Now that I’m established in my career as an author, I’m more frequently asked what my advice is for aspiring writers. After putting together a response for one lovely reader, I thought it might be helpful to share these notes more broadly. Without further ado, here are a few broad pieces of advice that have helped me along my writing journey.
1) Write a terrible first draft. Even your most favorite published writers write horrible (or at least imperfect) first drafts, and if they claim otherwise, they’re probably lying. Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird sums this up well. Here’s the relevant excerpt in case you don’t have the book on hand. Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft, knowing that when you revise it you can make it shine and do justice to your great ideas.
Caveat: some people do better writing fast/sloppy first drafts, and others find more success writing slowly and polishing as they go. Use the method that works best for you; the takeaway is that it is okay to write bad first drafts because words on the page you can edit and polish (either at the end or as you go) are always better than a blank page.
2) Stop writing for the day in the middle of an interesting or exciting scene. If I end a writing session without completing a scene I find compelling and exciting, it will help me dive back into the writing the next day with lots of momentum. If I stop at the conclusion of a scene I had fun with, I often struggle to dive back in the next day and end up procrastibaking five dozen cookies and scrubbing the bathroom tile and ultimately failing to get anything done on my novel.
3) Lean on your friends. People like to romanticize writing as a solitary art–the creative genius sitting alone in his/her/zir/their room churning out material that is publishable without a single minute of revision (lies!). Some writers work well in isolation. Many do not at all. I like to feel like I can do anything by myself, so it took me a long time to accept that I need help from my friends to write books. But the truth is that I write much better when I look to my friends for inspiration and support. Lean on them and let their faith in you carry you through. They can help you talk through plot problems or alpha read and give positive feedback. (Yes, it is totally okay to have alpha readers who read for the sole purpose of positive reinforcement. Fanfiction is also great for this.)
4) Self accept; don’t self-reject. It is so, so easy to tell yourself you are not good enough or can’t execute an idea you know is great. However, that will get you nowhere. Write that terrible first draft anyway! Every book you write will make you a better writer. You will learn more by actually writing than from reading any book about craft or from anyone’s advice (including mine). You don’t have to be perfect at the outset. Just remember that YOU are the only one who can write your particular book in your particular voice and help bring to life the ideas you have. The only way you fail is by telling yourself you can’t do it. I spent a lot of time in high school telling myself I wasn’t good enough and therefore not trying, and I regret all that wasted time.
Good luck, and I wish you all the best with your writing!
PS: The sequel to Of Fire and Stars is finally out! Here are some places you can buy it if you’re so inclined.