Since my childhood I have had a secret dream to write my own story or even a novel. I have always enjoyed reading books and writing compositions. However, I never had enough courage to start writing my own story except some fairy tales and poetry that I created as a present for my family. This was not caused by cowardice, rather by extreme exaggeration of the responsibility I would have taken on me after beginning to write. What kind of responsibility? Well, first of all, I would be responsible for declaring my life position that may be not mature or correct enough (well, what can a person know for sure when they are 16?). Second, I would be responsible for involving some real people from my surroundings, even if I would have changed names or personalities, they would certainly guess it. Third, I would be responsible for any mistakes in depicting the time I would describe...

That is what has always stopped me from writing. However, through years I realized that a person is what they complete in their lives. Nothing else matters, you are what you do. So, maybe it is better to write a very basic story rather than not writing at all? People evolve and mature and become more skilled while time passes by...

Why do I think I need to write a story? Well, probably because I have faced a very important problem and have lived with it for long and eventually have developed my own opinion on it which I want to share with people so that they maybe don't repeat the same mistakes... Besides, I have noticed that my opinion changed through time, so I could give an alternative viewpoint for a reader. And well, I wish to change from consumer to creator, in all the ways in my life.

Why do I think that I am still not able to write a story? First of all, no previous experience. Secondly, I am always a bit confused that my ideas don't include any political or social topics. Thirdly, I doubt the amount of books I have read during my life is enough. In order to write a good story, one needs to have a huge background in reading and also in analyzing what they have read. It provides basic knowledge of concepts used in literature, enriches one's language, makes it easier to develop a correct composition... A professional needs to be familiar with the tools they use and with examples of other people's works in their field. And last, but not least: I don't know where to begin.

So this is my question: what should I do first if I have a limited amount of free time (about 2 hours per week)? Start extensive reading course until I am satisfied (which will probably last forever, cause I am never satisfied with myself)? Study materials from the time I wish my story to be set in? Take notes and write down short parts of my story? Launch a blog? Start to develop skills by writing something else until I am not ashamed of my style? Fight with cowardice? Change approach to less serious? If so, how can I do it if I have always been very pedantic?

P.S. Sorry for mistakes, I am not a native speaker.

  • 1
    Everyone who is doing something for the first time has had no practice at it. How do you get practice at it if you don't DO it for the first time?? Not having had any practice is not an excuse for not doing it. Sep 10 '13 at 3:44

I'm not sure whether this will work for you, but this is what I did:

I started with flash fiction (900 words). Then, gradually, began writing longer pieces (3000~4000 words). At the same time, I started posting my work on this site for feedback. Also, I asked grammar questions at https://english.stackexchange.com/ (since I'm not a native English speaker, either). Finally, I started posting my work on http://www.scribophile.com/ for general critique/feedback.

And now I'm writing a 9000 words short story. After that I will write my full-length novel.

As for my style, I started copying my favorite author Haruki Murakami. And then slowly began developing my own. I learned a lot by copying his plot structure and style. I think you shouldn't be ashamed of your style. As long as you like it, it'll be OK.

I think the best way to learn (as others said) is to just to write. Also, getting a lot of feedback. And of course, to read a lot. Read your favorite authors, those who write stuff you wished you had written.

I took creative writing classes, but I feel I didn't learn much. Again, this may be only me, but I feel listening about how to write isn't just the same as writing and getting feedback. I believe true learning comes from making mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn.

  • 1
    Yeah, +1 to classes not meaning a lot. I actually have my BA in creative writing and my biggest gripe with them, aside from how easily peer reviews can get politicized in college, is that the whole process encourages you to write one and exactly one draft of something for your weekly or twice-weekly class. In the "real" (read: post-college) world, I have yet to write something that I've wanted to show to others at all before at least the 3rd or 4th draft, and that's even probably on the early side. Sep 9 '13 at 22:44

I really don't have any special advice other than to just write. Don't worry about the quality of what you put onto paper, just commit it to paper. People will say "it's probably better than you think it is" but the fact is that it will probably be pretty bad. That's okay. Everybody's first draft is bad. Writing quality prose is all about rewriting.

If you're worried about grammar I recommend the "Little Book" by Strunk and White (the White, by the way, is E.B. White, the writer of Charlotte's Web; this is not just some book written by an English prof that has no application to the real world). That being said, I have to go back to what I originally said: if you want to learn how to write forcible, meaningful prose, you have to just write prose.

Writing is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be writing and publishing their memoirs. There are no magic insights I can really impart to you outside of two maxims: 1. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. 2. If it's worth doing well, it's worth doing badly for a while.

  • So if I want to write about one single very important thing in my life, then I should practice on other, smaller stories, or keep on writing drafts of that one?
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 0:55
  • No, I am not worried about grammar, cause I will be writing in my mother tongue. Nevertheless, thanks for the book, I think I may need it for my English studies.
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 1:00
  • 1
    @petajamaja Do both. Write small stories to get over your fear of the blank page. Write your important story and edit it a lot. Sep 9 '13 at 1:37
  • @petajamaja There's no one piece of advice I can give that works for everyone except to say do whatever makes you write more. Some people will find it hard to get motivated to write stuff that isn't really what they want to write; others don't have this issue and can sit down and write whatever every day. Just whatever you do, you've got to write it, get it down onto paper, and then go back and revise, revise, revise. The revision is probably more important than the first draft in the overall process. Sep 9 '13 at 22:42

Just write.

Seriously. Just write. Stop worrying about whether it sucks (it probably will). Write it. Get it out. Because then you can go back and fix it. You can't edit a blank page. But you can take lousy text and make it better.

Study materials from the time I wish my story to be set in?

If it's historical in any way, yes. Research is good.

Take notes and write down short parts of my story?


Launch a blog?

To what end? Might be more of an excuse not to work on your central piece.

Start to develop skills by writing something else until I am not ashamed of my style?

If your style is your unique voice, you should never be ashamed of it. If you're concerned about technical skill, you can practice until it improves.

Is it normal that I keep inventing and even editing texts in my head, but when I come to a clear sheet of paper, I just sit stunned, afraid of putting text on the paper?

Yes. Some of the suggestions in this thread about writer's block may help.

  • Thanks for the answer! No, what I am mostly ashamed of is my style, because when I was writing essays at school they told me I am way too broad in ideas (i.e. trying to compress too many ideas per page) and technically precise (i.e. very strict and precise word usage, more like a thesis than a free essay - almost no poetry in it). I am better in analysis than descriptions, better in describing thoughts than feelings.
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 2:20
  • And of course I know that the skills are awful, too. =)
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 2:21
  • 1
    @petajamaja Essays have nothing to do with fiction. Entirely different skill set. You can be minimalist and dense, and there's nothing wrong with that. If it really bothers you, hire an editor to look over your work for that specifically. Sep 9 '13 at 10:10

The most common type of question raised by would-be writers is some version of "why can't I write?"

The most common type of answer is "just write."

If you look through this site, you will find quite a lot of that sort of question, and that sort of answer.

And it really does boil down to pretty much that. You are either going to spend a lot of time agonizing about why you can't write, or you are going to write.

Because there really is no answer to why you can't write. And just writing is really not a solution to the problem.

You either write, or you don't.

Life is not infinite. No one has unlimited time to write. Whether it's two hours a week or two hours a day, if you're going to write, you will. If you're not, you won't.

Writers write. People who aren't writers don't.

Which are you?

  • No, I am absolutely not a writer. I am a person in search of myself and trying all the things. I will never call myself a writer, cause to be a writer I am way too stupid...
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 16:50
  • And well, I didn't ask that "why can't I write" question. I think that either you read my post not attentively or I didn't express my idea clearly enough.
    – petajamaja
    Sep 9 '13 at 16:54
  • I read your question carefully, and you are basically asking why you can't write. Look at all the answers you have received. Every one of them is trying to give you advice on how to get over your block. You "sit stunned, afraid of putting text on paper?" I'd say that's a pretty good description of being unable to write. And don't call yourself stupid. You are clearly not stupid. My point was there are a lot of variations of the "why can't I write question." Yours is one variation. And if you write, you ARE a writer. So write. Sep 10 '13 at 3:43
  • I put that thought just as a P.S. I'd better delete it cause it is additional information that confuses everybody.
    – petajamaja
    Sep 10 '13 at 12:51

A few months ago, I set out to improve my writing and this is what I did:

I started journaling, reading short things like stories or interesting articles, and listening to audiobooks or video essays. I put the lyrics in front of me when listening to music. Anything with the English language that I could do in small periods of time, I did.

I didn't structure the journal. A couple times I wrote 5 different mini entries on a day, and tore out a blank page before bragging that I can in another entry. There was a to-do list in which I randomly included robbing the Met and building a rocket. There was a stick-figure comic about ninjas or something, that had really big thought bubbles. So long as it was fun, I did it. And yes, there eventually were meaningful coherent journal entries as well.

Meanwhile I got into Murakami, Lahiri, read short novels like The Great Gatsby or Fight Club.

The only metric I have is my writing grades. They did go up pretty quickly, and now my journal entries have begun evolving into short stories and poems. I think that once you have momentum it just picks up.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.