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I've always wanted to start writing (in a totally amateur way), but whenever I want to start something I instantly get blocked having a lot of questions and doubts.

Are there some resources on how to start becoming a writer?

I'm thinking something with tips and easy exercises to get the ball rolling.

  • 1
    With writing, do you mean fiction or non-fiction? – Marcel Korpel Nov 18 '10 at 20:41
  • @Marcel, I was thinking fiction, but an answer to both would be great too – juan Nov 18 '10 at 20:43
  • Retagged per meta discussion: meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/8/… – justkt Nov 18 '10 at 21:59
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    No, no, no! Don't do that, @Juan. If you read about starting writing, you are reading, not writing. Because you are still not writing, you'll decide you should read more about it, and well, you are still reading. There is interesting stuff out there to improve your writing, but that means you have to start. Grab your pen/keyboard and start. Just write. If you have filled your first three pages with "I do not know what to write" it will become boring and you will write something meaningful. – John Smithers Nov 19 '10 at 15:13
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    There's an advice for beginning painters: "Imagine there is 10,000 bad pictures in you, which you must push out of yourself before you start drawing good stuff. So just draw a lot and don't worry that it's bad." The same applies to writing. There's roughly 10 bad books worth of bad writing in each of us and you need to write that away before you start writing good stuff. Of course learn, of course read, accept criticism, try to improve, but above all, write. – SF. May 7 '13 at 8:35

10 Answers 10

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When I'm thinking about where I learned most how to write, I think that reading was the most important guide to me. This may sound silly, but by reading good written newspaper articles (facts, opinions, scientific articles and most of all, criticisms of films and music), I learned how others did the job, what works and what doesn't. In my own writing, I try to mimic other people's styles that I liked. Moreover, I learn new things by reading, giving me a broader background that I need when reflecting a certain topic.

Every now and then I still read the free, local tabloid and recognize many mistakes I would have made when I would not have read quality material earlier in life. Of course there are books about journalistic writing and I read some (titles will be added later), but I guess that reading forms the best learning school until today.

I now see that I didn't answer your actual question about online guides, but I hope it's helpful after all.

  • Good advice, but: don't ever ascribe any type of infallibility to anything. The local tabloid isn't lesser material for a writer (which one can take your "quality material" remark as meaning), it's just that: material. Listening to an uneducated imbecile is as valuable to a writer as is listening to someone well-educated, intelligent and rethorically gifted. There's no such thing as "bad" material. You do have to learn how to use it w/o just emulating what you read. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 23 '10 at 0:04
  • @jae: I agree to a certain extend with you: of course one shouldn't disregard anyone because he is an uneducated person (that can be quite interesting, especially for e.g. journalists to get another vox populi), but my point was that if one never sees good (or better: excellent) material, one can't see what good writing could look like (and I'm speaking about non-fiction here, where one usually wants to send a message as easy and clear as possible). And I think I learned most by emulating (after all, every child learns by emulating). – Marcel Korpel Dec 23 '10 at 9:19
  • oh, of course you need to see "good" writing too (though good is also subjective). As to my uneducated remark: I probably should have made it clearer that I didn't mean it from the POV of a journalist, but of a fiction writer. There, the uneducated serves as raw material for, well, writing an uneducated character. Oh, and emulating can be dangerously close to plagiarism. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 23 '10 at 10:53
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BeginningWriters.com has some good articles for beginning writers.

http://beginningwriters.com/

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Have a look at 750words.com, maybe you'll find it useful. At least it's all about writing, not reading. (I agree with @John Smithers' comment)

  • Hey, great site - thanks for the link! Signing up - this looks like exactly what I need :) – Standback Jun 26 '11 at 6:16
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I particularly like The Snowflake Method and most of what Randy writes, including his book.

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Reading a lot and loving to read are most important of course, but have you tried writing-related podcasts?

Writing Excuses got me into writing fiction again. It's a short podcast about how to write fiction well and how to "break in" to the industry, from 3 guys who do and did. (I wrote a bit more about it on my blog)

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Writer's Digest has many good articles.

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I just wanted to add this resource as an answer for this question, even though the question is quite old, because the resource was created exactly for new writers to help them learn the craft of writing while writing their first novel.

Disclosure - this is my website.

https://www.novel-software.com/novelwritingroadmap

This is basically a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, starting with the premise and expanding it into a story skeleton, then synopsis, then full plot, with advice at every stage.

I originally created the steps for myself, to keep track of all the theory I'd read and what I'd learned from my own experience, and to have all the right info at my fingertips at just the right point in the novel writing process.

Once I'd created the method / process I thought about how much I'd have liked to have had it when I was starting out, so thought other people might like to use it.

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John Smithers's comment is spot-on. Start writing now, and you can work on being a better writer as you go. It's like running competitively. Professional runners run a lot, every single day. They don't worry too much about if they're reading the right books about running, they just practice. Practice writing, then practice editing what you wrote, again and again.

That said, there are a lot of resources out there that can make a fine supplement to your writing practice. A couple of my favorites:

And finally, I would add that the second best way to improve your writing is to join a good critique group. This sounds scary to a lot of new writers, but it doesn't have to be. A good group is supportive and polite, while not being afraid to offer criticism.

Getting your work critiqued helps you improve, and it also helps you develop a thick skin. As a writer, you need to be able to accept criticism and use it to your advantage. And critiquing other people's work will probably improve your writing even more than being critiqued. It helps you develop a strong internal editor.

There are lots of groups out there. Some meet in person. If you're in a metropolitan area, there's probably one or two nearby. Otherwise, there are many on the web too. As a spec-fic author, I use Critters, one of the larger online critique groups. Conveniently, Critters is currently in the process of expanding to cover genres other than sci-fi/fantasy/horror, so you may want to check it out.

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    Running doesn't really compare that well to writing. You can't learn that much from seeing others run. But you can learn a lot from reading what others wrote (not what the wrote about writing, but their writing itself). – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 23 '10 at 0:07
  • @jae - Some marathon and speed runners find that they can learn a lot from watching film of professionals. In any case, it's a metaphor, and no metaphor is perfect. The danger is that it's easy to read a lot about writing without actually writing very much. I also agree that reading others' writing can be very productive, but it doesn't put words on the page. – sjohnston Dec 23 '10 at 1:16
  • The right novel can make you want to put words on the page. Just like some tracks can make you want to create music yourself. Or how quite a few actors have a story of how this movie, or that actor in that movie had made them want to become actors themselves. Or in the words of de Saint-Exupéry: If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 23 '10 at 2:06
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I would say: Just start writing. Any body can write, not everyone can write well.
By practicing writing, it will get easier. You will got more comfortable with it.
Then, the magic starts to happen. As you write, you will realize what you don't know how to do, which will stick in your mind. Then, as you read, you will start to notice how those sentences are constructed. You'll start to have "Ah-Ha" moments. "Oh, THAT'S how you do that!"

The more you write, the better you will be at it. The more diverse literature you read, the more you will learn. They go hand in hand.

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I have found that the best advice for a beginning writer is to just sit down and write.

Before you have attempted your first text, you will have no idea what your individual difficulties might be, and asking a general question as you do here will get you advice that you may not know how to implement and that may even hinder you in your learning.

It is much more helpful to begin to write and to experience specific difficulties and then ask for help in overcoming them.

Just write your first text in any way that you like, and then look at it and consider what went well and where you struggled, what turned out to your liking and where your test readers got confused. And then go and find answers for how to do better next time.

Because the most learning in writing comes from writing the next novel.

protected by Neil Fein Dec 23 '13 at 4:04

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