I found myself writing this encouragement to a young writer approaching a course in Literature at University – but much of it is useful to any beginning writers:
1. Believe that you are a writer already.
This is tough. You think “But I haven’t had my first novel published!” “But I haven’t sold my first filmscript…..” and the minute you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they will ask “So what have you sold?” – which doesn’t help.
But being an artist and selling work don’t always flow together.
Van Gogh was a painter to his fingertips, worked hard all his life and only ever sold ONE painting, while alive.
2. Because you are a writer, you can begin planning a writing career.
Think of what you want to have achieved in 5 years.
Aim for it.
Don’t just meekly do what will get you good marks in School and University. People who only concentrate on getting a good degree come to the end of it and are still waiting for someone – a lecturer – to tell them what to do, to set them a writing project. Actually, University works best if you’re already reading and practising the art and the uni course just gives you better skills, and a chance to meet likeminded people and discuss different ideas.
3. Look at any opportunities you have to attend workshops, lectures, writing groups – and take them.
Any local Book Festivals or writing centre? Any free workshops on a weekend? Consider also volunteering to help out at festivals – your face will become known.
4. Network. Be pleasant to people, the publishing world is small.
5. Write often.
If it helps to have a deadline or audience, consider what you could write for a friend/family member’s birthday. Then give it to them. (Helps you get practice in getting your work out there).
6. Avoid writer’s block.
Listen to Audible recording of Anne La Mott’s book “Bird by bird” – it’s a series of interesting, constructive and easy to listen to, talks by her on how to write. (Also written in her book “Word by Word” if you prefer the written form). Her big theme is “write shitty drafts” – write down even really poor sentences, because you’re going to refine it later. But if you wait to write perfect sentences in the first place, you don’t even begin, you freeze up with writer’s block. The way around writer’s block is to lower your standards and keep writing.
7. Get the reading list for the course you want to do at University.
Usually a library will have a list of set texts online or if you phone up. Read those key texts yourself in your holidays now, before you go to Uni. That way, you’ll have your own thoughts about them by the time you come to study them. It will give you less reading work to do when at college. Even if your plans change and you end up in a different college/course – you’ll still have read some great books. And you will have some references to bring into your commentary on other books. If you’re an older beginner writer and not planning to go to University – these books are still worth reading, to get a grounding in what is considered great (even if you disagree).