After the last Friday 5 post, I’d like to switch things up by swapping out the negativity for some positives. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve also made a few decisions that completely changed my writing life for the better.
1. Participating in NaNoWriMo.
For those who aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge in November. The goal? Write a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days.
For me, my first NaNoWriMo was 2006. I’d written sporadically my entire life, and had half a dozen abandoned projects under my belt. I’d never completed a novel (unless you count a Mary-Sue LJ Smith fanfiction novella in high school).
But 2006 was my year. I was determined. It was a challenge, but I met the goal and had a rough draft at the end of the month.
And it was terrible. Completely unsalvageable. There was no solid plot structure, the tone was all over the place, and my main character was insufferably dull.
But it taught me I could indeed finish a novel.
This was the beginning of my journey toward writing seriously. I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since, and all of my current works-in-progress started as NaNo projects. About half my drafting is done during November, with the rest during December and January. Then I revise the rest of the year.
2. Joining Twitter.
I can’t even remember where I read the advice to join Twitter if you’re a writer, but I’m so glad I followed it. The Twitter writing community is where I find out about new book releases, commiserate about the miserable parts of the writing process, and celebrate the triumphs. For those new to Twitter, try starting with the #amwriting, #writerstable, and #ontheporch tags, and branch out from there.
3. Finding critique partners (CPs).
Before I found critique partners, I thought I’d taken a fairly critical eye to my own work, but hoo boy was I wrong. Other writers’ feedback poked at plot holes I’d missed, identified writing crutches, and helped me tighten up my plot.
On the other side of things, critically reading others’ work allowed me to notice writing crimes that I was also guilty of perpetrating.
And lastly, it’s just nice to have writing cheerleaders, people to help you keep going when things get tough, bounce around ideas, and just listen to you whine when you need to vent.
4. Studying writing craft.
I know, I know. “But I don’t want someone else telling me how to write!”
There’s an awful lot of writing advice out there, and most of it is contradictory. “Write every day! Go at your own pace!”. Or “adverbs are evil! No, wait, adverbs are perfectly fine.”
But studying up on story structure, character arcs, and other details of craft has helped my writing so much. I’m not saying to follow every bit of advice you read, but it never hurts to see what others have to say, then decide if it applies to you.
I started with books like Story Engineering, which had some great points but did not jive with my personal style. I’m not an outliner. I’ve tried it and failed spectacularly.
But when I moved on to craft-based podcasts, I learned an immense amount about how to strengthen my own prose, strategically manipulate pacing, and develop a better framework for my plot, just to name a few.
5. Participating in mentorship and revision contests.
In 2018, I entered three contests for revision and/or mentoring from editors and published authors.
I did not get accepted into any of them.
However, I did meet a ton of other writers in the application trenches, bonding over various Twitter games while we eagerly awaited the decision. I learned patience during the long waits for the announcements. And each time, the contest made me take a critical pass (or twelve) at my query letter and my first pages in particular. If it weren’t for Pitch Wars and a solid deadline, I might never have developed a one-page synopsis.
I also learned how to take professional critique. Sometimes, the mentors and editors of these contests will give a short bit of feedback if they requested more material during the decision period. This isn’t a certainty, but it can be priceless. I received a short feedback letter from Pitch Wars that completely changed the trajectory of half my novel, and the story is so much better for it.
Yes, criticism can sting, but the feedback you can receive from these contests is professional and constructive.
Your mileage may vary.
However, these decisions skyrocketed me onto a serious writing path. All of these steps except NaNoWriMo were taken in the past 16 months, and it’s astonishing how much I’ve gained in that time.
Best of luck on your own writing journey!
What decisions are you most grateful you’ve made? Sound off in the comments below!