The first thing I did when I started to get serious about writing, when the written word had become more than just a hobby, more than just something I liked to admire from the sidelines from time to time, was come to the realization that this was a craft and that I would need to learn. That it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and even if it does, why wouldn’t I do everything I could to learn how best to improve? Why wouldn’t I take my natural ability, combine it with some professional insights and education, to be the absolute best writer I could possibly be?
(Okay, that’s all a bit of a lie though. The first thing I did when I started to get serious about writing was… freak out.)
Once I got over my little freak-out, and after a few deep breaths and a steaming-hot cup of chamomile, I got some sense and put my thoughts in order. (I mean, I called my friends first to apologize for my bout of temporary insanity; they were very forgiving.) Yes, this would be one of the most challenging endeavors I thought I’d ever face. There would be a lot to learn, and I would have to work really hard. But no, this was not beyond my capability. I could do this.
The first thing many new writers (should!) do, is take some advice from the experts. Don’t assume you know it all. Don’t assume you can’t improve. I didn’t.
The expert I’d chosen was the king of fiction himself, Stephen King. If you haven’t read his book On Writing, and you really want to get serious about your craft, pick up a copy and read it. Now.
I’m serious. Do it now.
Then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I repeat this golden sliver of advice: Write the first draft with the door closed; rewrite with the door open. It might as well be his mantra for the entire book. At least, that’s the thing I took from it.
For a new writer, that advice can be a pretty tough pill to swallow. When I finally read King’s book, I was already chest-deep in a story I was just flying through. My creative juices were spilling out of me, and the first draft—as far as I was concerned—was absolutely perfect. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t finished. It didn’t matter that it was full of plot holes and POV-slips and under-developed characters, or that it lacked enough research to actually make any sense. That unfinished first draft was perfect, and I had to share it with everyone I knew—and even some people I didn’t.
Because, obviously, King’s advice did not pertain to me.
Needless to say, I was quickly put in my place. The feedback I received was so discouraging, I completely gave up on the project. Even to this day. Now it sits in some distant digital file on my computer. Sad and alone, abandoned by its creator.
There’s another side to that coin though. After that experience, I am now super private with my writing. My standards of perfection are exponentially higher than they were when I first got started, and I’ve seen what happens when I get discouraged. It isn’t pretty. My writing improved, but my ego took some time to heal. I finally got to a place where I was able to share my writing again, and I did so with confidence because I made sure the first draft was finished first.
I might even be ready to shake off the digital dust from that story I’d abandoned so long ago.
Are you a new writer who’s hesitant to open the door? If the timing is right, I’d love to help you. Maybe you’ve been discouraged in the past; I’m here to encourage you. Maybe you’re not sure what your next step should be; I’m here to guide you. Let me be the first set of eyes to look at your manuscript the moment you’re ready to open that door.
And let us polish it together.
“Writing is not life, but I think sometimes it can be a way back to life.” | Stephen King, On Writing