Writing From An Amateur Perspective
By Jeff Hargarten
So, you want to be a writer? You probably have some background in writing, perhaps did well in school with the subject, or have simply always liked the idea of writing for fun and even for profit. While you have the will to write, you are unsure of where to go from there and how to get started. Well, if this describes you, this article is for you. For you see, I was in the very same boat when I started writing, and I finally found my way through the jungle of confusion that can present itself when starting something new. Unless one is extraordinarily gifted, like so many amateur writers, most will run into the same pitfalls and challenges that I did when I started. While I can't tell you what to write, I can give you tips on how to write, which I suppose is why this is on the screen in the first place.
Straightaway, we're going to discuss how to become a good writer. It isn't some mystical secret, but these tips are not known to everyone, and as basic as they may be, they are the most valuable and first steps that must be taken to get a good start.
The first step towards becoming a great writer is to become an avid reader. The best writers are generally those who are well-read on a variety of different subject. Reading allows one to absorb how a book or article is put together, how best to make words flow, and how to structure the work so that it makes sense. If one becomes a good, fast, comprehensive and avid reader, they build the mental foundation required to be a good writer.
What should one read? Where should one start? How often should an aspiring writer be picking up a good book? Well, one should read something they enjoy, something they find interesting. Those who read fun or interesting things usually have a better chance of being able to write something of the same quality. Anything that is boring or dry is not required reading, but reading something substantive from a good author, columnist, etc gives a good workout. Reading is a skill, not a talent, and it can be developed through practice for those who not the best readers. As a general rule, until one is engulfed in their own writing and has no time to read anything else, one should always have at least one book they are working on finishing. Be it something fictional or educational, always reading something enjoyable will increase reading skills, and hence writing skills. Eventually, one will be able to pick out their own mistakes in their writing, and perhaps even the writing of others through sheer practice. If one is not willing to read, they have no hope of being able to write well enough to make it worthwhile.
It is important to learn the basics of storytelling, and one of the best ways outside of avid reading is to watch movies or tv. While books generally have more sustance and depth than viewable media, watching a well-written TV show or movie can help to develop good storytelling habits and can aid in knowing how to create a decent storyflow. Watch shows that are fun, exciting, and entertaining, those that keep the viewer at the edge of their seats, those that have good timing and good dialogue. All of these things can rub off on the aspiring writer. In the US, the average person watches a lot of TV as it is, but how many watch it with the purpose of analyzing how the story is told? Watching a good movie with the intent to mentally dissect it can be enlightening to those looking to become a good storyteller, and it generally is a quicker study than looking to other books for the same tips.
The next step on the journey to becoming a writer is to choose good influences. Just as with artwork, the authors one looks up to will ultimately shape one's writing style. Pick the authors of favorite books and read them often. Never steal from them, as that is a huge no-no, but reading and studying how they write, how they structure things and make things flow, can help towards developing a unique style. There are those who just automatically have their own style and know how they want to write. But for most, this is not the case, and style is something that must be developed over time.
One of the biggest and most ominous obstacles to writers both experienced and not is the curse of writer's block. There are some days, usually at the beginning of a new chapter or article, that the author just cannot seem to form a coherent enough thought to write, and just is drawing a complete blank. One of the hardest things for aspiring writers to do is to start. What is the cure for this frustrating problem? Well, it really is quite simple: just do it. All one needs to do is start writing something, anything at all. If nothing is coming to mind, just start anyway, randomly. And from there on, just keep going until the mental blockage begins to clear. It can be surprising how far one can get doing this when only moments ago they were hopelessly stumped. Chances are, what was written to start out with will not be good enough to keep. In this case, just go back and fix it. But in other cases, it could open up whole new ideas and concepts that just came right out of the blue. For when experiencing writer's block, the only way to get past it is to reach beyond the borders of one's mind, to think out of the box so to speak. In this mental state, there are occasions where something truly brilliant comes out that would not have occurred to the mind otherwise. So in those instances, writer's block can be an author's friend rather than the enemy. But usually, it's the enemy, so the best way to get through it is to plow through it.
How often should one write? It is easy to only write when one feels like it. While it makes it easier and usually escapes the challenge of not knowing what to write, it does not develop good writing habits. One should write a little something everyday, no matter how small. Simply writing down all of the ideas that have come to mind over the week can help take a load off the brain and help in future writing sessions. Just a paragraph a day can be progress enough to keep the mind fresh and to keep momentum in one's writing. Sometimes, it is easy to sit down with the intent to write only a little, but then end up writing far more than planned. So just setting aside at least a half hour a day for writing is a good practice, lest one gets rusty or the concepts start to fade from memory.
Now that we have gone through the basic motions of learning how to write, we can now look into the challenges of knowing what to write. It is not the purpose of this article to give the reader ideas of what to write, but how to develop their own.
The most obvious and most clich"d tip is to write what one knows. If one writes from experience or about something they feel strongly about and know a lot about, it makes it easier and makes the work more believable and keeps it from seeming distant or impersonal.
What about those who want to write about something that simply interests them but something they know very little about? Well, this unfortunately happens far too often. The truth of the matter is though, one can write about something they initially may not know about. But the best idea is to know enough about it to write about it when the time comes. This is why it is important to research a subject enough to write convincingly about it. Just knowing the fundamentals of subject can make it that much more believable, and make the work that much better.
No matter what ideas one may have, and no matter how many others may have used similar ideas in the past, it is important to write originally. Too many stories these days are carbon copies of each other, or unholy splices of popular and successful works. Some of these go far, while others are rejected. It is hard to think up an original concept, as everything has been done to death in an least some form. But if an old concept can be presented in a new or different fashion, it can make the work interesting to the reader, and fun for the writer. Some of writing originally is about style, but mostly is it about structuring a story and its concepts is a way that at least is a little bit different. Throwing some curveballs at the reader will ensure that the work is separated from the hoard of unoriginal and uninspired works inhabiting bookstore shelves these days.
Perhaps the most important concept though when devising just what to write is to write for oneself. The author has to write for themselves and not to exclusively make the reader happy. When thinking up ideas, the question should not be phrased 'what would people like to read?' but 'what would I like to read?' This helps the author to write with some passion and interest, and it will show in the final work and will cause others to become as passionate and interested in the work as the author. Especially when writing books, writers who write with themselves in mind as the reader generally have the best results.
And that's about it for this introduction to the world of writing. The two most important things are knowing how to write and know what to write. Hopefully, this article can help steer an aspiring author down the right path. Good luck, and keep on track!
About The Author
Jeff Hargarten is a webmaster of his personal site located at http://www.thewhisper.net. He is currently writing an epic novel and has also begun publishing his shortstories online, free of charge for anyone to read. The doors to his site open on December 31st, 2005, and his first work, entitled 'Whispers' will make its debut. Register an account today and be a part of this new online community!