Last week, I did a virtual consultation with someone who, with the support of her family, is ready to take the step of getting started as a writer. Writing had been a big part of her life in the past, but as she moved into different life stages, it faded into the background.
Now, she is ready to get started again . . . but how? She has an idea for a story but isn’t sure how to figure out the plot. Managing time and keeping writing from being that thing that keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list are both challenges.
On top of that, she’s fighting the demon of self-doubt, wondering whether or not this endeavor is worth starting.
Her story really resonated with me. Although I’ve been writing professionally for seventeen years, I still deal with all of those issues. Experience doesn’t end the struggles with approaching a new project or lacking confidence. What happens is that the longer you write, the more tools you get to face those challenges.
I’m also betting that her experiences are striking a chord with you, too. I wanted to write a blog post for this woman and anyone else who wants to start writing but isn’t sure how.
I’m going to give you some tips in a minute, but first, I want to be very clear on one thing.
Yes, you should be writing. It’s worth it. And you are more than capable of taking this thrilling step.
People who want to write aren’t doing it because they want to be the next bestseller or win recognition and accolades. Those things are nice, but they shouldn’t be your primary concern. People who want to write get a joyful rush from stories that create a specific experience for readers combined with language that crackles with energy.
Moreover, they want to impact readers’ lives by sharing their work. Or maybe they want to write for themselves, processing life events and enjoying the quiet moments of being creative alone.
Whichever of these descriptions applies to you, this venture is not only worth it, but it will transform you beyond your expectations.
Having said that . . . here are some tips to help you get started writing while developing confidence in the good work you are beginning.
How to Find Inspiration
Deciding to be a writer is one thing, but knowing what you want to write about is the toughest decision you’ll make in getting started.
One essential skill to develop is to be observant of the world around you. You’re probably thinking about taking walks in nature and studying the wonders of your environment. Yes, that’s important, but studying relationships and observing the energy and conflict between people and society is equally vital.
Flannery O’Connor famously wrote that “The writer should never be ashamed of staring.” Obviously, don’t physically stare at people—that’s rude, and your mom would NOT be happy. What O’Connor means by this is to be attentive and think critically about what you see. This real-world knowledge will be critical as you begin writing and may even spark some ideas.
Your personal experiences are also a great source of inspiration. What struggles have you dealt with that you can use to develop a story or share as nonfiction? What people have impacted you? Telling your own story is a great path to take to become a writer.
Most importantly, whatever you write about, write about something that excites you. If you don’t feel energized by your idea, it may not be worth pursuing. But your reader will share your excitement if you are passionate about what you want to write.
Start with a Small Project
Most people I talk to who are getting started with writing want to write a novel. That’s a noble endeavor, and it very well may be an idea worth taking on.
However, unless a novel is the thing that makes you most excited about writing, starting with a smaller project is the best approach to take.
There are several benefits to starting small. First, small projects allow you to build confidence and gradually develop your writing skills. You’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep going by completing smaller tasks. This can also help you refine your writing style and experiment with different genres and techniques without feeling overwhelmed.
Moreover, small projects can be completed in a shorter timeframe, allowing you to experience the satisfaction of finishing a writing project sooner rather than later. This can be a great source of motivation and encouragement to continue on your writing journey. If you jump in full force with a novel, it’s more likely that you’ll flame out too soon, lose your momentum, and open a door for discouragement to set in.
The advice I give to authors I mentor is this: if you want to write fiction, start with a short story. If you are a nonfiction writer, start with a personal essay.
If you already have an idea for a novel, the added benefit is that writing a short story can serve as a “spin-off” that helps you discover more about the characters and plot.
Taming Self-Doubt and Building Your Confidence
Sylvia Plath once wrote, “The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt.” This is true. Again, there’s no expiration date on this challenge. You’ll continue to fight it throughout your writing journey, so learning how to build your confidence is essential.
The key to overcoming fear and embracing confidence in your writing is acknowledging and confronting your doubts head-on. This happens by reminding yourself that you have a unique voice and perspective worth sharing. One thing that helps me is to remember that my writing is not primarily for myself—it’s for the people reading it. If my mission is to write something they can draw strength from, I can’t back down. Self-doubt is a feeling that can stop me from pursuing the needs of my readers, not a reality.
Remember: writing is a process. All of us write bad stuff, from beginners to professionals. The only way to get better is to embrace imperfection and keep going. If you mess up, it’s okay. If you want to start over or experiment with a different writing style, that’s fine, too. There is nothing at stake and no rules. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them.
Making Writing a Habit
Now that you have taken the first steps to becoming a writer, developing a writing habit will keep you on track and consistently working towards your goals. Establishing a daily writing routine is crucial for staying motivated and progressing in your craft.
Yet, time is the number one issue I find new writers needing help with. Starting as a writer means introducing a new element into your already-packed schedule. So, how does that work?
First, find a dedicated writing space where you feel comfortable and inspired. Having a designated space can help you get into the writing mindset. This doesn’t have to be setting-related. Using a particular pen or writing in a specific app on your computer can also signal to your brain that it’s time to be in creative mode.
Another key to this is to remove distractions from your writing environment. Turn off your phone or put it on silent mode, close unnecessary tabs on your computer, and let those around you know you need uninterrupted writing time. A distraction-free zone will help you focus and dive deep into your writing.
Next, set aside a specific time each day to write. Consistency is key, so aim to write at the same time every day, even if it's just for a short period. It doesn’t have to be three hours. It doesn’t even have to be one hour. Even fifteen minutes of working on your writing can give you a burst of productivity, creativity, and confidence.
Another good approach is setting goals for your writing sessions. This could be a specific word count, a chapter to complete, or a certain amount of time dedicated solely to writing. By setting goals, you'll have a clear target to work towards and a sense of accomplishment when you reach them.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. Writing is a journey that is not a straight line. Not every day will be productive or inspiring. Accept that some days will be more challenging than others, and that's okay. Give yourself permission to have off days, but commit to consistently showing up and writing.
What Do I Do Now?
Practicing these tips is a great start, but if you’re anything like me, you may have discovered that you need some guidance.
I learn best when I have a teacher or mentor, and I want people who need this to have that resource.
That’s why I offer a writing mentorship program as part of my services at Inkling Creative Strategies.
Through a writing mentorship, you’ll spend six weeks meeting with me once per week to talk about your work, receive feedback, and discuss what steps you need to take to become better at your craft. The goal is that by the end of the six weeks, you
will have a completed draft of a short story, essay, or group of poems that you can continue exploring and working on.
Plus, for December and January only, you’ll receive a 30% discount on mentorship enrollment.
If you’re looking for a gift for an aspiring author in your life, this is it.