How To Start Writing
I never considered myself a “real writer.”
But then I went to grad school for creative writing. And, while I loved those two years of workshopping essays and reading books I’d never heard of, I discovered something even more important in that classroom: I was already a “real writer,” and I didn’t need a degree or job title to call myself one.
You see, writing isn’t just for authors, nor is it reserved for people who get paid to write (though, if you’re writing for a publication or business, they should be paying you). You can even be a writer who doesn’t want to publish your work. For some, writing is a deeply personal practice and a form of reflection and self-care.
I say all of this because my hunch is that many of you may not yet consider yourself writers. And perhaps that’s true—maybe you are picking up the pen for the very first time. But my bet is that most of you are like me, and have been creating stories since you can remember. And guess what? You are a writer. In fact, you’ve always been one—published or not—you just need a few tips a bit of encouragement to help get your words onto the page.
1. Start Reading
If you’ve spent time in writing circles, you’ve probably heard the saying that good writers are also voracious readers. And it’s true. Some of the greatest writers are both well-read and well-versed in various styles and genres.
Books are one of the very best teachers, especially when the prose challenges the way we think about storytelling. Authors from different places and time periods can expand our literary horizons, and reading outside of our usual genre can help us to think more critically about our own writing.
Think about these books as tools; read them to grow, and approach the text through a writing lens, marking any notable style and structure choices. (I personally find it helpful to write in the margins and use sticky notes for annotations.)
However work best for you, analyze and consider the various forms of writing, and let these works teach you about different narrative forms. Who knows, you may find a short story collection from the 18th century inspires your first novel!
These books for writers can help you get started by pointing you to authors who’ve mastered their craft. Alternatively, and because time can be hard to come by, literary journals with short-form stories and essays are easy to digest regularly. I recommend Literary Hub, Tin House archives, and The New Yorker.
2. Prepare Your Writing Materials & Workspace
While you don’t have to buy new materials to start a writing practice, I find that investing in writing tools makes my practice feel serious, official, and more fun.
A few of my favorite supplies include notebooks, sticky notes, freshly sharpened pencils, blue light glasses, and a special coffee mug I reserve just for writing. I also love decorating my desk with inspiring quotes from authors I love.
Whatever you decide to bring to the writing-table (you really only need a pen and paper, or your computer), prepare your workspace by dusting it off and setting out your supplies in advance. Like with any project, it’s helpful to have a designated space that is distraction-free. This will send a signal to your brain that it’s time to write.
(Oh, and to help with internet distractions, I highly recommend the SelfControl app.)
3. Use Writing Prompts
So you’ve read a few books, and your space is ready for writing. But what are you supposed to write about? The answer is, whatever you want! Easier said than done, I know. Writing prompts can help with this, and even the most experienced writers use them for inspiration and fresh ideas. Two of my favorite are:
Fiction: Write a short story from the perspective of an inanimate object in your home.
Nonfiction: Write a scene based on a recent encounter with a stranger.
4. Set Small Writing Goals
Writing is all about the long-game, and you’ll quickly discover that revisions and edits are your friends. Drafting is generally fun, as it’s an opportunity to let your words flow freely. It’s also your chance to create ridiculously long and superfluous sentences stuffed with adverbs, adjectives, and the like—just because!
Sometimes though, drafting isn’t so simple. This can be because of writer’s block, stress, distractions, or our tendency to self-edit as we write (guilty!). Setting small goals can help with this.
Maybe you want to write a book this year? That’s great! In “Before and After The Book Deal,” author Courtney Maum points out that a ninety-thousand-word novel “can be written over a year by writing three hundred fifty words on each day of the workweek.” (Weekends excluded!) She goes on to point out that that’s basically the length of a long-winded email.
The point is, it’s great to have a large goal—like writing a novel in a year. But it will be easier to achieve your goal if you break it down. Small writing goals lead to completed projects. While not all of us can write thousands of words a day, we can write a few hundred.
Just make sure to reward yourself when you reach your goals. Celebrate both your large and small achievements. Two of my favorite rewards for writing include a trip to my local bookstore and scheduling in some extra time for self-care.
5. Create A Realistic Writing Schedule
My writing schedule changes depending on the season. Currently, I’ve been setting my alarm for an hour earlier so that I can write before the workday. (This works about 50% of the time.)
Though writing goals and schedules are essential and something we can all use more of, it’s important to remember that life gets in the way—but that doesn’t make you less of a writer.
This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. I’ve had to release my notion that writing requires I sacrifice everything for my craft. The fact is, we get tired and busy. Some of us have kids, or we work multiple jobs. Sometimes, the writing has to wait.
What we can do is create realistic schedules and goals. If you’re able to set your alarm for an hour earlier, great. If not, that’s okay, too. Write when you can, even if it means scribbling down a few sentences while the coffee brews or while you wait in a checkout line. Every minute (or word, rather) counts. If you miss a day, there is always tomorrow.
6. Publish Your Writing (If You Want To)
Finally, and my favorite part, consider publishing your work. After you’ve poured your heart onto the page and spent the necessary hours editing and revising, take a risk and give your story a home.
You can publish it on a personal blog, in a newsletter, or by sending it to a literary journal. Submittable and Substack are great places to start. You can even take tips from professional freelancers and get paid for your stories!
This step can be scary, especially if you’re new to the writing craft, but I’d urge you to push through any feelings of fear. You are a writer, after all! You’ve done the hard work; now it’s time to let readers enjoy it. xx
Do you have your own writing tips or stories you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below; I’d love to read and support your work! 💛
Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.