• Elan Cassandra

Newbie Writer FAQ

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

So you want to be a writer! That’s awesome. Writing can be an extremely fulfilling (and occasionally lucrative) pursuit. Because you’re new to all of this, I’m going to assume you have some things you’re wondering about.

I’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and provided answers. Remember--and I will say this time and again--most things you are told about writing by anyone, myself included, are only recommendations. Your job as an artist and individual is to take in the information and make decisions about which parts you do and don’t want to use.

Now let’s get into it.

“Where should I start if I want to be a writer?”

Write, of course! That’s the most important part. But more seriously, here are my suggestions.

  1. Write every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot; require of yourself that you sit down for at least five minutes. Use this time to play and explore. Experiment with different formats and genres.

  2. Read every day. Read everything you possibly can. As you do so, try to get a clearer sense of what you like and don’t like. What draws you in as a reader? What pushes you away? What genres do you enjoy? What themes do you connect with?

  3. Read (or listen to audiobooks and podcasts!) about the craft of writing. There are a lot of great books on writing that are filled with useful advice. As always, remember that it’s up to you to make your own decisions after you’ve taken in the information. You can find some of my favorite books on writing here.

  4. Have a variety of experiences and try new things. Live your best and fullest life. Even when writing the most out-of-this-world sci-fi or fantasy, you’re expected to showcase aspects of the human experience. So have meaningful human experiences and be honest with yourself about them. If you haven’t already, work on mindfulness and get in tune with your thoughts and feelings.

As you move forward in your writing journey, make sure you begin doing the following.

  1. Create a system to keep track of your ideas. This system should be easy to use so that you can get an idea down quickly and never lose it.

  2. Assess each process you try and take note of the ones that work for you. No two writers are the same, and every writer has a somewhat unique process. Start to figure out what makes writing fulfilling and achievable for you.

  3. Get clear on why you want to be a writer, and be honest with yourself about what your version of success would look like. This will help you determine the best type(s) of writing for you and provide a starting point for setting the right goals.

“How do I overcome procrastination?”

That’s a good and important question. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an easy answer. It’s going to depend on:

  1. What problem is the procrastination the symptom of?

  2. What are the things that work best for you when it comes to accountability?

Everyone is different, and we don’t all procrastinate for the same reasons. You might want to read my article on Medium, “How to Stop Avoiding Your Writing.”

“Where should ideas come from?”

Oh man, where don’t ideas come from? Again, no two writers are the same; there isn’t a right answer here. However, the following are often fertile ground for writing ideas:

  1. Experiences you’ve had

  2. People you’ve known

  3. Things you’re interested in

  4. News articles

  5. Podcasts

  6. Writing exercises

  7. Existing stories

  8. Existing characters

  9. The title of a book

  10. A bit of overheard conversation

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself to come up with the best idea. The truth is the ideas from which stories, poems, films, etc. grow, aren’t worth much on their own. The writer takes the idea, which is like a seed and grows it into something so much bigger and more complex.

If you’d like to read my article on exercises for coming up with ideas, you can do so here.

“How do I deal with writer’s block?”

You may not want to hear this, but the answer is very similar to how I’d suggest dealing with procrastination. You have to figure out why you’re feeling “blocked.” It’s a symptom, and you can’t treat it effectively until you diagnose the underlying cause. With that in mind, here are some common ones:

  • You’re putting too much pressure on your writing to be good

  • You’re putting too much pressure on your ideas to be good

  • You’ve gotten to a part of your project that you haven’t fully planned out

  • You’re afraid you’re not qualified or don’t know enough

  • You haven’t done enough research on a necessary subject

  • You’re afraid of failing

  • You’ve started to think of writing as work rather than play

Try to figure out what’s going on inside you and start to deal with those issues head-on.

“Do I have to be good at grammar and spelling?”

Absolutely not. Does the end product have to fit accepted grammar and spelling standards? Yes. However, you don’t have to be good at those things to be a writer.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of tools that will help you modify your work to the point that it’s more readable. Grammarly, for instance, has a great free option, which will even tell you a bit about your mistakes so that you can learn from them.

Regardless, before you publish something, you should have someone else proofread your work. If you don’t have money to spend but you do have a peer who excels in this sphere, feel free to pass your draft to them once you’ve done your initial checks. If you feel it’s worth it to spend the money, however, there are plenty of professional proofreaders who would love to fix your work for you.

“Should I write for myself or write for a reader?”

Do you want your work to be read? If you do, then you will have to at some point consider your readers and the experience you’re providing them. This is where books on writing come in. They help lay out some of the expectations readers have.

At the end of the day, the answer comes back to figuring out why you write and what your goals are.

“How do I plan out a novel or screenplay?”

There are many methods of planning out a novel, and no matter what anyone says, there is no one “right way” to do it. However, this question actually has two facets. You must decide:

  1. Which structure you use for your project

  2. What process you use to go from idea to draft. Some methods, like the Snowflake Method, cover both facets. You can read my article on the Snowflake Method here:

In terms of structure, you will need to construct a beginning, a middle, and an end. You will need to create an interesting main character who has to overcome obstacles in pursuit of what they want. Somewhere near the end of your story, that conflict will lead to a climax, which will lead to the resolution. In most stories, the journey creates a change within the main character.

When it comes to specifics beyond those broad strokes, there are a number of different structures you can use. Here is a brief overview.

Sometimes, the genre you write in will affect the way you structure your story. Genres come with expectations, and you’re going to need to learn those expectations so that you don’t leave your reader disappointed.

When it comes to the process of going from idea to finished novel there is much variation from writer to writer. Some people lay out every aspect in advance in a rigid and systematic way, planning everything down to the scene before they begin their first draft. Other writers do plan their story out ahead of time, but they do so in a more free-form way, perhaps with different exercises that work their way towards the story they want to tell. Another set of writers tends to write by the seat of their pants. They do only a minimal amount of planning before they start writing. This method often, but not always, results in more required rewriting following the first draft to make up for issues that weren’t worked out ahead of time.

You’re going to have to develop the process that works for you. If you're not sure where to start, you may want to read my post, "How YOU Plan Your Writing Process: considerations for developing your own unique writing process."

“How do I plan out a screenplay?”

The answer is much the same as to the question about planning a novel. The expectations are a little more strict when it comes to screenplays, however, if for no other reason than the time constraints. A film is shorter than a novel. Standard American films are expected to be a certain length, and there are accepted ways of plotting a screenplay so that it hits the expected beats within the expected timeframe.

If you want a very clear view of standard screenplay structure, check out Screenplay by Syd Field. If you want to try out different methods of getting from idea to screenplay, check out the two books on screenwriting on my recommended reading page.

“How do I find my writing voice and style?”

Write a lot. Play around. Find what feels good for you. In the beginning, it can be tempting to try to imitate someone else’s writing style, but that’s unnecessary and unproductive. People will eventually read your writing because of the way you bring yourself to it.

Try not to be too conscious about voice at the start. Let it develop naturally. As you write, take note of your habits, and as you read the work of other writers, start to become conscious of your preferences. Again, don’t try to imitate another author’s style; just take it in. The more you’ve read, the more you’ll have in your tool belt, consciously and subconsciously.

“How do I get my work published or sold?”

It’s going to depend a lot on the format in which you’re writing. If you’re writing something you would like to become a book, you will also have to make the decision of whether to try for a standard publisher or self-publish. There are upsides and downsides to both.

However, right now when you’re at the beginning of your journey is not the time to think about selling or publishing. Now is the time to grow as a writer.

Final thoughts

When it comes to creative pursuits, there are often no right answers. There is only advice; you must choose what to do with it.

If you have any other questions that you think should be added to this list and answered, I’d love to know. Please reach out to me at writer@elancassandra.com.

For more on living life as a writer, consider checking out my Patreon at patreon.com/elancassandra.

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