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I'm new to this site, though not to StackExchange...I'm excited by the existence of a group like this for (in my case, aspiring) writers.

Here's my issue/question: I have had an interest in writing for years, but I don't know where to start or how to organize the process of "becoming a writer." I have plenty of time, but don't know what to do first.

This past week, I decided that I want to try to write thriller novels. I spent some time brainstorming my basic approach to how I'll do it, and am satisfied that I have some vague idea of how I want to write. The problem is, now I can think of a million reasons not to do it, and without a serious plan, I'm afraid I'll just end up doing what I've done in the past: nothing.

I've read parts of several books on writing, but none seem to address the question of what you do to actually get motivated and able to make progress as a writer. I know I should just dive in and start writing something, but every time I've done this before, the writing has been so bad that I get terrified of failure and stop writing altogether.

So, here are a series of related questions:

Do you have any advice for overcoming the fear of failure/being terrible?

Do you have any thoughts on how to craft a plan for becoming a writer and actually getting things done beyond brainstorming? (What should "step one" be?)

How do you read masters of the genre (I started reading John Le Carre today) that interests you in a way that doesn't lead to the reaction, "I'll never be this good, so why try?"

Thanks for any advice. If this question is in any way not right for the site, let me know and I'll try to amend it so that it is.


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Lets get step zero out of the way: love reading (and do it a lot). That one usually goes without saying, but it's still essential. – MGOwen Dec 1 '10 at 6:09
@MGOwen: Things that "go without saying" have a tendency to just "go" without saying them regularly. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 9 '11 at 21:38
Bull's eye! The one question you're sure to get truckloads of advice on. – Ricky Nov 19 at 9:25
Even though I wrote about 1000 words a day in my job before "becoming a writer," it took me about 100,000 words as a novelist before I was like "Ok, this no longer sucks." Don't give up! – Stu W Nov 19 at 13:09

9 Answers 9

up vote 22 down vote accepted

There are myriad questions on this site that already address this issue, and the consensus is always the same.

Just write.

Write for yourself. Don't even read what you've written. Don't even look back as you're writing. Write until you're finished. Once you're finished, look back over your work. Only then can you begin to be critical of style, grammar, flow, etc.

The more often you write, and the more volume you write, the better your writing will get. As you look back on things you have written, you will see mistakes you have made and you will understand how not to make them in the future. You will improve over time. Nobody becomes a famous writer thinking about writing.

Just write.

Practice makes perfect.

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Sorry...didn't know there were other similar questions. Thanks for the advice. – Philip White Nov 29 '10 at 22:23
This is the core activity behind each and every NaNoWriMo. – staticsan Feb 14 '11 at 0:01
+1 for "Nobody becomes a famous writer thinking about writing. Just write." – Lukas Stejskal May 16 '11 at 9:42
Write and write some more. Even if it starts out seeming like crap, as you edit and review it later, you can decide what works and what doesn't. (You can also try using an outline or a list of events as a means for getting started.) – Steven Drennon Jul 22 '11 at 5:13

Why do you want to be a writer? No offense, seriously. But for me, I want to write because stories come to me and need to be written. It's not "I want to be writer" so then I have to struggle with how to be a writer and then struggle with what I want to say (since writers have to say something) and then struggle with story ideas, all so I can be a 'writer'.

For me it's more just going through my day, watching and participating in life, something happens, or I reflect on something, and suddenly the idea for a story pops into my head. I spend some time thinking about it and it grows, then I have to write it down.

Do you want to write, or be a 'writer'? They're different. Here, let's look at your questions.

Do you have any advice for overcoming the fear of failure/being terrible?

Do you have any thoughts on how to craft a plan for becoming a writer and actually getting things done beyond brainstorming? (What should "step one" be?)

How do you read masters of the genre (I started reading John Le Carre today) that interests you in a way that doesn't lead to the reaction, "I'll never be this good, so why try?"

1) You shouldn't worry about pleasing anonymous strangers. Try to write stuff that you think is good. Then show it to people and listen to feedback. Some will be good and some will be bad. Learn to distinguish. If you write based on 'fear of failure' you will base your writing on trying to figure out what will be popular. That's the surest way to fail that there is. You're an artist. An artist is one mind, one vision. Listen to yourself. The key to being a writer is trusting your own judgment about what is good. If you keep looking to other people to tell you about your own writing, you'll fail.

2) Plan for becoming a writer? Ok, here: Write a book, get it published. That's it. At that point, you're a professional writer. If you mean a plan on how to write, here it is: you sit down at your computer and write. If you don't know what to write, then you need to think about it. There's no substitute for thinking. If you want to write thrillers, then think of a cool thriller plot.

Here, I'll give you one I thunk up 10 seconds ago: A woman wakes up to discover she's undergone a sex change operation and is now a man. More, her whole family has been murdered. She discovers that she is part of a UN experiment on gender meant to unify the sexes into one unisex type and relegate all reproduction to the authority of the UN, part of their evil plan to take over the world.

Could you take that, or some idea you thunk up, and turn it into a book? If not, why not. What I just wrote is the kernel of a thriller story that you, as a thriller writer, will think up, fill out, and turn into a book. When you get an idea for a book, it will take that form. That's what an idea for a story looks like.

3) No, I never think "I'll never be this good." because I never think that writing has only one measure, one dimension. Le Carre has his strengths and weaknesses. So does any writer. Personally, I think Le Carre's characterization is weak. I don't find his people worth knowing. Again, I keep coming back to one thing: what do you want to say? What do you want people to feel when they put down your book? Do you have any idea?

Why do you want to be a writer?

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Good point about "even Le Carre has his weaknesses". I'd recommend "try to find the weak bits in some well-known and/or successful [not the same thing] writing". – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 13 '10 at 19:39
Actually, great opener with "stories need to be written". First reaction upon rereading the question (that's the trouble with having so few question: go back a bit and you go back a month or 3 ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 9 '11 at 21:41

Hum, good question, sometime motivation is hard but I can at least try to provide some answers to your three main questions.

1: Give your self permission to suck. Nothing is going to be easy the first go through, that's what rewrites and edits fore. Accept that it's not going to be the best and write it anyways, knowing that the more you write the better your writing will become.

2: How to get more done then just brainstorming. Write, just sit down and write. Set up a time to write and write that time every day, set up your goals, just do what ever it takes for you to sit down and write.

3: The correct thing to say is "I'm not this good yet, but someday I'll be better." It's hard to believe that, but believe it you must. Once again, the more you write the better you will be and the less intimidating professional writing will be.

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Writing something every day can be a huge boost. For facilitating this, I've recently become a big fan of, but anything you do to get yourself in the daily habit would work just as effectively.

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Fear stops more people than anything else from writing. (Mind you, perhaps Solitaire beats fear!) Is it fear of not succeeding which bothers you? Or is it the fear of discovering that you can't do it.

You will never know until you try. By simply writing you will learn as you go along. You do seem a bit vague about the whole process, perhaps a clearer idea of what you want to write would be a good idea. And, write for yourself.

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I wrote a novel a couple years ago and I have two pieces of advice for the beginning steps.

1) You need an idea. 2) You need to persist.

The idea is everything, an idea that you can hold onto and that guides the entire story like a lighthouse. The idea could be something very small: a plot, a scene, a character, a feeling, a theme - anything that inspires you to keep going when it gets tough, and it will get tough. The idea should be the first thing always. Before you write anything, before you think about anything else you need an idea that you love.

The second is to persist. It is very simple, just keep going no matter what, and one day you will finish it.

Good luck.

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You want motivation? Set deadlines.

I am a great fan of National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. It has the advantage of being large and well-organised, but setting yourself a firm deadline on your own might work.

If self-imposed deadlines don't work, then spend the next few months planning your story and join NaNoWriMo in November to actually get yourself moving.

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Contend with the fact that the chances of you becoming even moderately successful as a writer are so slim that if they were to be a dress it would be size -100

You must face up to the worst case scenario and that is this:

You may pour months of free time into painfully nursing a written product into a shape where you feel about as proud of it as anyone ever possibly could feel about anything that wasn't their actual child. You can take it out to the world and shout to anyone who will listen about how wonderful it is and how you're sure that it has some commercial legs. You can do these things and most people won't even look at it, or read it, and people who offer to read it to be nice will criticize it in extremely painful ways and people in the actual publishing industry will reject it and reject it and reject it.

Fully integrate into your psyche the fact that the people whose names greet you from the best seller's list at Barnes & Noble have done the equivalent of winning the lottery for every consecutive week for a month. If after that you can still even be bothered then do whatever you feel.

If the worst case comes to pass, and you believe you will still be glad that you wrote it then what does it matter how you wrote it? The only reason to write anything is to please yourself, if you are sitting down to write for any other reason then you stand a high chance of ending up bitter, disappointed and unhappy.

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You make it sound so bleak! – Philip White Dec 1 '10 at 21:14
That's because it is. – One Monkey Dec 2 '10 at 10:03

There's only one way to start being a writer. That is, start to write. Sit down in front of your notebook / laptop when you are entirely to yourself and start writing /typing. Shut yourself off from the entire world. Let the thoughts and creativity flow within you. Of course, you won't become a Jeffery Archer or Wilbur Smith in a single day. But it's the first step. You wont know unless you try. Take criticism in your stride. Compare it with a baby walking. The first steps might be ungainly, but soon you will develop confidence and then, no one will be able to stop you.

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