The writing process for a newbie

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Jaya
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The writing process for a newbie

Post by Jaya » September 6th, 2010, 9:36 pm

Hi, I am new to the whole writing game. It was a love of mine as a child and growing up. My university degrees took me in different directions and I am now struggling through a unloved profession simply to pay the bills. But writing is my passion. I have so many ideas, but not sure where to start. I have dabbled in some short stories and started other pieces also. I tend to "lose the magic" so many words in...or maybe I lose the confidence...I don't know.
Either way, I have no formal education in writing and I realize I do not have the best skills (technical or creative), but I just really want to pursue this, without letting self-doubt block me.
Most advice seems to be 1) read (everything) and 2) write.
If I am unusure of my true "voice" , should I just keep dabbling in different genres and tones? Until I find my true voice?
Is it "wrong" to feel like I am flailing from one voice and one idea to the next? I feel I never get anything accomplished. I feel there might be a right way to start to feel productive and that maybe I am missing it (?).
If you have strong suggestions about helpful websites or other let me know. I would also like to know any tips on how you organize yourself..your ideas, all your little scraps, etc (on desktop, in documents, etc).
I realize how little bit is practice, so nothing can be a waste. But I dislike the feeling of confusion and doubt.
For now, I trudge forward with any idea of the moment.
How do you approach it also? A certain time every morning? Every spare moment?
And best sites to search for legitimate contests?

Sorry if this all sounds ridiculously amateur to you folks...I am an amateur...and what I lack in knowledge and skill, I hopefully make up for in some desire. Not quite sure what that is (fiction, nonfiction, youth, freelance, anything).

Oh, and how do you feel about blogs? To share stories or discussion?
I am a bit of a private person and usually don't speak about my passions openly or otherwise...what are your thoughts on those kinds of blogs? The confidence of the writers amazes me I feel. The guts, the true passion and belief in themselves. Amazing.

craig
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by craig » September 6th, 2010, 9:55 pm

Writing can be tough -- but also a lot of fun!

You'll find as many opinions on this forum as their are participants. There really isn't one solid set of advice or steps to follow. Everybody discovers their path on their own. So, don't worry that you haven't found your voice yet or you aren't sure if you're doing it right -- you've already got one huge thing going for you -- you have a love of writing and you have decided to pursue it!

As for finding your voice, well, for me that took a very long time. I usually ended up mimicking things I was reading and not really enjoying my own writing that much. Then, several years ago, I caught a short-lived TV show called "Charlie Jade" -- it's a Canadian / South African sci-fi co-production. I was sucked in every week. The show captivated me, made me lose all sense of time, surprised me every week with story and character developments, and was very "intelligent", for lack of a better word. (It required considerable thinking to follow the plot.)

After watching this, I was like, "I want my readers to feel exactly what I felt while watching that show." So I took what I learned from watching that show and carved out my own voice. The show taught me many things about storytelling that, I think, have made my work greatly improved. My stuff is vastly different than the show (though there are some similarities in character traits) -- but it is because of that show that I now not only have a style and a voice, but I'm also enjoying my writing immensely more than I was before.

It'll be a process of trial and error... no... I don't like that... It'll be a journey of self-discovery for you to find your voice and style.

As for genre, etc... why restrict yourself to just one at this point? A few years ago, I found a great book at one of those American bookstores. (I'm from Canuckistan... land of hockey, snow, and beavers.) "How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write" by Skip Press. I found it to be extremely motivational -- the author basically takes you on the journey of his writing career and tells you to just go out and try everything.

In my own writing life... I started with sci-fi short stories (got one published), then moved to longer form sci-fi (like novellas and stuff like that) (almost got one published), tried a sci-fi novel, took a detour to try writing a non-fiction global issues book, wrote four articles on global peace issues (all four of them published), and am now working on another sci-fi novel that I will try to sell. While I stuck mostly to sci-fi, I dabbled in different cross-genres -- sci-fi/horror, sci-fi/thriller, sci-fi/espionage, etc... It took me many years to find my true voice, style, and specific sub-genre (dark soft sci-fi). It also took me a while to break out of the restrictions I was placing on myself -- I am a very soft-spoken nice guy that never swears -- it took forever to write a swear in my story, but now it's got a multitude of four letter words, lots of violence, and the occasional casual sex scene (both straight and gay) -- all of which have made my stories far better. It took a while to break past the "What will my family think of me now that they know what goes on in my head?" Hahaha -- when I tell people what my writing is like, they usually tilt their head, look at me strangely, and ask, "Do we need to worry about you?"

Check out the books in the writing section in your bookstore -- there are some interesting ones there. Maybe one of them will be able to help you.

But, above absolutely everything else -- have FUN with your writing! Make it something you enjoy! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

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Quill
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Quill » September 6th, 2010, 11:31 pm

Jaya wrote:Hi, I am new to the whole writing game. It was a love of mine as a child and growing up. My university degrees took me in different directions and I am now struggling through a unloved profession simply to pay the bills. But writing is my passion.
Then you should do it. It is unwise to ignore a genuine calling.
I have so many ideas, but not sure where to start. I have dabbled in some short stories and started other pieces also. I tend to "lose the magic" so many words in...or maybe I lose the confidence...I don't know.
Either way, I have no formal education in writing and I realize I do not have the best skills (technical or creative), but I just really want to pursue this, without letting self-doubt block me.
Well, it's going to take practice to overcome those feelings of self-doubt and losing the magic. Best to work on short pieces like short stories, poetry, essays, journaling. Anything to get the pen or keys moving, and keep them moving on some sort of regular basis. Maybe buy a notebook and carry it with you. Write.

One good practice for loosening the writing hand and mind is from Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way (I believe). You open a blank page each morning and write non-stop until it is filled. Doesn't matter what you write, just let it flow from through your hand and don't stop till you get to the bottom. Do it every day. Takes five minutes.
Most advice seems to be 1) read (everything) and 2) write.
The two go hand in hand. Reading informs writing. It tells you what you like. It tells you what others are doing, providing context. It shows you what works.

If I am unusure of my true "voice" , should I just keep dabbling in different genres and tones? Until I find my true voice?
Is it "wrong" to feel like I am flailing from one voice and one idea to the next? I feel I never get anything accomplished. I feel there might be a right way to start to feel productive and that maybe I am missing it (?).
Don't worry about voice. It will come with time. Focus on expressing yourself clearly and on learning your craft, one step at a time. It is like learning to read, starting with easy readers. Write easy things successfully. An apt sentiment on a birthday card to someone. A cogent post on a discussion board. A haiku poem that actually has a little surprise at the end. Form. Communication. Language and punctuation. The building blocks.

If you have strong suggestions about helpful websites or other let me know. I would also like to know any tips on how you organize yourself..your ideas, all your little scraps, etc (on desktop, in documents, etc).
Start here. Explore the forums. Many writers visit and post here on many subjects of interest to you. Writers of all genres and levels of skill. Link over to Nathan's blog. Lots of potent info there, archived and new each day. Follow the links posted there, as well, to other blogs and sites of interest. You will find all, in time. Nothing is hidden. Don't overdo, though. Slow and steady wins the race. Persistence is a key word for writers, we are in it for the long run. Talking years and decades. Because the craft and the knowledge of the business are vast. No need to ever be discouraged, though, because of the vastness and the distance. After all, it is your calling, and to be good takes work, right? And is fun, right?

I realize how little bit is practice, so nothing can be a waste. But I dislike the feeling of confusion and doubt.
For now, I trudge forward with any idea of the moment.
How do you approach it also? A certain time every morning? Every spare moment?
And best sites to search for legitimate contests?
There is no one way. You will find work habits that work for you, just as you did getting through school and in your daily life and job now. It is a matter of building it, like building a business. It is a business. It must be built. It is always tough in the beginning, never enough time, money...but in time it attains form, and if one is dedicated, success. No need, or use, really, to worry about the future now. Simply put one foot in front of the other. buy a notebook, find a corner, open a file, make a commitment, and write.

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polymath
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by polymath » September 7th, 2010, 12:56 am

If it were possible to send writing advices back to my younger self, I'd tailor them to my age at any given point. I would, however, emphasize reading and studying the enduring classics. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Aesop's Fables, The Grimm Brothers' Fairytales, One Thousand and One Nights--collections of folklore handed down and updated from antiquity--and authors William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville, the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Keroauc, and Kurt Vonnegut for their pivotal influences on each other and later authors. Plus whoever else strikes a chord.

I'd also advise a later in life study, say post high school, of poetics topics and discourage interest in how-to write books. Aristole's Poetics 350 BCE, Gustav Freytag's Technique of the Drama 1863, Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction 1910, E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel 1927, Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse 1978, Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages 1999,
Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel 2002, and James Wood's How Fiction Works 2008. Each references numerous narrative texts that ideally should be read beforehand in order to fully appreciate the topics discussed. About eight to a dozen narratives per poetics text, some dreadfully dreary to read as they're for the most part written in styles that are long out of contemporary fashion, except Maass, although the roots of modern styles are introduced in them, but not fully realized. Each of the above poetics texts discusses different writing topics ranging across structure, aesthetics, and nuances as each poeticist perceived their crucial importance to narrative arts.

It took me about three years to read, study, and understand the above poetics texts, including many more texts derivative and digressive of those works that fell short of the originals. As tedious as they were to read, they did get complex insights across. It's worth noting a major change in writing styles that led to contemporary narrative methods arose concurrently with Freytag's Technique of the Drama.

Or in the alternative, an advice I'd send back to myself, don't rely solely on instinct and quantity of writing for success. Merge reading, study, investigation, and application. My studies indicate that's how the greats throughout time learned their craft. Even most if not all the latest bestselling authors.
Spread the love of written word.

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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Margo » September 7th, 2010, 10:38 am

polymath wrote:Or in the alternative, an advice I'd send back to myself, don't rely solely on instinct and quantity of writing for success. Merge reading, study, investigation, and application.
I second that.

I would offer this advice: learn structure, learn the rules of writing and make sure you understand the reasons for them before you decide to break them, learn everything you can about the industry and the genres you decide to write in, and write (at least a little) everyday.

Other than that...contests...depends on your genre. The Market List has a few for sci-fi and fantasy writers. If you write something else, I'd suggest finding out if there is a professional organization, like the Romance Writers Association (I think that's the proper name). Or is it the Romance Writers of America? Some (like the RWA) let anyone join and are a wealth of info. Others (like SFWA) require members to meet professional publication requirements, but their website still has info on it for non-members. Mystery writers seem tohave lots of helpful organizations.

When do I write? Whenever I can, but I prefer large blocks of time (at least 1.5-2 hrs). That's purely personal preference. Plenty of people do fine writing 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

Blogs... There's no right answer there. Someone people might find it helpful and inspiring to read a blog about the progress of a brand new writer. Others might say, at this stage, your time is better spent learning your craft and writing. Do what's best for you and your writing.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Jaya
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Jaya » September 7th, 2010, 11:33 am

Thanks for the advice so far. I hope to receive more advice.
Re: learning structure. I assume the best way to do this would be to read & write? Read and "learn with time" and write and keep practicing. I think practice and patience must be key. I know I write anything and go back to look at it and it is terrible. After a few more re-writes I can get it halfway to decent. So practice is key. I think the idea of taking basic steps is a good one that was mentioned above. Tackle little pieces of writing and do that well, rather than trying to tackle a big project and do that well. If I can conquer a little poem, letter, email, journal entry and do that well, then I can build from there. I can still pursue longer pieces in the meantime, but every little bit might help.
I'm sure a lot of you might cringe at my skills already!

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dios4vida
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by dios4vida » September 7th, 2010, 11:53 am

Welcome, Jaya!

Writing can be the most fun, exhilarating, tiring, frustrating thing on this planet. It's something that you can really hate at times, but when it's your passion you'll never find anything you'll love as much.

I don't have any formal education, either. I just starting writing and never stopped. It is true that the more you write the better you'll get. It's awful advice to hear because it means plodding through chapters and chapters feeling unsure of yourself, but it really is essential to keep practicing. A lot of the best writers have learned the same way - you'd be surprised how many have no formal education, either. Don't let it intimidate you, and just write!

We've had many discussions about voice in the forums, and you'd be surprised how many of us have yet to find our voice, either. I have two novels completed and I haven't discovered my voice. I've learned what I do and do not like to write, but the voice part is one of the most difficult techniques we as authors have to learn. It will come, and the best way to find it is...you got it, to practice. I think the fact that you're dabbling in many different things is really good right now. You're discovering what you like to write, what you're good at writing, and what you just don't enjoy doing. It will be very helpful in finding your personal niche. I would suggest that you continue to dabble around until you find something that gets you really excited, then run with it. And there's no reason that you have to write one specific genre, style, or anything else for the rest of your life. You can branch out!

As for organization tips, I have two large dry-erase boards hanging in my home office. (You can get large sheets of melomine at the hardware stores for a LOT cheaper than real dry erase boards and they work just as well!) One is my current WIP, with outlines, questions, and other points that I need to be able to access quickly. The other is full of ideas, names, and basic outlines for other projects in the wings. It's been a great system for me to keep track of everything. When I have big plot questions or things that need significant attention, I write it on an index card and tape it to my desk, right next to my keyboard. On my computer I have everything relating to that particular book in a single folder - pictures that inspire me, snippets of writing, etc.

Since I don't have a day job I try to write about all the time. It doesn't work most of the time, but I try. The up side of a job like writing is that you can plot or think about your WIP while doing the dishes or other things like that. It helps to do some busywork that doesn't require thinking to help work out problems in your WIP.

That's about all I can really think of. The more you just keep going with it, even when you aren't sure it's worthwhile, the better your writing will get, and the more you'll learn how you prefer to write and enjoy it. This forum is a great place full of wonderful people, so if you have any more questions ask away! Sometimes our conversations are full of deep, interesting principles of writing and other times we do ask stupid questions of each other. Don't feel embarassed because you're new to all of this, we all started out from the same place as you!

Good luck! Looking forward to seeing you around the forums! :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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dios4vida
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by dios4vida » September 7th, 2010, 12:01 pm

Margo wrote:I would offer this advice: learn structure, learn the rules of writing and make sure you understand the reasons for them before you decide to break them, learn everything you can about the industry and the genres you decide to write in, and write (at least a little) everyday.
I think what Margo means about structure is to study the reasons English is written the way it is. The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style and other grammer books are incredibly helpful for learning the nuts and bolts of writting. (You can do an electronic search of The Elements of Style here: http://www.bartleby.com/141/. It's great for answering a question that you've run into...like "should I be using "who" or "whom" right here?") Another of my favorite resources is http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ because she gives really easy ways to remember grammar idiosyncracies (for instance, I always remember when to use "whom" vs "who" now, thanks to this site!).
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Margo » September 7th, 2010, 1:02 pm

Crap. I wrote a looooong post about structure and lost it. Okay, short form...

I mean the 3-act structure as described by Aristotle. I also mean that short stories have a structure, what should happen when. Shorts, however, may also be a snapshot of the structure, leaving part of the structure implicit. Even scenes have a structure of sorts, though I'd say they are more maleable provided the purpose of the scenes is still satisfied.

With the problems you're describing (losing the magic, flailing), I suggest outlining. It can be as little as 5 or 6 sentences about what it supposed to happen at what point, to help keep you mindful. Or it can be exhaustive notes right down to a scene-by-scene level. Or it can be anything in between.

Check out:
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/06 ... abase.html
http://storyfix.com/
http://writeitsideways.com/
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Margo » September 7th, 2010, 1:06 pm

dios4vida wrote:I think what Margo means about structure is to study the reasons English is written the way it is. The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style and other grammer books are incredibly helpful for learning the nuts and bolts of writting. (You can do an electronic search of The Elements of Style here: http://www.bartleby.com/141/. It's great for answering a question that you've run into...like "should I be using "who" or "whom" right here?") Another of my favorite resources is http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ because she gives really easy ways to remember grammar idiosyncracies (for instance, I always remember when to use "whom" vs "who" now, thanks to this site!).
Not quite what I meant but still essential essential essential !
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Jaya
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Re: The writing process for a newbie

Post by Jaya » September 7th, 2010, 1:52 pm

You are all very helpful and that is welcoming. I was wary of venturing into a forum, but this seems to be only a help versus a hinder.
Yes, finding my voice is tricky. I simulataneously have ideas/writings for dark, adult fiction and a youthful, humorous fiction. Opposite.
As for organization, I'm not very computer savvy....and I hate having too many notebooks. I will try to be organized without obsessing over it. That will only make it worse.
I feel there is so much I could learn and that can be overwhelming. So rather than feel I have to learn grammar all in a day, I'll just approach things in pieces over time. I think it is still best to ultimately read and write. The best teacher right there.
I will check some of those links as I have time.

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