How do you get started as a writer? Simple question with a simple answer: just do it. I realise this isn’t particularly helpful advice, however, so let’s expand the simple answer into something a bit more useful. I’ll link a few good resources, both free and paid, at the end of this post as well.
First, the most important thing: to be a good writer, you should be a good reader. This is an absolute truth of the writer’s craft, simply because without having read a lot of other authors’ works, how can you expect to write anything worth a damn yourself? So step one would simply be to read as much as you can.
Some people posit that you should also read garbage, stories and books that are utterly terrible trash piles of epic proportions. And sure, reading that sort of thing might give you ideas of what not to do. But frankly, I’m of the opinion that you only get one life and a limited number of minutes and hours on this Earth, so maybe just read stuff you like and learn from writers who don’t suck.
Not only does reading the work of others—whether that be fiction, blog, non-fiction, or anything else—give you ideas, hints, and tips on how to write in the mechanical sense, the story and plot and structure side of things, it’s also a great way to learn new vocabulary and ways to form sentences that you may never have thought of.
But beyond this, it’s also important to learn how to be effective in your writing. Readers know fluff when they see it and padding your work with unnecessary cruft will frustrate and annoy more than entertain. Trimming the fat and tidying your prose happens during editing, but you can save yourself time and effort in the long run by writing effectively from the very first word of your first draft.
One last thing before moving on: write down anything that pops into mind while reading! Story structure, interesting twists and turns, vocab, sentence structure, character traits or quirks, anything and everything you find interesting. Write it all down so you don’t forget it and can refer to it when you write your own works.
How I got started
With that out of the way, I’ll now give a brief account of how I got started as a writer. In a word: fanfic. It’s an unfortunate fact that fan fiction is often ridiculed and treated with disdain, and you can see why; poor quality writing, awful porn written by youngsters with no talent or experience of real relationships, works made for lulz, the list goes on.
But it’s also true that there is a wide range of fanfic that isn’t terrible, that’s written by people with love and passion and a healthy respect for the writer’s craft. I was one of those types. I’d recently got into a particular anime around late 2013, with characters and a setting I absolutely adored. Around the same period I’d been thinking I might like to dabble with writing again, for maybe the fifth time in my life.
So I decided to try my hand at some fanfic, thinking quite correctly that this would allow me to hone my writing skills with something that wouldn’t require a huge amount of up-front effort. The world and characters were already there, I merely needed to take them in some new directions.
While planning what I wanted to write—a full novel’s worth of content, roughly 80,000 words—I also went online and searched for writing resources. Blog posts and websites dedicated to writing are ten a penny these days, so use them. I’ll have links to some of the ones I found useful at the end.
So I started writing a cute story for the show in question, read up on every blog and online resource I could find for how to construct stories and craft characters and all the other ins and outs of writing, and after maybe a year I had some 100,000 words written.
It was pretty bad, at least the first version of it, looking back on it now. It even started with the main character looking herself in the mirror and considering her life. Pro tip: don’t start a story like that. Ever. I’m serious. Learn from my mistake.
You won’t be a good writer from day one, you just won’t, so get that idea out of your head right now. You’ll become a good writer by reading a lot, writing even more than that, and by editing your work.
Another year slipped past, during which time I wrote another half a million words of fanfic for the show in question. Over that period I had refined my style further, improved to no end, and eventually went back to the older work in order to fully rewrite and edit it into something better. And then… I moved onto original works. That’s where I am now, writing my own novels and shorts, and loving every second.
More or less anything can be a catalyst for you becoming a writer. All it takes is that conscious decision to pick up a pen—or sit at your PC and open Word—and start writing. It’s much like learning a new language; you keep plugging away at it, day by day, improving little by little… for the rest of your life.
Useful writing resources
- The Write Practice (General writing advice)
- Helping Writers Become Authors (General writing advice)
- How to Handle Criticism (Single post, very useful advice, especially if you tend to take things personally)
- Better Novel Project (Great advice and critique/deconstruction of popular works such as Harry Potter)
- Writing Forward (General writing advice)
- The Balance (Fiction writing advice)
- Ellen Brock’s World Building Bible (Extremely helpful for sci-fi, fantasy, and other ‘whole new worlds’ settings)
- Scrivener (A word processor for writers, cheap and effective – note, this is an affiliate link, so if you end up buying the software, I’ll get a little bit of money as well, at no expense to you. It really helps the site, thanks!)
- A Useful Editing Checklist (Quickanddirtytips.com)
- A Guide to Creating Good Characters (letterpile.com)
- Writers Helping Writers (Angela and Becca write books and maintain this blog to help other writers)
- Rayne Hall’s Writers Craft Series (These books are intended for intermediate and higher skill level writers. Polish your craft first, then take a look if you have specific needs. They’ll help, seriously.)
- Derek Murphy’s Youtube channel (Many, many hours of excellent indie/self-pub advice, cover design, email list building, and other essentials if you want to be a successful author)