writers / writers tips / writing

A Few Thoughts for New Writers

I met Stephanie Vaccaro through my writer’s critique group, Write On! She published one of the stories in the group’s anthology, Masquerade, called When Darkness becomes Light. Tagline:

A gift? A curse? A choice.

BTW–this also includes an award-winning memoir I wrote a while ago called The Single Anchor

Two kids, a dog, no job, lots of bills. How I made that work for two years.

Stephanie has worked for a number of publications as a writer and editor and published her debut book in 2020, The Little Book of Magical Stories: Finding Traces of the Divine in Daily Life. I asked her to share her thoughts on being a new writer:

A Few Thoughts for New Writers

It’s okay. That weird impulse you have to write that baffles others did not occur by accident. Because of it, you will be able to offer others a gift they may need: to read your work. But getting started and staying on track can be tricky. What follows are a handful of tips that I wish I’d come across earlier in my own journey. I hope they’re helpful to you now.

Make Time

When I was in college, students always asked visiting writers: how do you write? They weren’t asking how their brain managed to strand words together so beautifully. They meant, where do you sit? For how long? Morning or evening? What is your habitual practice of creating?

They asked as though there was one mysterious answer that the exalted writer would utter, and then we too could be considered writers if we mimicked them. But the truth is, whether you wake up at 4:00 a.m. or you write on the train commuting to work, writers write. They just do. They take this seemingly bizarre solitary activity and pursue it like it matters. They carve out time from their lives, they put words on a page, and the next day they get up and do it all over again.

What I’ve found is that I allocate 8:30 to 10:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I schedule it like I would a lunch date, and I try not to cancel. The occasional late night will interrupt this, but I try to honor it. Also, I’ve found that two hours isn’t overwhelming. Shorter bursts of time lend to greater productivity for me. When I’m really working on a tight deadline, I try to make it to coffee shops a few times a week after work for a 45-minute writing session. These proved to be particularly useful as I raced to finish my first book. Because of Covid19, most of my coffee shop dates are at home, and now they take place from 5:30 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. during the week. Just about anyone can eek out a mere 30-45 minutes if they’re willing to lose a little sleep.

Utilize the Buddy System

This is one tip I wish I had figured out earlier in life. For the type A personalities out there, you can skip to the next tip. But for the rest of you, consider finding someone in your life who cares about your progress and is willing to accompany you. Having someone check in to see how your work is coming along, how much progress you’re making, or why you’ve stopped altogether is invaluable. For me, this turned out to be my dad. He cared. He knew that I’m happier when I write, somehow more able to handle the ups and downs of life, and he continues to accompany me. He helped me set a calendar of deadlines for my first book. He checked in with me to see how I was progressing. He encouraged me and then encouraged me some more. Find someone who care. I promise you, it will deepen your relationship with them and make you a much nicer person. Because when you are writing, the drama in your own life seems to ebb a bit.

Find a Writers Group

This one is obvious, but it came as a total surprise to me because I had sat through workshops before without feeling particularly inspired. You can’t join just any writer’s group. You have to find one where the dominating influences are courtesy and kindness. You need a space that is part support group. Yes, it will help you to have people read your work and help you refine it. But it’s also just a wonderful way to not feel so alone in such a bizarre endeavor. Your local library may be able to help you find a group.

Read as Much as You Can

There’s nothing quite like reading books, articles, and poems to spark inspiration in you. Reading also teaches you about sentence structure, syntax, dialogue, pacing, character, and plot, all while entertaining you. So turn off Netflix and pick up a good book. Goodreads has a collection of “best of” lists you can check out. https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/best

Write Morning Pages

For those of you who have not already discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, do yourself a favor, consider picking up a copy. In her book, she suggests that you hand write three pages each morning. Just pour out your thoughts, whatever they might be. Ms. Cameron says that morning pages eventually turn into prayers. Eventually you run out of things to complain about. Eventually you feel that the page has heard you, taken in your whining and the little injustices of the day. This form of listening allows you release your worries and irritations without burdening another. Eventually, your brain turns to gratitude.

Even if you’re thinking, I’m not religious, it’s okay. You can harness the power of gratitude without focusing on a single higher power. It will change your orientation to yourself, to your family, to your community, and to the day before you. To learn more about her, you can check out her website [https://juliacameronlive.com/].

Take Heart

If you have the urge to write, it’s for a reason. There is something in you to share with the world. You may end up with 10 readers or 10 million. It doesn’t matter. What matters, I think, is summed up in a quotation that a friend shared with me in college:

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” ―Jean Rhys

Because, in the end, you have a gift to share with the world that may only ever come to light through you. Give that gift to the rest of us. We need you.

More about being a writer

Are you a Writer?

What Worries Me When I Write

What’s being a writer feel like?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.


148 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts for New Writers

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Posts — and Most Commented — for 2021 |

  2. Pingback: Why I Write Historical Fiction | WordDreams...

  3. What an excellent article! I’m a musician that has started to focus on writing and the parallels between writing exercises and practising are everywhere! I especially like how “everyone can find 45 minutes if they’re willing to lose a little sleep.” I have always said the same thing about playing music. Thanks, this is very helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This Write On group has been most helpful for me since I joined back in 2013. Great group of people. Kind, but honest, as Stephanie mentioned is a real plus.
    A great share.
    Thank you, Stephanie and Jacqui.
    Lani Kauten

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great advice from Stephanie. Thank you for this post, Jacqui! I have many interests but one thing I consistently do every day is writing. I also appreciate the feedback I get from my writing groups. I enjoy writing longhand in my notebooks. I like the feeling of free flow and reminds me of writing my journal only for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Those are great tips! Thank you Stephanie and Jacqui. A writer writes. I love that. There have been periods in my life when writing felt as necessary and natural as breathing, and periods where I’ve struggled to make writing a part of my life. But it always feels good to write, and it’s worth making time in the schedule for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. All of these ideas make sense to me. I’m already utilizing several of them. You have to get feedback from others whose opinions you trust. I would estimate that 90% of the time, I agree with my critique partners’ feedback. Even when I disagree, it forces me to look at my writing more critically.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Pete! Feedback is extremely helpful. When I don’t necessarily agree, I find that it’s good to know that someone stumbled on what I was trying to convey and perhaps I can find a way to restate it with a greater degree of clarity.
      – Stephanie

      Liked by 2 people

    • That is the truth, innit, Pete. It forces us to think about that set of words. That’s valuable.

      I can’t wait to start your book. I’m in the middle of a website meltdown so life is on hold for at least another week. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Once you set aside a block of writing time, I think it gets easier to make it a habit- kind of like dishes, lol.
    It’s thrilling when you get lost in the world you’ve created. YOU. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Very good tips from Stephanie. My nephew has recently been bitten by the writing bug and is currently in edit mode on his first novel. It’s exciting to see that first flush of writing love in someone close to you!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Those are lovely tips from Stephanie. I don’t think new writers really understand how important they are until they have some experience under their belts. At some point, it becomes clear that although writing is a solitary endeavor, it is much better done within a supportive community. It’s hard work, and we need encouragement as well as feedback. Great post, Jacqui. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dear Jacqui,
    for my career as a professional writer, it was very helpful that I found a mentor, a mentor who knew the publishing business. You have to be 51% a business person to be able to be 49% a good writer 😉 It’s important to see writing as a business. That tells you you just have to work every day for 8 hours, 4 hours writing (and not waiting for inspiration – that’s for hobby writers) and 4 hours PR, communication with agents, editors, and journalists. Everyone can write easily a book nowadays but to get it sold is the challenge for an author.
    All the best. Keep well
    Klausbernd 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • Dear Jacqui,
        as a professional writer, you run a business with people researching for you, PR staff and agents for different foreign and secondary rights. If you don’t organise your writing like this you will never be able to live from your writing.
        The actual writing is the easiest part of the business. To get your book published and before that getting an agent interested in your work is the hardest for a new writer. For me, it was done by articles I wrote for magazines, my radio-programmes, and lectures at the university I published.
        A lot of new writers I met have irrealistic romantic ideas about writing. I suppose it’s most important to get them down to reality.
        Warm greetings from the cold sea
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  12. This is good advice, Jacqui. I do numbers 1 and 4. My mom does support me by reading what I write but she doesn’t understand the publishing process and so can be a little annoying when she keeps asking me why my latest book isn’t published and why it’s taking so long.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Great advice. For me, it started with a feeling that I had to write and a chapter would just pour out of me. Then I learned it’s really about making the time to sit in a chair, keeping this commitment, and the inspiration will come. The words may seem like rubbish at first, but stick with it because the words will start to form structure, insights, meaning. Most of all, write about what sparks your interest. When you do, the writing muse shows up!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thanks, Stephanie. These are such good tips, both for new and “old” writers. I especially like your suggestions to make time for writing and to find a buddy or writing group for sharing. Those pointers reinforce each other, as I’ve found in my own writing experience: A buddy or writing group encourages us to produce and submit work, and that work takes shape if we set aside a regular writing time — or, the reverse, writing time produces material we look forward to sharing with those who help us make it better. You express this so well in your blog article when you say, “Having someone check in to see how your work is coming along, how much progress you’re making, or why you’ve stopped altogether is invaluable.”
    –Sandy from Write On! Writing Group

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Great post. It can take practice before some of us feel we have ‘permission’ to take time to write – before realising we’re often the ones that need to grant that permission to ourselves. I like the point about writers groups ‘where the dominating influences are courtesy and kindness’, very true.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A superb article by Stephanie, Jacqui! The first point really struck a chord and I’m always baffled by questions how do you write – just by doing it! Great advice throughout and I like her emphasis that everyone has 30 minutes or so extra in a day. So true!

    Liked by 2 people

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