By Lisa Amstutz
True confession: It took me 10 years to work up the courage to write for publication. During those years, I thought about writing. I read about writing. I talked about writing. I did everything but actually write. What if no one liked my work? Worse yet, what if they did? Where would I start? The fears and questions paralyzed me, and cost me 10 years of my writing life.
Here are five things I wish someone had told me at the time. If you find yourself in the same boat, I hope you will take them to heart. The world needs your stories!
Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You
It took a significant birthday to make me realize I was more afraid of never writing than I was of writing. Don’t wait around for that moment—do whatever it takes to get past your fear. Start small if you like—write something for a newsletter or a letter to the editor at a local newspaper. Write a short story and share it with a few friends and loved ones. Or use a pen name.
Sometimes fear doesn’t look like fear. It looks like excuses. I don’t have time to write. There’s already a book about that topic. I didn’t study writing in school. I have kids/a full-time job/housework to do. These thoughts may all be reasonable and true, but don’t let them keep you from trying.
Consider Yourself a Writer
I occasionally have the opportunity to mentor new writers. Many are tentative about calling themselves writers, just as I was. “If you write, you’re a writer,” I tell them. It’s really that simple. You don’t have to be published or specially trained. There’s no secret handshake. You may or may not be a good one yet, but if you write, you are a writer. And that’s a place to start.
Write Every Day
Everyone’s busy, I know. I am too. But if you want to write, choose to make it a priority in your life. Write a little every day, if possible. If time is limited, write on the subway, or dictate stories into your phone while driving. Keep a notebook by your bed and jot notes before you fall asleep. Write instead of watching a TV show. Find those snippets of free time in your life and use them to accomplish your goals.
At least 90% of writing is just sitting down and doing it. The rest is noticing the things around you and the feelings inside you, and finding the right words to express them. You’ll get better at it. But not unless you actually try.
Find a Tribe
My writing quality and output grew exponentially once I found a writing tribe. I joined a local writer’s group and SCBWI, took classes, attended workshops, and found online support. Other writers can provide the support, knowledge, and honest critique of your work that you need to grow as a writer and succeed. And on a practical level, preparing for a monthly critique meeting or class will give you a deadline and make you more productive.
If you don’t already have a writing tribe, look for local writer’s groups or organizations in your area. Take a writing class, attend a conference or workshop, or join a critique group. Look for Internet message boards and Facebook groups where you can connect with other writers.
Revise and Send Out Your Work
Once you’ve gotten some critiques on your work, revise and polish it until it’s the best you can make it. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and read your work aloud to yourself to see how it sounds. But don’t stop there. Get a copy of Writer’s Market and look for places to send it. Target your submission to editors or agents who are interested in your genre. You will get rejections—even big-name authors do. It’s OK. Pick yourself up and keep submitting.
Every writer started somewhere different—the important thing is that they started. Don’t let one more day go by without reaching for your dreams. Pick up your pen and write. You can do it!