Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Out
It is scary to begin writing. You don’t know if you will be good enough. You don’t know if anyone will be interested in what you have to say. Your voice, your writing process and your rhythm are all undefined, so sometimes you feel like you don’t know how to start. Looking back, there are a few things I wish someone had told me when I started out — and I hope they will be useful for any newcomers, or anyone in a bit of a slump.
1) You Will Find Your Voice
A lot of writing advice encourages you to write in “your own voice” and not imitate others. That is all well and good, but when you start off, you might not know exactly what your voice is yet. Finding the way you write takes time and practice. Your voice will appear to you gradually, the more you write. After some time, when you reread your writing, you will be surprised at how clear your voice sounds. But at the beginning, it is normal to not quite be sure if what you are writing sounds like you. It is normal to feel like your words belong to someone else. It is normal to copy people’s styles — in fact, it is good, it improves your writing. Plus, your voice isn’t static: it will always take on new influences, improve and evolve, for as long as you keep writing.
2) You Will Find Your Rythm
The way I often work is by doing a long, messy rough draft, with links and ideas floating around the page. It’s a complete mess. It isn’t paragraphs, it isn’t anything I could share with others. So when I read advice mentioning things like “reread your first draft”, I used to be a little confused. “Am I writing wrong?” I asked myself. Because my first draft clearly wasn’t remotely publishable. There wasn’t anything to reread as such, but more to decipher.
But there is no right way to write. Everyone’s brain is different. You have to find what works for you — and again, that just comes from writing whenever you can, trying out different methods, and getting to know yourself.
This doesn’t only apply to the actual wordsmith part of writing. As I’ve written before, writing isn’t just about putting words to paper, it is also about living, meeting people, going outside of your comfort zone, to open yourself up to new ideas, to give yourself new things to write. Writing can take a lot of forms, and your rhythm for seeking inspiration, for going out and exploring life, will also take the form that works for you — so don’t worry if the way you do it looks like the way your favourite author does it.
3) Writing Does Get Easier
Sometimes, writing feels like trying to get water out of a stone. Your ideas are there, but the words don’t flow. This is normal. It doesn’t mean you are not a good writer, just because the words don’t come easily. They can be devilish tricky little blighters. But they do become more obedient. Again, practice. Soon, your ideas will come with built-in words. Paragraphs will begin to flow out of their own accord. Don’t think that, because you don’t feel in control of the words, you aren’t cut out for this. You will tame them to do what you need them to.
4) You Might Be Noticing a Recurring Theme Here
Can’t say it enough.
Not necessarily every day. But whenever you can. Even when it is hard. Which it will be, sometimes.
5) You Don’t Have To Love Writing All The Time
Writing is a real job, and it isn’t always easy. There are times when you enjoy yourself, writing sentences that slide of your fingers and make you laugh out loud. There are times when you look at words like Mahogany or Presumptuous or Gambol, and you will get a rush of pleasure at the beauty of your raw material. And there will be days when you hate it. When drawing the words out feels painful, when writing about things you know is important drains you. Even the best of writers don’t love writing all the time.
6) Your Brain Is Your Working Tool. Take Care of It.
Because writing won’t always be easy, Self Care is particularly important. You deserve to be taken care of. So don’t push yourself too hard, and when you feel like you need a break, take it. Just like you experiment with your voice and your writing process, experiment, too, with your self-care. Find what works for you: whether it is meditating, going out for a run, phoning a friend, hugging a loved one. Writing can be very tiring, especially if you are writing about topics that you care about. Especially if you scroll down to the comments section, where trolls are lurking.
Remember that the tortured artist is a bit of the myth. Depression and suffering might give something to write about, but if they are too bad, you won’t be able to work at all.
7) You Don’t Have To Follow All The Advice
Reading writing advice can be useful in and of itself: because it gives you a sense of community, it centres you, it makes you feel a little bit more like a writer. That being said, not all advice will work for you, and that doesn’t mean you aren’t being the best writer you can be, it just means that people are different. So read advice, and take from it what works for you. Always listen to your own self above any advice.
8) Your Flaws Can Be Your Qualities
The things you don’t like about yourself, the things that feel like they might be a hurdle to your writing, can, in reality, be turned into qualities. They make you who you are, and so will be part of what you can write about that no one else can. You just have to work with them, rather than against them, to turn them into qualities — whether it is perfectionism, a tendency to procrastinate, a lack of organisational skills or discipline…
9) You Have Things To Say Which Are Important
And people for whom it is hard to write — because they don’t feel “educated” enough, because they are swamped making a living from low-paying jobs, because they have to care for others — have a particularly important voice to express. For people suffering various forms of oppression, because of their class, race or gender, do objectively have a harder time writing, and feeling legitimate to write. But their voices are sorely needed in a world where mainstream media is still dominated by well-off white men. And thanks to platforms like Medium, it is now possible to get a decent audience, where no one cares if you went to the right college or not. You don’t owe anyone your words, but if you do want to write, the world should be grateful for them.
This doesn’t mean that writing from a place of privilege, you don’t have anything to write. But it is a good idea to interrogate yourself on your privilege, to see how you can make it into something which elevates others, rather than reinforcing oppression. Maybe your privileges allowed you to get in-depth knowledge of certain topics, which you can then share through your writing to people who haven’t had access to such training. Or maybe you can use the platform you have to pass the mic to other groups. Or to do some of the work that the oppressors need to do. For instance, men thinking about how to redefine their identities to fight against toxic masculinity is an important step. Ditto for white people. Although such a process should be rooted in the work and experience of people affected by the oppression, the oppressor needs to do some of the work. Whatever our privileges, we can think of what our role as allies can be, and how our writing can help with this.
10) Again, practice.
Just write. Write about anything. Whenever you can.