A Beginner’s Guide To Writing

A Beginner’s Guide To Writing

Many of the questions I receive in my e-mail inbox are from writers who are just starting out. These questions are from writers who have recently had an epiphany that they were meant to be writers; or they have always known they were writers, but had always postponed it and now have finally decided to embrace their passion and take it seriously.

So, today, I’d like to address these beginning writers and answer their most pressing questions.

Here we go:

“Hey Ollin, I’m a beginning writer.”

That’s awesome! Welcome to the writing community. It is a very supportive and loving community, as you will soon discover. Sure, there will be some bad apples, but don’t pay them any mind. Most of us writers are really cool people.

(Oh and by the way: just admitting that you are a writer is a very brave step. You should be very proud of yourself!)

“I don’t know if I’m good enough to be a writer, though. How can a person tell if they are good enough to be a writer?”

You know, believe it or not, I get asked this question a lot.

Look: everyone is good enough to be a writer. Everyone is always “good enough” to be something. But what they may not be is “skilled enough,” “experienced enough,” “mature enough,” “passionate enough,” or “practiced enough.”

So, for now, just assume that you are good enough to be a writer. If you have a passion for writing, feel free to begin to write.

But, further along the journey, you might wonder whether or not your writing is improving. When that is the case, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I practiced enough? How many hours have you put into actually writing? How long have you been taking writing seriously? If you haven’t practiced writing very long, you may need to give yourself more time to gain experience: practice a bit more. No writer (or artist) ever became good without years of practice.
  • Have I studied writing enough? Have you taken classes, read books, or worked with a writing mentor for a considerable amount of time? If you haven’t done any of that, then you may need to take some classes, read some writing books, or work with a mentor for some time in order to improve your writing. (For those considering doing a graduate program in creative writing please read: Is Getting A Masters In Creative Writing Really Worth It? As far as writing books go, I recommend Larry Brook’s Story Engineering and Victoria Mixon’s The Art and Craft of Fiction.)
  • Have I allowed myself to attain a certain level of “writing maturity”? I would define “writing maturity” as making a whole lot of mistakes and seeing what those mistakes got you. In a way, you can’t become a mature writer unless you tried a lot of stuff that really bombed, and then, afterwards, learned from those mistakes and improved. So, on top of practicing and studying craft, allow yourself to make a whole lot of mistakes, make note of them, and then try not repeating them again. That’s maturity.

“How do I find a great writing mentor?”

I recommend you read:

4 Helpful Tips For Finding A Really Great Mentor

“I want to learn from writing coaches, teachers, and books, but how do I know who is a real authority I can trust, and who’s a fake?”

I recommend you read my interview with former editor of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman, for the answer to that question:

Who Has Authority Online?

“How do I know if my book/book idea is good enough?”

If you’ve completed your manuscript, you should have people read your book. Have friends and family you trust and experts in the field give you honest and constructive feedback.

If you are at the “idea stage” of your manuscript, and are not sure about it, ask yourself: “Am I absolutely in love with this idea?”

If you are, then I would recommend that you get started on bringing that idea to life right away.

(If you aren’t absolutely in love with your current idea, then you might want to read “Hooked On The Right Idea” to find out how you can find an idea that you ARE absolutely in love with.)

“I’m having trouble setting up a regular writing routine, how do I manage to start one?”

The following posts should help you with this problem:

How to Get Off Your Lazy Butt and Start Writing Already

The Secret To Staying Loyal To Your Writing Schedule

10 Ways To Stay On The Writing Fast Track While You’re On It

“How do I find the time to write?”

Read the following posts for help on this:

4 Essential Elements of A Writing Schedule That Works For You

Don’t Try To Make It “Easy.” Just Try To Get It Done.

The 4 Hour Novel: How To Balance Work, Life, Blogging, and Your Passion (For those of you with really busy schedules.)

“How do I keep up my motivation to write on a daily basis?”

Please read:

10 Tricks To Motivate Yourself To Write—Right NOW

How To Make Yourself Write When You Really Really Really Don’t Want To

How To Cure Your Writer’s Block And Never Stop Being Productive–EVER

“How do I become a more disciplined writer?”

The image that comes to my mind when I hear the word “discipline” is always an unsettling one. It’s either an image of a surly dad taking off his belt and whipping a child, or an image of a nun smacking an unruly student with her ruler.

“Discipline” is a concept I despise because it never really works. We fail SO many times when we try to be more “disciplined.” This is because discipline always requires a punishment (or a moment of self-flagellation) if you fail at it.

Discipline is an idea left over from The Dark Ages that needs to be replaced with something more helpful and practical.

Let’s try this on for size:

You really don’t want to be a more disciplined writer—what you want to be is a more devoted writer. And the only thing that creates devotion is love: love for the work you do and love for the kind of person you are becoming. Love never leaves you feeling drained or so worthless that you can’t move forward (or so fearful that you feel incapacitated.)

That is why it’s so important that you find a story that you absolutely love to write. Trust me, if you love it so much you will never abandon it. Your love for it will keep you at that laptop typing away (even when it’s hard to do so).

“Anything else you want to say to a beginning writer like me?”

The best advice I can give you right now is just to begin. Begin to write.

Just start writing, and you will learn by doing.

much love,


If you’re a beginning writer: are there any other questions you have for me that I didn’t answer? If you’re not a beginner: what advice would YOU give to a beginning writer? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

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Categories: Writer's Journal