So you’ve always wanted to write and have now decided to start. Or perhaps you’d never thought of writing but have recently been struck with a brilliant idea that you just have to express. Either way, the question now is: how do I get started?
Staring at that blank screen can be disheartening and it’s easy to be discouraged. The first thing you need to know is that there is no one rule book. Each writer is different and if you have the urge to write, you should follow that urge in the way that seems natural. Write whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, one of the greatest joys you may discover is taking that scribbled idea, those one or two sentences that make sense to no one but you and refining them into something you want to share.
Practise, practise, practise
One piece of advice that writers and writing teachers alike repeat again and again is to write every day. And when they say write, they mean just that. You don’t have to work on your masterpiece every time you sit down at your desk. Write a diary. Write anything that comes into your head – it doesn’t matter what – the essential act is forming a habit of taking those thoughts and putting them into words on paper. For new writers, some teachers even prescribe a set amount of words to produce every day. For example, in his book On Writing Stephen King suggests one thousand words a day for beginners. But every writer is different and while some may find no difficulty in producing pages and pages in a single sitting, others may call one paragraph a triumph.
The most important thing is to set goals that are challenging but achievable and not to be put off altogether by setting an unrealistic ideal. Practising writing is a bit like getting fit. To begin with you might only write five hundred words a day. But as your writing muscles get stronger, you might find your once tough goals seem a pushover. Then you’ll set yourself new ones.
Get into the habit
One problem that both new and established writers complain of is procrastination. Getting into the habit of spending a certain amount of time at your computer at the same time every day just writing – not checking your emails, not rearranging the things on your desk – is a good way to manage procrastination
Another technique you can apply is to use deadlines. You can create your own but there are hundreds already out there for you too. Deadlines for writing competitions and publications like literary journals can be just the thing you need to finish that next draft or to finally start that story you’ve been thinking about. Even if you don’t think your work is good enough, getting into the practice of submitting is a good way to keep yourself working and you never know – you might be better than you think.
Writing NSW’s weekly electronic newsletter, Newsbite, publishes a comprehensive list of upcoming writing competitions and deadlines for literary publications. You can also see our Resource Sheets on Short Stories and Poetry for more information about competitions and journals.
Organisations like Writing NSW, the Australian Society of Authors, the Fellowship of Australian Writers and similar writing bodies are great places for meeting with other writers and finding out about festivals, courses, readings and writing events that may provide you with some inspiration and tips.
Through Writing NSW and other such organisations, you can find, join or even form your own writers’ groups. A writers’ group is a regular gathering of writers with similar interests and level of experience that share and critique each other’s works in progress. You might be surprised by the insight that fellow writers can provide. An objective perspective is the one thing you as the writer will always lack. Members of your writers’ group can spot flaws and suggest techniques for improvement that you may have missed.
Critiquing other writers’ works-in-progress will also help you improve your own skills as a writer. Thinking critically about other writers’ work, spotting problems and thinking about how to solve them will help you do the same for your own writing. These groups are also fun and rewarding. Writing NSW offers free meeting spaces for member writing groups.
Writing NSW and other writing organisations offer courses and workshops to help you improve your writing. These courses are taught by professional, published authors whose insight is invaluable for new and developing writers. Some courses run for a single day, some can go for eight weeks or even a whole year and cover topics as varied as general fiction writing, non-fiction, crime, fantasy, journalism, travel and lifestyle writing and much more. Apart from the chance to learn new skills from a master of the craft, courses also give you the opportunity to meet writers with similar interests. Many of Writing NSW’s writers’ groups have met through courses they attended.
Books on writing
If you live in a remote region and can’t attend courses or writers’ groups, you could do worse than to get yourself a book on writing. There are dozens of writers’ manuals written by successful writers as varied as Kate Grenville and Stephen King. Manuals can provide you with useful insight from established writers. Most include writing exercises and advice to get your words flowing and tips for improving your work. Writing NSW sells a number of books on writing at our bookshop and has plenty more available for members to browse in our library.
In our bookshop
The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick
Writing from Start to Finish by Kate Grenville
Juicy Writing by Brigid Lowry