You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me that they want to write but find the process intimidating. Perhaps they are remembering their school days or old voices that said they weren’t good enough…maybe they feel that what they write has to be ‘perfect’…maybe they feel that what they have to say simply isn’t sufficiently important. My advice about this is to write anyway. You are good enough and what you write doesn’t have to be brilliant, stunning and fabulous…though maybe it will be. Be playful! Lighten up.
Write and see what you come up with. Be kind to the parts of you that are doubtful. Show yourself some compassion. Tell the critical part of yourself that you would welcome its constructive feedback a bit later on, but it can take a nice break during your first draft. The ‘critic’ can be useful to you later as you refine and edit and hone your work, but for now you need the freedom to explore and experiment. Encourage yourself as you would a young child and be a kind parent to the scared parts of yourself as you set out on this adventure.
The process of writing will reveal what sort of writer you are. What are the ideas, situations and feelings you feel drawn to exploring? What do you want to share? What do you want to know? Writing can be a great teacher. The saying ‘a writer writes many a thought he didn’t know he had’ is absolutely true. You can find yourself gaining precious insights into your characters as you spend time with them. Let them guide you.
If you decide to show your work to someone, only share it with someone who knows how to encourage. Sometimes when people are asked to read something, they feel their job is to point out what is wrong with it. This sort of insight into different people’s approaches can be hugely helpful to you if you are a writer who wants to explore the diverse ways in which people communicate. For example we have all met people who feel they need to point out the tiny flaws in an otherwise magnificent dinner. A similar character in a novel could be most interesting….why did they become like that? Do they judge themselves as harshly? When did the glass become half empty instead of half full? Could it have been some childhood experience? It’s all great material, but if it’s your work that they are commenting on, take their thoughts with a pinch of salt!
As you start out as a writer you need to be very selective about your reader or readers, if you choose to share your work at this early stage. If you yearn for feedback choose someone who will think it’s fabulous that you have written something. Someone who knows how to celebrate your attempts. Of course one also wants them to be honest, but there are many ways of being truthful. Constructive criticism can be very helpful.
The book ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande is wonderful, as is ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. Read books that inspire you. For example I love Anne Tyler. She reminds me of why I want to write.
Why do you want to write?
Only you can tell yourself that. And if you’re not sure of the answer right now don’t worry. Make peace with your questions and see their gifts. It’s a journey of discovery. If you get published, that is a wonderful bonus. Be brave and kind and learn to be your own teacher. The advice you give yourself is precious.
‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ and ‘The Writer’s Handbook’ and many other books, websites (including this one!) and courses can provide information about finding an agent. I advise people to go into a bookshop and pick up the books by the authors they love. If they read the acknowledgments, the author’s agent will probably be mentioned. At least that way they know the agent likes the books they like. Don’t be too discouraged by rejections. Learn what you need to learn but continue to believe in yourself. The business side of publishing is just that…a business. Along the way you will come into contact with people who really know what they are talking about…you will sense that what they are saying can really help your work. I welcome feedback from such people. If they suggest a change to a manuscript and I know the story needs it I am more than happy to take their advice.
Good luck with your writing. It is your own journey. Joining a writers’ group can be most helpful. Listen to the advice that helps you. Be willing to learn but also honour what you already know.