Image from Flickr by a.dombroswki
On a fairly regular basis, I get comments and emails from fledging writers who want to know:
- Where do I begin?
- How do I decide what to write about?
- Am I crazy to pursue this writing dream?
Often, these new writers don’t have much support from the people around them. Perhaps they don’t know anyone else who’s a writer (or aspiring writer). Maybe their spouse is critical about their writing, dismissing it as “scribbling” or “a waste of time.” Perhaps their parents tell them that they should take a law or medicine or accountancy degree and “get a real job.”
No wonder they worry that they’re crazy to want to write – especially if the impulse to write isn’t yet tied to an impulse to write a particular piece.
The good news?
If you’re in this position, you’re absolutely not crazy, and you’re not wasting your time.
If you dream of seeing your name on a book cover, or having your work read by thousands, or simply producing something you’re truly proud of, that’s a wonderful and worthwhile dream.
It might seem a long way off right now – but by making the decision to write, regularly, you’ll be getting closer every day.
Deciding to Write
Back in my own early days as a writer – when I was 11 or 12 – I often wanted to write but had no idea what to write about. I was used to begin given school assignments that told me what to do.
Whether you’re coming to writing as a teenager, a new graduate, or someone who’s just retired, I think the process is similar.
You want to write, and perhaps you’ve even set yourself a goal or resolution that’s related to writing … but you seem to have so many different options and choices, you just don’t know where to start.
We’re going to take a look at two easy ways to get into a regular writing habit. At the end of this post, I’ll be setting you a mini-challenge.
Starting #1: Using Competitions
One of the best ways to get your writing off the ground, especially if you’re planning to write fiction or poetry, is to look for competitions.
If you’re lacking confidence – and many new writers are – then don’t panic. You’re going to be using the competitions for inspiration, and you don’t have to enter them. (Though I hope you will!)
To find competitions, try:
- Writing-related magazines – here in the UK, Writing Magazine has monthly competitions, usually with a particular theme, topic or starting line. Many magazines will also advertise writing competitions.
- Searching online for “writing competition” (or “short story competition”, “poetry competition” etc) plus the name of your country.
- Asking fellow writers – on Twitter, Facebook, or forums. Many will be more than happy to share any interesting competitions with you.
By narrowing down your options from “write about anything at all” to “write something on this specific theme”, competitions make it much easier for you to come up with an idea. They normally also include restrictions on word length (e.g. short stories have to be under 2,000 words for many competitions) – and this can also help.
Don’t be afraid to start entering competitions early on during your writing journey. It might be a while before you win anything – but the practice of entering them will encourage you to polish your work to a high standard. (Many competitions have entry fees, though, so you may want to focus on free / cheap ones while you’re honing your craft.)
Starting #2: Using Prompts and Exercises
Many websites – and writing books – have prompts or exercises for you to try. These are fantastic ways to get moving with your writing: unlike competitions, they don’t necessarily require that you produce a full-length story, poem or article.
Online, some good websites for this are:
- The One-Minute Writer – however busy you are, you can at least spare a minute to write!
- Writer’s Digest – Creative Writing Prompts – great for novel beginnings, or for full short stories
- Poets & Writers – Writing Prompts – these are split into poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction
Two books you might want to try are:
- The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing, by Monica Wood (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk)
- The Five-Minute Writer: Exercises and inspiration in creative writing in five minutes a day, by Margret Geraghty (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) – this is the current Book Group read in Writers’ Huddle
The idea behind most prompts and exercises is that you pick one, set yourself a time limit (often just 5 – 10 minutes) and write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes, of course, you might feel inspired to write for longer … but it’s fine if you don’t.
You might like to try writing every day, or on certain days each week, with a new prompt or exercise. After a few weeks, look back and see which little pieces of writing might be worth developing into a longer piece – or which ones could be combined together.
Your Writing Mini-Challenge
For the next month, your challenge is to write for 30 minutes or more each week.
You might want to do that in several little chunks, or one bigger chunk. For instance, you could decide to:
- Write in your journal for at least five minutes each day (you can take one day a week off!)
- Try out two writing prompts every week, for 15 minutes each time
- Find one poetry competition to enter, and spend 30 minutes each week working on your poem
Leave a comment below to let us know what you’ll be doing!
LiveJournal also has a lot of places where you can find writing prompts.
You can also check out creative groups for a fandom you enjoy. The fandom I usually write for had a Halloween competition and we’re having a Christmas one too. We also did multiple daily challenges in which a person was in charge and would post a new prompt every day and we had until midnight to complete that prompt.
Or go to http://www.randompics.net and just keep hitting the “random” button until you find a picture that inspires you to write a story about it.
Another fun way to come up with a prompt is to go to http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/ and “spin” the Plot Machine. (For instance, my spin had “After saying ‘I don’t’ at the alter a one-armed fencing champion is trapped in an elevator with Dr. Phil.”)
LycoRogue’s last blog post ..Thanksgiving Week Was A Bust
Great tips, thank you!
I’d never come across Random Pics before, but it looks great. And LiveJournal is a fantastic resource too — thanks for mentioning it (I’ve never had a LiveJournal myself, but I’ve seen other writers respond to prompts there, seems like there’s a great community feel).
Another good one is to browse random galleries on Flickr, or go through a collection in The Commons. Write the story of a chosen photo!
Icy Sedgwick’s last blog post ..The Joy of Reading
Thanks, Icy! I think photos make for great prompts — there’s always a story there just waiting to be told.
Sound advice. 🙂 I just finished NaNoWriMo (I need to update everything to reflect the fact that I became a “winner”) but the words you say here ring true. Great post.
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Thanks Cyndi, and congrats on your NaNo win! 🙂
I have to think a long time about a story before I write it out with confidence.I guess I just need to know what’s going to happen so I don’t spend the writing time rambling on about nothing and not moving my story forward.
I decided to be a writer at a young age and now I’m at this point where I don’t care what other people think about my decision to be a writer. I figure that it’s my life and I might as well spend it doing something I enjoy.
Great Post, Ali.
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Shaquanda, I think you have absolutely the right attitude! We only get one life, after all.
I think some writers do need a lot of thinking time before setting pen to paper; it’s great that you know that this is your own process. Personally, I always find I think best with a pen in my hand, and I often explore possible story ideas and directions in a notebook — but there are lots of other ways to think (like daydreaming, or meditating, or simply doing something physical like chores / walking and waiting for ideas to come together).
Great post, Ali. Finding inspiration can be a writer’s biggest stumbling block.
I also suggest ‘mirroring’ for inspiration. To do this, think of something you’ve experienced — anything will do, like the romantic dinner that flopped, the car that broke down, the grade you got that was better than you expected, the best Christmas gift you ever got, etc. — and change some key point in the timeline to alter the result.
What a great tip — and one I’ve not come across before. Thanks, Stephen! 🙂
Thanks, Ali, for your words of inspiration: it really means a lot to me. I was not even aware that there are such opportunities available out there for creative self expression. A lot of people out there would be grateful to you for pointing out these facts. Your encouragement is what we have been looking for and it works for us. Hopefully, your suggestions will egg us on to the success we think we deserve. Cheers.
Glad you found this one helpful, Archan. All the best to you with your writing. 🙂
I just loved the photo you provided with this blog post: the symbolism is not lost on me. The beauty of your photo is such that it just takes your breath away. A peace descended over me and the spirit moved me. Thank You.
I would like to improve my writing skills, but I have no idea how to start and or develop a topic or an essay.
I am having hard time to write like few hundreds words about a topic or an essay. After writing few sentences I can not add more to my writing. Need your help