I’ve been doing this writing thing seriously now for a few years. I am far from the perfect writer, and I am continually working on my craft to improve, so I don’t want this post to come across to anyone that I am the great writing guru imparting knowledge to the poor souls who toil aimlessly with their words.
But I do have some experience, and I have witnessed what I feel are some real mistakes that young writers can make.
Without going into any specifics because I certainly don’t want to call anyone out, but I’ve come across some circumstances of young indie authors who should not YET be indie authors. I’ve read some cringe-worthy synopsis and book openings which were sorely lacking. The mistakes have ranged from misspellings of simple proper names, factually incorrect information, and a meandering writing style that talked about everything but the actual point of the story. I did not laugh at their mistakes because they aren’t funny. I felt for them. I applaud their passion for writing, but they are lacking the preparation needed to get their writing to a stage where it should be published. This led me to think of a few ideas which might help young writers (or inexperienced writers) to know whether or not if they are ready to publish. So here goes:
1) Seek help and advice. Young writers should be looking for a writing mentor who can give them pointers, read part of their manuscript for input, and help them feel confident that a manuscript is ready. The last thing a young writer should be doing is sending a manuscript to print when it isn’t ready or when the writer himself isn’t ready. Self-publication makes it too easy, and it’s way too tempting to just “get your writing out there.” It sounds like the right thing to do, but it’s not. You can quickly shoot yourself in the foot by putting your name on something that people will not read or will quickly pan as amateurish. So before you publish, seek advice from someone who knows.
2) Take advice. This is harder than seeking advice. Young writers often want to be encouraged but they often aren’t quite ready to hear the truth – their writing isn’t ready yet. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 45. That’s after I had been writing drama for about seven years and after I had twenty-some years of living overseas, accumulating loads of different experiences. There’s no right age to publish, but don’t rush it if you’re young.
3) Have someone rip apart your manuscript, or at least a section of it. Words, sentences, structure, plot, spelling, syntax – everything! Use this painful exercise to understand your tendencies both good and bad. Belief me, this isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. I remember getting back a manuscript with red marks literally all over it, but, boy, did I learn from it. I have improved tremendously in my self-editing skills through this process. My latest novel came back quite clean from my editor because of this. I know what to look for and what I tend to do. It helps a lot.
4) Be a learner. You’re young. You don’t have as many experiences as someone in their forties. Read, grow, try, do, watch, experience, explore, imagine. Just write. All kinds of things. Try new directions and genres. Find a niche you are good at and you are passionate about. Keep at it and continually get feedback from others.
5) As you write, remember to keep your approach simple. Don’t try to sound pretentious or wordy. Don’t be Charles Dickens or Henry James (please no!). Be yourself.
6) In your simple approach, remember to keep every detail RELEVANT to the story. This is extremely important, and it’s a big mistake that many writers make. I remember when I was starting a story by describing a sunset and trying to be so poetic and wordy. But in reality, the sunset had nothing important to say about the story. Many young writers try to describe things which don’t need to be described. It’s one thing to practice your descriptive writing – that’s a good exercise – but it’s quite another to try to sound like you’re a good writer because you can describe a wind-worn wheat field in great detail. Trust me, nobody cares about the wheat field. Get to your story and stick to it. Cut and stay focused on what’s important.
I’m sure there are a lot of other important advice which can be given to young writers, but I hope these few words might be an encouragement to someone out there.
Most importantly, if you love to write, don’t stop writing. Just don’t publish it until you’re ready.