’m getting surprisingly better at it. Knowing how many writers I enjoy have dealt with it before really helps – it reminds that a publishers “no” does not mean I’m a bad writer, because others who have been there certainly aren’t. It could mean that particular piece needs improvement, or it could just mean it didn’t resonate with the reader going through the piles that day, and that it never would no matter what I did with it. We can’t “click” with everyone when people’s tastes and preferences are so different. But those who like what we have to offer are out there!

  7. Great post, Pam. You show a lot of wisdom. Now, go write.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I was a bad girl today and didn’t write. But I did research some potential new markets for my homeless short stories, which is one of the aspects of what we do that I dread like doing laundry or scrubbing the toilet. So I’m patting myself on the back for that even while I’m kicking my butt for not writing : ).

  8. Lafemmeroar says:

    Well done. Love what you have to say about the writing life … so true! Sharing this on FB 🙂

  9. Fantastic post Pam! I’m glad I found you! I’m new too so I can so relate. Thanks for the info and all the encouragement! 🙂

  10. tsonoda148 says:

    Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more, especially about continuing to write, every day. I’ve also noticed my butt taking over the planet and am trying to make sure I get out and take a walk and push away from the extra-helpings at supper time. It’s not easy, especially this time of year. Like you, I do feel better when I’m taking better care of my health, though. And that, in and of itself, motivates. It helps my outlook and my creativity. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful tips.
    Happy Holidays Pamela!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Oh, I know – and there’s nothing like something delicious brewing in the kitchen making the house smell amazing while you write … my sig other tends to do that a lot! I was bad about the gym this week because of some craziness at work. Back on the wagon tomorrow!

  11. starzyia says:

    great advice. Oh and by the way… now you will look amazing and feel confident when you finally break through and publish and do all kinds of promotional work maybe public appearances and television… you will look amazing in your book jacket author photo!

  12. Stacy Green says:

    What a great post! You summarized perfectly what the first year of “real” writing has been like for me, sans the weight gain. I was on a strict diet for the first six months, so I lost a lot of weight. But keeping it off is a full time job in itself.

    And you’re absolutely right – the most important thing is to write, every day, and finding a balance between social media, life, and writing is the biggest challenge of all. Great job!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Stacy! I’m happily about 6 months out of the “weight gain” phase now and a lot of it is gone, but I sure want to make sure it doesn’t come back! The first year has been a wild, but fun ride : ).

  13. Marcia says:

    Awesome post, Pam! Perfect advice. I’m still having trouble with the “Say No” part. Not that others are infringing on my writing time, but i have too many days when I get distracted by almost anything. The moving my butt part is working well since I began my treadmill challenge with Gene Lempp. It’s not easy to be a newbie and figure out how to balance learning the craft, building the platform, writing the book and maintaining the rest of your life. I think the first year and the first book is the toughest time. And yeah, “Writing’s NOT for sissies!”

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I think you’re right Marcia. My way of seeing it is that it can only get better – every bit of income I make from writing is less money I need to earn in other ways, and eventually that will add up to getting a less consuming and stressful job even if it never means not working outside of writing. I’m so proud of how far we’ve all come so far this year!

  14. Aurora, HSP says:

    Awesome, I needed this and I’m not that new… lol… well sort of LOL Thanks, Pam 🙂

  15. Pingback: But is it a REAL Job? « Lynn Stewart's 'It's Lonely Being a Writer' Blog

  16. lynnstewart says:

    It’s nice to come across blogs like this, makes me feel less alone in the journey!

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