“But what if this isn’t any good?”
Re-read it. How does it sound, in your mind? Does it make you cringe? It happens more often than you might think. But here’s the thing: That’s fine! Believe it or not, if we don’t acknowledge our mistakes (such as our cringe-worthy writing), we can never hope to improve. And if we give up entirely, there won’t be anything to improve upon. But ask yourself this: “Who am I writing this for?” If your answer fits squarely along the lines of “a potential future audience, hopefully of millions,” then guess what. . . they haven’t read it yet! And they’re not going to, until you publish it. So if you just hammered out a chapter, chances are not all of it will make you cringe when you re-read it. Some of it, you might actually be quite proud of. And for those passages that do make you cringe, you can re-write them! That’s what the editing/revising phase is for. As you tackle a session, trying to reach a word-count goal or a time goal, give yourself permission to write badly. It is far better to do so, and edit later, than to just give up on a project and not write at all. In two months or in five years, what will you be more proud of: having plowed through it and created something you can shape and edit, or having thrown in the towel? Make your future self proud and cringe for a moment.
“Writing is for talented people who were born with a gift or know how to market themselves.”
Wrong. Just wrong! Writing is for expressing your ideas and your stories through the medium of the written word, and nothing more. Yes, there are critics and teachers and standards that make it seem like there is some sort of mold that cannot be broken. . . a path or a set of ideals that we are made to believe (by mainstream trends and industry measurements) we must follow. Break it. Go beyond it. I’m not speaking of the rules of grammar necessarily, but even if I was, take a look at a book called Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston. Here we have a bestselling author who, in this book and others, shatters all notions of quotation marks and the traditional system of writing dialogue. But it’s actually a quite compelling read, and at no point do you question who said what, or when. And as for talent or gifted, believe it or not, simplicity is sometimes the absolute best route to take in writing fiction (and certainly non-fiction). Yes, flowery prose may have ruled the roost back during the Romantic era, but then along came writers such as the immortal Ernest Hemingway, whose prose has often been described as terse and lean. You don’t have to verbally paint the picture of a perfect summer day, or embellish every detail of a small New York apartment. . . just tell us a good story. As for marketing, I see it this way: If you are truly passionate about what you’re doing (i.e. writing your story), then you are going to focus initially and primarily on finishing your product. And if you believe in your finished product, and your passion for getting your work out there is still as strong as your passion for writing, you are going to feel compelled enough to do the research, pouring through website after video after article about the how’s and why’s and do’s and don’t’s of marketing. The hours will fly by as you do so, and you will be driven to learn. Yes, it takes work, and yes, you’re going to find it daunting, but you’ll get through it. If you’re truly passionate about writing, you will make the efforts, and you will push. Sometimes there are just no ways around hard work and dedication, and I’m sorry, but the same is true for writing.
“I don’t know what to write about.”
Let’s go back to Hemingway for just a moment. He was once quoted as saying, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” If you’re worried about wrapping your mind around the philosophical ramifications of what is truth and what is not, or how “truth” relates to its distant cousin “fact,” then just ignore that one word for a moment. Come up with a sentence. Give it a shot. Jack Bowman knelt down to pick up the baseball that had just dented the door of his car. There’s one. Here’s another: “Why would you even say something like that?” asked Amy. Let’s try one more: I was only twenty-four when I died. Okay okay, just one more: The whispery voices seemed to be coming from the back of the walk-in closet. There. That’s it. That’s all it takes. Distill Hemingway’s advice down to a mere “Write one sentence,” and just take it from there! It really can be that easy. Do the whole “journey of a lifetime begins with a single step” thing. Follow up your sentence with another (do try to make it related to the first one, though). Then do another. And another. . . and a few more. Heck, you can even take one of the sentences I just wrote. . . I promise I won’t sue you! And let’s say you stretch your opening sentence into a paragraph or two. Where do you take it from there? You have three options at this point. You can throw the whole page in the garbage and never think or speak of it again. You can sit and do some more exploratory writing, just winging it as you go until you get stumped. . . and when you get stumped, you can transition from this option into option 3: You can take the time to write out a rough outline of where the story is heading, with characters and events and as much or as little detail as you want or need (option 3 is a technique used by writers who call themselves “plotters”). Once you have outlined a chapter or three, or a short story, then you can go back and fill in the details via the process of “writing.” Whatever you do though, and however you choose to do it, I only ask one thing of you: please have fun. This should be fun. If you’re not entertaining at least yourself, you probably won’t be eventually entertaining anyone else, either.