Oh, always. :D Every writer is different, but these are the things I’ve found to be true for me.
1) Read a lot, and read widely.
When you read, you’re developing your instincts for story, absorbing by osmosis. I come from a fairly musical family so I can usually tell if something is off-key just from all those years of listening to music and knowing what it SHOULD sound like. (My sister and I are complete nerds and shout, “Key change!” whenever we hear the key change in a song. Yes, like I said, nerds.)
Reading a lot will do the same thing for your writing, especially in the beginning. It will help you develop that nudge in the back of your brain that says, “Hey, this part of your story isn’t working so well.” You can also learn from other writers who have mastered skills that you’re still struggling with. And believe me, all of us are struggling with one part of writing or another—plot, revision, dialogue, etc.
It will also teach you what you want to write. Look at the books that you’re drawn to, find the common elements. First person narrative. Female main character. Romance arc. There, I’ve just described most of the books on my shelf and what I write. :)
But read widely, beyond just what you want to write, because it opens up your brain and your subconscious to new ideas, new styles of writing. I used to never read non-fiction. There was no kissing, what was the point? :) But in the last year, I’ve read several books about personality and brain development as well as a few memoirs. Completely fascinating, and I learned stuff too. All grist for the mill, as they say.
2) Write what you love to read.
Please, for the love of all things holy, do not write what you think you “should” be writing. Whether that’s chasing the market (space vampires are really hot right now) or other people’s approval (you should be writing literature, not trashy romance novels), it’s just a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable.
Write what you love because your passion for the story will show through and it will draw readers in. Write what you love because writing a book is effing hard and that love will sometimes be the only thing that drags you back to the keyboard, day after day.
3) Don’t quit until you reach “the end.”
The beginning of a book is usually blissful, a warm sense of rightness and contentment as you dive in and start writing. But somewhere around, Chapter 4 (or 10), shit gets real. :) And it starts feeling like work. A lot of it. And something in your brain screams, “I must be doing something wrong! Maybe this is the wrong idea. Maybe I should work on that other idea instead.”
Don’t do it. Don’t listen to that panicked voice in your head. EVERY book goes through a stage where you hate it, where you are convinced you’re making the biggest mistake of your life by wasting time with it. (And if there are writers for whom this does not happen, please keep quiet for I may forced to harm you otherwise.)
The trouble with skipping the tough stuff and starting a new idea is that you never learn to work through the tough stuff and get to the end. And you learn enormous amounts about yourself and the book by getting to the end. My theory is you can’t really know what the beginning of the book should be until you get to the end.
So, make yourself write all the way to the end. Otherwise, you have a computer full of Chapters 1, 2, and 3 and nothing else.
4) Write “a shitty first draft.” (per Anne Lamott)
Striving for perfection is paralyzing. Especially in a first draft. So just write it. Make a mess. You can always clean it up later. This idea completely revolutionized my thinking and writing. Go read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It is life-changing.
This is also how I manage #3, by the way. I get to “the end” by allowing myself to write a shitty first draft. :)
5) Keep a writing journal.
Writing in a journal keeps you in the practice of writing, but also forces you to be observant. Not about what you ate or what you wore or what boy smiled at you (hello, my 6th grade diary!) but about how you’re feeling on any given day about those things or anything else. The best advice I was ever given was by one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Koshinski, who told me to keep a journal about my feelings.
You will draw upon your own memories and feelings to make characters who emotionally resonate with readers. Having a record of those things will help.
It’s also fun to have a place to vent and be ridiculous and write down crazy story ideas. (Always write them down; you’ll never remember them later.)
6) Don’t forget to fill the creative well.
I got this idea from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and I try to stick to it. Do something for yourself every week. Writing is a lot of output and sometimes you need to recharge and put something in your brain, instead of dragging stuff out. Go to the movies, watch your favorite show on DVD, read a book, visit a museum or amusement park. Give your brain a break.
7) Have fun! Write for yourself first.
You are your own first reader. Amuse yourself first. You can worry about everyone else in the second (or third or fifteenth) draft.
8) Know that rejection is (and always will be) part of EVERY writer’s life.
Don’t let it stop you. Learn from it. Make adjustments if needed. Keep going.
9) Share your writing dreams only with those you know will be supportive.
Family/friends/people who love you won’t always understand why writing is important to you. If you’ve tried to explain and they’re not having it—mocking you, asking you why you’re wasting your time, reminding you that the odds are stacked against you—then stop talking to them about it.
They may never understand. And trying to convince them hurts and drains you. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They just don’t get it. That’s all.
10) Learn about your craft.
Take classes, read books about writing, find techniques that work/make sense for you. There is no one way to write a book, but sometimes other people have suggestions that help. (I recommend The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler; Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon; and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, among others.)
Every author, EVERY SINGLE ONE, has been where you are right now. Wanting to write but afraid to. Or writing and convinced that it’s absolute crap. Keep writing and keep dreaming. Take that leap of faith. It’s the only way across.