I think a lot of us remember when we knew, for sure, that we wanted to be a writer. For some of us, this was a decision we made as children. For others, like myself, it was a decision made a little later, when God put all the right pieces into place.
I don’t claim to be an “expert” or “advanced” writer. I’m still very new to this whole adventure, which I don’t think is a bad thing. But, there are still things I wish I would’ve learned earlier in my writing journey…things that a lot of us have to learn the hard way. And these are different things for every writer, but these…these are mine.
#1. Your first draft will be a disaster.
This isn’t a groundbreaking revelation. But, I think that every writer has a time where it…kind of is. From the time that we decide to be a writer, this is shoved down our throats.
“The first draft isn’t meant to be good.”
“Your first draft is gonna be trash.”
“There’s no such thing as a good first draft.”
And as hard as it is to admit it to yourself, it’s most likely the truth. There are exceptions, but for most of us who are mere mortals, our first drafts are pretty bad.
But I also think that we’ve created this reality where we just expect it to be bad, which isn’t healthy either.
There’s a big difference between admitting that something might not be good and settling for bad because you don’t think there’s any point in trying to make it good.
The best thing I’ve heard in this arena is that the first draft is really just supposed to be telling yourself the story. Anything other than that is an added bonus. Your first draft isn’t supposed to be polished and shiny: it’s supposed to be full of mistakes, plot holes, and maybe even boring characters that have no depth.
And you wanna know why?
Because this is the draft where you get to discover why you love the story. This is the time for you to play around and make mistakes without any consequences. The first draft is where you get to realize what made you fall in love with the story in the first place.
Yeah, the words will probably suck and everything will be a huge mess. But that’s okay because you put your heart and soul into it, and you learned why it matters to you…and why it’ll one day matter to someone else.
#2. Research is an absolute black hole.
On a lighter note, I really, truly wish that SOMEONE would have warned me about the dangers of researching. It’s all fun and games until it’s suddenly 3 am and what started as a quick search about daggers has since turned into binge watching Brandon Sanderson’s lectures.*
My biggest tip for this is not one that I created, but one that has floated around the internet for quite a while (although I’m like 100% sure I heard it from Abbie first.) Anyway, the tip is this: DON’T DO RESEARCH DURING YOUR WRITING TIME. Instead, do one of the following:
Option 1: Do all your research ahead of time. Spend time thinking about what you’ll need to know to write this story. Are there medical conditions or injuries that happen? Are there important details about the time period or location that you need to include? What kind of things you’ll need to research depends heavily on the genre and plot of your story, but don’t get overwhelmed because there’s still a second option.
Option 2: Write your story, and do the research thing later. This is typically what the pantsers do, and there’s nothing wrong with this. To avoid the pitfall of stopping and researching things mid-sentence, just leave a note for yourself to research [fill in the blank] later. That way when it comes to editing, you know exactly what things you need to research to flesh out specific scenes and details.
*Yes, he actually does have lectures. You can find them all here, so please enjoy the binge session that you are about to embark on, although I do hope you come back here when you’re done. 😉
#3. You will, at some point, doubt your abilities.
This point comes at different times for different people. But I really do believe that it’s something we need to talk about more. Too many new writers don’t realize that this is normal and that it’s okay to struggle with this.
You’re not alone. So many writers feel like they aren’t good enough…and it’s something that we’ve almost tabooed because talking about our doubts is uncomfortable and sometimes awkward. But I really don’t care if it’s taboo because I need you to know that this is just a season, you won’t feel this way forever.
Writing is such a beautiful thing because it’s something that you can learn how to do. Yeah, some people are naturally better than others, but anyone can learn to tell stories, it’s just a matter of being willing to put in the work. So, let that encourage you to take the next step and keep pushing on because, my friend, you are going to change the world.
#4. There will be times where you can’t bring yourself to write actual words.
Every writer experiences burnout and writer’s block. Sometimes, we just can’t engage in the physical act of writing. And that’s okay. I’ve spent so much time feeling guilty because I wasn’t using my free time to write, and I think a lot of other writers do too. But it’s not healthy. Sometimes the inspiration just isn’t there. Sometimes it’s just too hard to find the mental energy necessary to put words on paper. Sometimes it’s just time to brainstorm and think and dream.
Writing isn’t just limited to typing words. Writing is thinking and building a plot in your head. Writing is creating the world through Pinterest graphics. Writing is observing people and how they interact and saving those interactions for future scenes. Writing is every single little thing that you do for your book. So, stop criticizing yourself for doing the other important parts of writing. These things are just as important as the physical act of writing words because without them, you’d never make it to actually writing the words.
#5. But then there will be moments where you reread your writing and realize all over again that there’s nothing you’d rather do.
I’ve noticed this trend where writers talk a lot about rereading their writing while they’re editing and…they almost never say anything positive about it. I mean, sure, some writers post happy comments during the editing process, but it’s pretty rare. And more importantly, they never talk about reading their writing outside of when they’re doing edits.
I understand that it can be hard to read writing that you, the writer, think is bad. But what I don’t understand is this writing culture where writers don’t realize how inspirational and important that old writing is. Most of the time I spend reading (or rereading) my writing, I’m not editing it. I’m literally just reading it because I want to—because I need to.
I probably spend too much time rereading my old writing. But I do it because sometimes I need a reminder of why I fell in love with a story or why it ever mattered to me in the first place. And when that happens…it’s like magic, you guys. As a writer, there’s almost nothing that compares to the realization that this little story is yours and somehow…somehow you just know that this is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in this moment, right here, right now.
What’s something you wish you had known when you were a new writer? Did you know that first drafts were supposed to be messy, or did you learn that the hard way? How do you remind yourself why you love your WIP? Let’s talk in the comments below.