Before we get started, keep this in mind: You can be the most talented and skilled writer there is, but neither talent nor skill is a guarantee for writing success. What you’ll find is that passion is the most important thing when it comes to writing. We’ll get to why this is later.
Now, here are six key questions first-time writers should ask, or any writers, really.
Question #1: Why Must Writers Must First Be Readers?
A writer must be a reader, first and foremost. Whether you are a writer of nonfiction, novels, songs, poems, or even technical manuals, writers must read. While we each develop our favoritism for certain genres or topics, we must each always look to broaden our knowledge.
Why is diversifying your knowledge so important? True genius lies in making connections that others simply haven’t made yet. By diversifying your reading material and spheres of knowledge, you expand your mind and allow it to make connections with seemingly unrelated ideas.
If you limit yourself to a single genre or a handful of topics, you will limit your ability to discover new ideas. Also, by opening yourself to other genres and topics, even if on a whim, you expand your ability to learn. In a world that becomes seemingly more specialized everyday, the writer must learn to do the opposite.
First-time writers often struggle finding their writing niche, and that’s OK. Even experienced writers feel the need to branch out and find something new to write from time to time. The best way to find new ideas to write about? It’s reading.
Question #2: How Should You Choose a Topic to Write About?
You’re probably sick of hearing the same old advice of “write what you know.” First-time writers hear that a lot. As with a lot of common advice, though, there is a lot of truth to it. However, there’s more to choosing a topic than that. You might know a lot of things. Of course, there are always going to be more things that you don’t know than you do.
Yes, to be a successful writer you have to know what you’re writing about. But just because you know a lot about something doesn’t mean that’s the topic you should choose. Whatever you write about, it should either be something you love or something you hate. The truth is that you need to write about something that you’re passionate about, because that will show in your writing and make it better!
Can I Write Something I Don’t Know? This is when the common “write what you know” advice seems limiting. If you’re interested in some topic that you don’t really know a lot about, then, by all means learn about it. As you research this topic, if you find you’re actually rather passionate about it, then keep learning about it! You can eventually turn what you don’t know into something that you do know a lot about! Just make sure that you really love it before you dive into writing about it.
Question #3: Can You Ever Stop Learning?
No writer is ever going to be perfect. It doesn’t matter how skilled or knowledgeable you become. There is always room to grow, both as a writer and as a person. If you don’t continue to expand your mind, you will find your writing suffer as a result. There’s so much pressure to keep writing the same thing and sharpening your focus. As a writer, you should write what you love, but keep learning other things. Even if you focus on writing nonfiction, you should never stop yourself from reading fiction or poetry. You just never know where your next good idea will come from.
A mind that becomes too focused on just one kind of writing, one way to tell a story, or one anything will eventually become complacent. This can cause your writing to become stale. Much of your audience will grow bored with the same thing after a while. This is why you must keep expanding your mind. For example, even if you’re an established horror writer, you may draw inspiration from science fiction and romance. If you focus too much on what’s already been done without introducing new combinations of ideas and new perspectives, you and your writing will suffer for it.
Also, your writing will never be perfect. So, there’s always room to learn from other writers, whether it be through their style, their storytelling, or just their ideas in general. First-time writers certainly have the most to learn about the writing craft, but even the best writers still learn all the time; that’s how they stay the best!
Question #4: Why Should You Keep Building Your Vocabulary?
If you’re a writer, you should know as many words as you can, right? This seems obvious at first. But, one common piece of writing advice is to actually use the simplest words you can. Of course, Ernest Hemingway is quite famous for his poignant use of simple words in the narration of his stories. But we’re not all Ernest Hemingway, are we?
Yes, using uncommon words, often called “big words,” “college words,” or “SAT words” can be daunting for a lot of readers. So, yes, when a simple word is fine to use, just use that. It can be very tempting for writers to show off their vocabularies. But just because you don’t use them every day in your writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know them. It’s actually good for your readers to have to look up a word in the dictionary once in awhile, after all. But, then, why use them at all?
Words are surprisingly complex when you actually study them. Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how they have changed in usage or form over time. The etymology of even common words is pretty fascinating. In fact, the study of individual words alone can actually help you develop writing ideas.
And, of course, building your vocabulary will allow you to reduce the chances of not being able to find just the right word for an idea. After all, words are little encapsulations of ideas, and the more of them you know, the more ideas you can easily express.
Question #5: Should I Write Down Every Idea I Get?
Here’s a question that many first-time writers ask: should I be writing down every writing idea that I get? Yes, the most important thing about ideas is to not let them get away. Ideas often occur to us at the most inopportune times. Writing an idea down on the back of a napkin might sound cliche, but it does actually turn out that doing that has saved some great ideas. Always be prepared to capture ideas when you least expect them.
The beauty of the human mind is its ability to come up with pretty amazing ideas unexpectedly. The idea for the next great novel of all time could occur you to just about anywhere. Even a piece of character dialogue could hit you as you’re walking down the street. If an idea sparks your interest, write it down in whatever way you can. Yes, even carry around napkins if you have to!
Don’t fool yourself that you might simply remember the idea later. Yes, sometimes you may remember it perfectly. But another beautiful, and often tragic, thing about the human mind is that it can be at time impossible to remember something you came up with just five minutes ago. Ideas are always racing around and can bury one another. We’re all brilliant in a way, and we all have ideas. Most aren’t going to be good, and some will be OK. But all it takes is one great idea to get you writing. That one idea could take you further than you could ever now imagine.
Question #6: What’s the Best Writing Advice of All?
Every writer can ask this question, and the answer is actually quite simple.
Write Because You Love to Write!
A lot of writers make publication the end goal for their writing. While wanting to be a published author is definitely an excellent goal, it shouldn’t be the only one. Your main goal in writing should always be writing what you love to write. You may not always love what you write, but you should love the very act of writing itself. No, not everything you write is going to be published. Even Stephen King has unpublished manuscripts.
You should only publish when you feel you’ve written something that you actually feel is worthy of publishing. So many writers spend so much time on trying to write something to be published and are frustrated when no one wants to publish it. Lots of times, there’s going to be nothing wrong with what you’ve written.
The truth is that publishers have to make money. If they don’t think an idea will make money, no matter how good it is, then they will likely pass. This isn’t your fault and you shouldn’t let it discourage you. If you’re looking to publish, you can always self-publish to get it out there. Then, just write something else. You can always follow the money with your writing, but it shouldn’t be ever be your only end goal.
As a writer, following your passion is all you should be doing. Your writing is going to be better when you’re not writing just to publish. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have publishing as a writing goal. What it means is that when you sit down to write, don’t worry about the publishing being the end goal. Passion is everything with any art, and it especially shows in writing. Writing what you know and love is what drives a writer to create. If you’re not driven to create, then you’re going to have a hard time writing. It’s as simple as that.
So, with these six important questions answered, get out there and just write!