Writing Tips for Beginners, From a Long-Time Amateur

Let’s Get the One I Hate Hearing Out of the Way First – Just Write

Yeah, super hate hearing this one all the time. But it’s true, and that makes me hate it even more. God, it just sounds so…so…smug. Like, I immediately want to react with that Spongebob Meme: jUsT wRiTe. Like, I’m asking you for tangible tips, things I can put into a checklist and tick off as I go, and your best and first tip is to just write a lot? Thanks for nothing, every author ever.

Okay, ultimately the ‘just write and write a lot’ people have a good point, as I went over in my pots post, but you know who can really fuck off? The people who are like, “You have to write Every Day! At least fifteen minutes! At least one hundred words! Every day, you must sit doWN AND WRITE SOMETHING EVERY FUCKING DAY OF YOUR LIFE OR THE WORD DEMONS SHALL COME FORTH FROM THEIR MUDDY HOLES AND BEGIN TO REND FLESH.”

No, fuck off. If I get mad at the ‘just write’ folks than at least I can recognize that’s a me problem. But these ‘write every day’ fuckers? I get where they’re coming from, but to me it just smacks of someone who has never held down a job with irregular hours. I was a nurse for seven years. I worked three overnight 12-hour shifts a week for five years, and four ten hour shifts a week for two. Do you have any idea how dog-tired I was after those shifts? Or after sleeping all day? I took up crocheting as a hobby and some nights I was too tired to do that, let alone trying to make the words go. Shifts like that, especially with a customer service aspect, aren’t just physically exhausting. They drain you mentally and emotionally, as well, and if you come home from eight to twelve hours of that shit and don’t feel like putting the pen to the paper you shouldn’t feel bad about it. What you should do is…

Make A Schedule…Wait.

No.

Quick Aside.

Maybe Go See a Doctor

(I am not a doctor, and I am especially not your doctor. If any of the following story sounds familiar to you, discuss with your known physician in a calm manner. Definitely do not kick down their door and demand shit because a writer on the internet told you you were dying.)

As I said, I did night shifts for five years. I worked with nurses who had been doing their whole career on nights, decades of it, and I still don’t know how because five years destroyed me. It took a year after I switched to days to feel even close to normal. But my point…

Here, let me tell you a story.

I had to get a physical for nursing school and went to a CVS Minute Clinic because I was a broke-ass student in America so of course I didn’t have a primary. This doctor mentions offhand she thinks my thyroid feels larger than it should be and I should get labs done with my non-existent primary doctor. Which I do – once I get a primary doctor three and half years later after I have job and full healthcare again. I’d dragged my feet so at this point I’d been doing nights for three years. I told my doctor what this other provider had said, she was skeptical because I denied symptoms but we were doing blood work anyway so fuck it. Low and behold, my thyroid labs come back wacky. This is the conversation I had with my doctor:

Her: You said you didn’t have any symptoms. Do you ever feel overly tired? Fall asleep during the day? Slow metabolism? Feel like you’re in a brain fog?

Me: Yeah. All the time. I work night shifts.

Her: Ah.

Working nights had totally masked all of my symptoms. Three days on proper medication and it was like I was a new person. I had all this energy and mental clarity back that I didn’t even know I’d been missing.

Why am I telling this story?

Because for a full year prior to that I’d been struggling to write. Couldn’t make myself do it. I figured it was just because I had started nursing on a super crappy/borderline dangerous unit and just didn’t have any of the energies needed. But a couple of weeks after I started medication I began writing regularly again and I haven’t stopped since. The timing is too perfect for me to feel like it was a coincidence.

There are a lot of conditions, both physical and mental, besides an underperforming thyroid that can affect mentation, so if you’re really struggling to create something, struggling even more than you think your current situation can account for, it wouldn’t hurt to see a doctor to find out if something completely fixable is holding you back.

(Also, you should be seeing a doctor regularly anyway because preventative care can be cheaper than emergent care, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars, okay, enough medical talk, sorry.)

Where Was I Going Before This? Oh, Yeah. Make A Schedule and Keep It

When I was nursing, I wasn’t able to write every day. But I could write on my days off, and that’s what I did. Three days a week, as soon as I was up, I would write two thousand words. Vacations and holidays I’d take off. And that time I got H1N1 and thought my brain was going to explode out of my sinus. Otherwise, every day started off with me writing. In the morning, because I knew if I put it off to the end of the day I’d come up with excuses.

Obviously, your schedule can vary, but I think setting a schedule and sticking with it is way more important – and, you know, feasible – than trying to write every day.

Before You Write, Set the Mood

Clear your space. Get your computer or your pen and paper ready. Put on whatever music you like to write to, or do what you have to to achieve total silence. Light a scented candle or some incense. Whatever you do, do the same thing every time you prepare to write, because then you’re brain is like, oh, shit, we’re gonna do the thing with the words now and will shift into the proper gear.

Video Game Music and Theme Park Music Make Excellent Background Music.

Both types of music work for the same exact reasons: they’re designed to play in the background without drawing too much attention, but also designed to keep you motivated and moving. I find most of these on YouTube, especially the theme park music loops (Confession: I am a Disney Adult). I also super enjoy z3n Pnk’s channel, where he just plops a video game character somewhere and records the music and ambient noises. Whenever I’m working on my fantasy western novel, I put up one of his Red Dead Redemption 2 videos and just let it play with headphones on.

When Writing a First Draft, Do Whatever You Have to to Keep Writing

The point of the first draft isn’t for it to be great or pretty or even readable. The point is just getting your first draft to exist, so do whatever you fucking have to to get to the ending. All of the fancy writing rules you learned get tossed. Use cliches. Let your characters sound samey. Don’t know what to call the city your characters are walking in? Call it NEW CITY and move on with your writing, you can dedicate time to picking something later. I have been fully stuck at how to end a scene, but knew exactly what happens in the next scene, so I’ve just written

[characters find clever way out of mess]

And moved on.

Just get your first draft written and sweat the details later. The truth is, even if you think you know what your book is about, you don’t until you write it. Then you read what you wrote and you realize, wait, this is actually about this other thing. And you tailor it to fit that thing, and it’s better. It’s the pots all over again, babe – you can sit around daydreaming about all the fun and clever things in your novel, but you won’t actually know if they’ll work or not until you write the damn thing.

But Before You Do That, Though, You Should Decide Between ‘Plotting’ and ‘Pantsing’

This may take some trial and error. I wrote the first draft of my novel by ‘the seat of my pants,’ and, honestly, I’m not going to do that again because I had so much structural work to do before I could even get to the finer edits. It was like another six to eight months of work I might have been able to avoid with even just some basic outlining in the beginning. Didn’t work for me, and I’ve plotted out the next two books I’m working on. But it might work for you! Everyone is different, and you just need to keep trying different things until something works.

Why Should I Even Listen to You?

You shouldn’t. As I have said before, I am not your supervisor. But every writer, at a certain point, just starts unapologetically spewing out writing tips like a busted fire hydrant, so here I am.

Besides, as I said above, everyone is different. Every tip I just listed could work for you. Every tip I just listed could be the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard. The hard truth is that there is no checkable list for a writer to follow to finish their work. You just have to get advice from every source you can and figure out what works for you.

Oh, and One More Thing

Yes, I made this in Paint. No, I’m not taking constructive criticisms.

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