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6 Questions to Help New Writers Get Started

Before getting started on their writing journey, new writers often want to know where the blind spots are, what to look out for, and how to navigate the twists and turns. These 6 questions are common ones whose answers might prepare you to embark on this next exciting phase of your life in letters.

by Jenna Kalinsky

If only there were a map to guide you along your journey of becoming a writer. Sure, there are best practices, innumerable tools, and exhaustive pieces of advice and wisdom, but in the end, the only way to find your way and begin writing is to simply do it.

The one sure thing you can reliably know is this: the more you sit down (or stand- better for your back!) and write, the more you will write– and the better your writing will become. 

Still, because the journey is an unknown one, getting answers to some common questions may calm your mind and alleviate your concerns. Many new writers prior to getting started ask variations on the following 6 questions, and the answers, while more descriptive than prescriptive, may at least make you feel like you are in good company as you begin.

Like with life, writing is uncertain. But that said, if you feel the itch to explore your world in words, you will never regret doing it.

map with vintage photos and camera and plant

The 6 Most Common Questions to Help You Get Started as a New Writer:

1. What inspires people to write?

People are typically inspired by things that touch them personally. Emotions such as  love for another person or entity, appreciation for nature, heartache, and sorrow will typically cause a person to want to explore those feelings. 

Themes that resonate for a person like having gone through a particular trial or overcome adversity also will make them want to consider their thoughts and their relationship to them. 

The best way to get to know your own mind and arrive at clarity on a subject is by writing because the act of it takes you on a linear journey through your own thoughts.

Inspiration is endless; a person only need be alive to be inspired by the world they live in and that lives inside them.

Different inspirations also often lend themselves to different “vessels” or types of writing; for example:

  • Something very beautiful such as the effects of spring, the sound of rain, or the scent of a baby, or something horrible, such as the death of a loved one or a terrible injustice will commonly do well explored by “drilling down” in poetry
  • A more complicated situation that needs to be unspooled to make sense is often served by personal essay
  • Our imaginations and the ways we braid together “what if’s” with reality do great in short stories and novels
  • People who have a lot of expertise in a subject are often inspired to share their wisdom in a blog, which is short, or a book designed to inform people or help them live better.

Ultimately, every second of life is inspiring, but it’s the artists who see and feel that inspiration and then turn it into something meaningful, thereby making it an inspiration to someone else.

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2. Do people tend to write from imagination, personal experience, or both?

Creative writers love to fuse the real and the imaginary; all of the novels we know and love are typically a mixture of both, whether they’re realistic literary fiction or sci-fi fantasy. Many stories are sparked by something from the author’s real life. In fact, most novels are autobiographical to varying degrees, from a few borrowed elements all the way to almost entirely, but what makes a novel so exciting is that once it exists in some form on the page, it develops a life of its own and goes off and running- and then at that point, the writer is just chasing it, trying to catch up!

I think almost all fiction is intellectually autobiographical, insofar as it comes out of ideas that you find yourself inordinately preoccupied with.

Jared Marcel Pollen, in LA Review of Books

 

Nonfiction and memoirs, however, are entirely based on personal lived experiences. Those writers’ jobs are then to find artful and interesting ways to share their thoughts and illustrate their real life experiences so they feel vivid and real to the reader.

typewriter with brick

3. How common is writer’s block?

Probably every writer has experienced writer’s block to some degree. Writer’s block can arrive for different reasons, but those reasons all stem from doubt or fear: the nasty overwhelming feelings that can well up in a writer’s body and invade their thoughts, damaging their confidence and their feelings of being fit enough to achieve their vision.

“I think writer’s block is a bad name for a number of real problems facing writers, most notably of which is fear. Typically when I feel blocked, I’m really afraid. And almost always, that’s because my next step feels like a leap instead of just doing the next thing. If I feel stuck, I have to ask myself what am I really afraid of and is that really my next step? For example, if I’m working on a book and start to feel stuck, it’s usually because I’m doubting myself, wondering what right I have to talk about this topic. Who am I? But that fear is misplaced. It’s not the right time to worry about that. My job right now is to write the next 500 words, not worry what the critics will be saying a year from now. The way out of this mess is through...I write through the block. That may sound ridiculous, but even when you’re blocked you can still write...Momentum is a writer’s friend.”

Writer’s Block Due to Emotional Overload

It’s emotionally and intellectually challenging to hazard the heart, body, and mind while writing. You’re either “creating something from absolutely nothing,” or you’re turning something you’ve lived or know about into an artful and readable situation someone else can experience, which is also a heavy challenge.

It happens often that a writer may be cooking along with their work no problem, but if they pause and leave the “dream” of their story or ideas to consider the implications of their work, judge what is coming out of them, or look at their efforts through an imagined outsider’s eyes, they may become overwhelmed, which can lead to feeling truly stuck.

Writer’s Block Due to Performance Anxiety

Writer’s block can also come from our fear that we’re not very good writers, so we try to get ahead of our terrible drafts by editing them as we’re creating. 

As you’ll see in the video below, it is physically not possible to both create (which is intrinsically right-brained) and edit (which is strategic and left-brained) simultaneously and get… anywhere. Trying will typically lead to frustration and a big fat episode of writer’s block.

Sometimes people get writer’s block so bad they stop writing for a while or altogether, which is quite tragic.

Professional writers, or truly tenacious writers, however, are largely able to keep going through bouts of block because they have learned along the way how to cope with it when it strikes. 

 

Treating writing like a job, as opposed to something you can put down and walk away from, helps a lot. It’s true that writers are particularly challenged in ways other professionals are not, but nonetheless, it helps to see the situation this way: If a person in any other profession gets a crisis of confidence or feels insecure about their abilities, they still have to go to work and find a way to address their feelings or work through them. 

No one has ever heard of “doctor’s block” or “plumber’s block” because even if doctors or plumbers or farmers or any other professionals go through feelings of uncertainty, they still have to go to work. 

Professional writers tend to take a long-game or pragmatic approach to having their (very reasonable) feelings. They will recognize their feelings as legitimate, but at the same time they “make peace with their doubt” by putting these moments into perspective: they’re just feelings, and they’ll pass eventually.

They may also pull out one of the many tools that help them through their block (like anxiety reappraisal, which is a great one!)

Lastly, if the feelings don’t pass in due time, the writers will take a break from that particular project to cleanse their mental palate, so they can return to their work, refreshed.

4. What’s the most difficult part about writing?

crumpled book pages

There are innumerable challenges new writers face when getting started (and that continue to be issues to manage throughout your practice) from practical, such as making the time, to emotional, such as managing your feelings. 

The good news is there are strategies you can use to make nearly all of the challenges that come with writing surmountable.

  • Finding the time in an already busy schedule to do your work
  • Sitting still and sinking into a state where you are immersed in your ideas to the point of not knowing or caring about the world around
  • Writing freely without judging the quality of your writing, which requires a lot of discipline given that your first thoughts will almost always be messy
  • Having to move from freely generating new material to analytically sculpting and artfully designing the work into its ultimate purpose 
  • For business or academic writers, having to find the right tone and platform through which to address a specific audience with authority and warmth along with presenting thorough research to back the ideas 


    And the list goes on- 

The most difficult thing of all is letting yourself give over to the process. But once you do that, it is freeing, stimulating, and thrilling- worth every single one of the small obstacles that may get in your way. 

several cups of coffee view from above

5. What is the most important thing to remember when writing?

Before you begin writing, doing a little mental/emotional self-care is smart as it sets you up for a more successful writing session.

1) Remembering that you are strong, capable, and interesting and that what you have to say is valuable is a great way to set yourself up for success.

2) Taking a moment to really appreciate that by sitting down and writing, even or especially when the writing is hard, and adding your voice to the universal conversation, you are part of something special. Many, many people say they want to write, but only a few actually sit down and do it. That act alone sets you apart and enfolds you in a particularly awesome group of individuals both now and throughout history.

3) Remembering the commitment you have made to yourself before you begin writing and any time you pause because the writing gets hard, you feel stuck, or you feel unsure, will invariably help you push through.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”

What you should be holding in your mind while writing depends on where you are in your drafting.

First Draft:

When you’re working on a first draft, you should remember absolutely nothing! This is the time when you should sit back and let your unconscious mind roam free as that’s where the energy is. Free, unencumbered thoughts always yield the best material.

You might try to steer yourself a bit by jotting down your topic or something you want to aim for plot-wise, but that’s pretty much it.

Second + Draft:

Later, when you’re revising, you might want to remember logistical things about where you are in the story, what your goal for the scene or section is, and how you want to bring your narrative voice onto the page. 

In subsequent drafts, you will also want to not have to remember everything as it will be too much, so you can use a style sheet, which helps you keep track of character development and appearance, settings, story points, and even spellings and word usages so you remain consistent. 

A style sheet is like a “bible” for a longer work and a highly useful tool. Use ours, or make your own!

chicago manual of style

6. Is there such a thing as a “bad” piece of writing?

Definitely. Every first draft ever written, with rare exception, is a mess. That’s why we don’t publish our first drafts- we publish our 40th drafts! 

Writing is a process, and in a way, it’s freeing to know that your first “dump draft,” when you’re first getting the ideas out of your brain and onto the page, is always going to be a disaster, and that the sculpting phase, all the work that happens next, is where the art comes in, and that’s when you turn that raw material into something amazing.

(This is also why we have editors- we make writers look good!) All the best writers in the world use editors to ensure their ideas come across the way they intend. That second set of eyes is hugely important, and also part of a healthy, thriving writing process.

Check out what an editor can do for you to keep you steady and your work en pointe, clear, clean, and ready for its readers.

None of these 6 questions can be answered in such a way as to define your process when you get started on your writing journey, but for a new writer, they can light your way, clear a path, and let you know you’re in the very best company as you forge ahead with your work. 

Any time you feel adrift, wishing you had someone to guide your process or be in hand to be your literary partner, collaborator, and editor, please reach out. We are here to help you achieve all your writing goals as easily and with as much pleasure as possible. (Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about!)

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