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At The Starting Line (Beginnings, part 1)

When I thought about where I wanted to start this blog, it seemed natural to start at the beginning. But the beginning of what?? The writing journey? The novel? And then--the first page? The first chapter? The first act? The beginning of the querying process or the self publishing process? There are a lot of beginnings.

In this post, I'll tackle that first one, but check back because the next post I do will be on that tricky first chapter. But for the moment, let's imagine you've just decided to sit down and write your first book. Maybe you've started that book, maybe you've finished it. Maybe you're already getting feedback from people you trust, but you're still learning a lot of craft basics. You're still learning about your process. You're still finding your voice. If that's you, then welcome! Writing can be a wild ride, so buckle up.

Here are the things I wish I'd known when I was just getting started. Hopefully you'll find something useful here.

  • Advice isn't a one-size-fits-all, so take what works for you, and stuff the rest in your toolkit (you never know when you might need it) and don't feel guilty because you don't do *the one thing everyone says you have to*. This includes anything I say on this blog!

  • Don't compare yourself to others. That book you just read by that famous, well-established author? A professional editor went over it multiple times to make it shine like that. A writing friend got an agent with their first book? That doesn't mean your book is destined to collect dust.

  • Read, especially within the genre(s) you want to write. It's important to know the genre conventions and reader expectations if your goal is publishing. If your goal isn't publishing, then read anyway because do you really need an excuse?

  • Craft books are great! Some of my favorites are Romancing The Beat by Gwen Hayes, the entire thesaurus series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (but especially The Emotional Wound Thesaurus--it can be triggering so be aware), and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.

  • If you can't get your hands on craft books, Google is your friend. Searching "deep POV" or "how to write great dialogue" will give you a number of blog posts. Sometimes you have to sift through a bunch before it clicks, but this is a great and free way to learn craft.

  • Don't try to learn everything all at once! If this is your first book, maybe concentrate on story beats, then do a revision round where you really work on that deep POV. Eventually you'll get all this stuff down in the first draft, but it might take some time before it becomes your default setting.

  • Getting and giving feedback is an artform but it will help you improve your writing. If you work with a couple of other writers who are at about the same place as you, you can level up together. If you want to work with a writer who is a little further along in the writing journey, try applying for a mentorship.

  • The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. The second (and third, and fourth, and...) draft is where you tell the story to the reader.

  • Don't be afraid to write poorly.

  • Chase joy--write what makes you happy. There will still be bad days, but they won't suck as much.

  • Find your community, but use boundaries as needed.

  • If you're stuck on on a blank page, try dropping your main character into an "oh f*ck" moment, where something goes wrong. You can always change it later, but giving your character something to react to and make a decision then take action about can get you back on track.

And lastly:

  • Write. It's the only way to get better.

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