These tips and strategies for beginning writers are from a published writer, world traveler, and blogger of rants, reviews, and writing advice. How do I know Jim Heskett is the right person to offer writing strategies for beginners? Because his voice and personality shines through his writing. His writing is fun. Interesting. Quirky.
About these strategies for beginning writers: if your goal is to polish your own writing skills, read How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. He’s my favorite writing teacher – his books are packed with short, valuable tips for both beginner and professional writers. I re-read Clark’s books every year or so, to sharpen my writing skills.
If you’re searching for writing strategies because you’re an elementary or high school teacher, read Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students by Karen Harris, Steve Graham, Linda Mason, and Barbara Friedlander. The tips in this article are geared towards fiction writers – they’re not lesson plans for beginning writers (which I know some of you are searching for!).
7 Strategies for Beginning Writers
~ by Jim Heskett
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and finally take that great idea for a novel that’s been bouncing around inside your head and put it to paper. Good for you. If you’re new to this writing game, there are a few things you should know before you get started, and some tips to help you along the way.
Above all, you should know you won’t be any good at first. But that’s okay. Unlike brain surgery, you don’t have to get it perfect the first time around. The great thing about writing is that the more you do it, the better you become. It’s a skill you can improve throughout your life, one word at a time.
Part One: Before You Start Writing
Writing Strategy 1: Read read read in your genre
Hopefully, if you want to write one, you also have a thing for books. You don’t have to have read every word of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, but you should at least read widely in your genre.
Genre, you say? Well, are you planning to write thriller, erotica, urban fantasy, young adult dystopian paranormal techno-romance? Whatever flavor you intend to write, you should become familiar with what the readers of that genre expect. Each genre has its rules and norms.
Writing Strategy 2: Read read read writing advice books
Millions of words about writing have already been published. Take advantage of them. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a staple, and I also love Jack M. Bickham’s Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing), and Elements of Fiction Writing – Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. Books like these can help you skip past many of the beginner mistakes that less-informed writers make.
Writing Strategy 3: Determine what kind of writer you want to be
There are two main camps for writers: plotters, and pantsers. Plotters sit down before writing and make an outline or a synopsis of the novel, then work from that to create the full length manuscript. Pantsers, on the other hand, forgo all that and just put pen to paper.
I used to be a plotter, and now I’m becoming a pantser. I would recommend you start out your writing career making outlines, because it will save you a lot of revisions later on. The desire to let your fingers go willy-nilly over the keyboard may be strong, but until you have a solid amount of practice creating stories, I would stay away from pantsing.
In Mind Mapping for Writers, publishing coach Daphne Gray-Grant offers outlining tips and strategies for beginning writers.
Part Two: Learn the Writing Rules Before Breaking Them
Writing Strategy 4: Desire, stakes, conflict
This is the meat of storytelling. Just about every story ever told is about a guy or girl who wants something (desire), and there is a cost to not getting it (stakes), and something stands in the way (conflict). Know these three things before you start is a crucial strategy for beginning writers, and you’ll be on the right track. Start typing without them and your story may flounder and go nowhere.
Writing Strategy 5: Scene and sequel
These are the building blocks of story, and knowing this one strategy for writers will rocket you light years ahead of most beginners. A scene is a unit of conflict, and a sequel is the glue between two scenes. Your story will be made up of alternating and escalating scenes and sequels until the big climax.
Like I said before, your character wants something. She’s got a big goal of, say, winning the heart of the boy down the street. In order to do that, she’s got to complete several smaller goals along the way. So she tries to make him a mixtape to impress him. But her little brother interferes and the mixtape breaks. This is a scene: it has a goal, conflict, and a result. The goal failed, so now the character will have a sequel, in which she reflects on her failure with the mixtape, and decides what to do next to win the boy’s heart. That decision leads into the next goal and the scene. Pile up enough of these, and you have a story.
Part 3: After Writing Your First Draft
Writing Strategy 6: Beta readers and critique groups
Now that you’ve finished your masterpiece, it’s time to let someone else read it. Other people can always spot mistakes in the plot or characters that you can’t see because you lack objectivity. Find beta readers you can trust to give you honest opinions (not just your mom, who’s legally obligated to tell you it’s perfect), and join a critique group, if there’s one nearby. In a critique group, you not only get help with your own story, but you learn editing by critiquing the stories of other writers.
If you’re nervous about asking for a writing critique, read How to Ask for Feedback on Your Writing.
Writing Stragety 7: Move on
This may be the most important writing strategy for beginners: know when to put that baby to rest. Maybe you’ll go on to write ten drafts of your manuscript. Maybe you want to give it just one more run-through to get it perfect. The truth is, it’ll never be perfect. Your next project will be better, because you’ll know now what you didn’t know then. And the one after that will be even better. Maybe you’ll send manuscript #1 out to agents and get nothing but a massive pile of rejection letters. That’s okay, just don’t give up. Stick that manuscript in the drawer, and get on with the next one.
What do you think of these writing strategies for beginners? Comments welcome below…
Bio: Jim Heskett is a writer of short and long fiction, currently slaving away at a laptop in an undisclosed location in Broomfield, Colorado. Details about previous and future publications can be found at www.jimheskett.com.