It seems hard to believe I have been calling myself a writer for over fourteen years now. I knew in my teens that this was what I loved doing. Writing was my hobby, my calling, my career. As I look back on my journey as a writer, there is little I would do differently. Here’s my advice for a new writer.
1. Go to conferences
I date the start of my “writing career” to the year I was sixteen and attended my first writer’s conference. I was the youngest writer there and in complete awe of all the writers I met, but they were a friendly, welcoming group who gave me tons of tips and advice. I’ve blogged often about conferences and how much I enjoy them; they are a chance to meet others in your field, learn a lot in a short amount of time, and be inspired.
A few conferences I’ve enjoyed include the Victoria Writer’s Festival (fall), Write! Vancouver (spring), and the ICWF Fall Conference in Edmonton, Alberta (September). Find one near you and go!
This advice for a new writer may feel daunting, especially if you’ve never attended any sort of conference. As an introvert, I always struggle with networking at conferences and dealing with big crowds. Yet I always find that a conference is a wealth of information and inspiration. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and find a writer’s conference near you (or save up to travel to a conference).
2. Join a writer’s group
I highly recommend Inscribe, which I’ve been a part of since I was sixteen. The Word Guild is another excellent Canadian Christian organization and you may also find smaller, local groups or online groups. I’m part of several blogging groups on Facebook where I’ve found support, encouragement, and professional development opportunities. A group of writers is valuable for sharing information, encouragement, accountability, ideas, and more.
3. Study the craft
I used to browse the writing section of Chapters (or any other bookstore) regularly. Ask other writers for advice about what books they’ve found useful or look for books related to an area of writing you know you are weak in.
A few writing books I refer to regularly include (these are my reviews or affiliate links):
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
- A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins (a former UVic instructor)
- Things Feigned or Imagined by Fred Stenson
- The Joy of Writing by Pierre Berton
- The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club by Maeve Binchy
I also recommend Someday You’ll Write by Elizabeth Yates (one of my favourite YA authors) for young writers. It’s an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to writing for those dreaming about being writers.
Read anything and everything. Read the genre you’re writing and the genre you don’t write. Read books that have won big prizes like the Giller and the Booker. Read the books published by people in your writer’s group. Read the books published by the writers speaking at all the conferences you’re going to. Read books by new writers and books by well-published authors. Read, read, read and learn to read critically, thinking about what works and what doesn’t and why it does or doesn’t.
Yes, this needs to be included in my advice for a new writers. As writers, we can often find excuses not to write. We’re not in the mood. We can’t find the muse. We need to the laundry or the dishes. Yet writing isn’t always about pure inspiration, words flowing onto the page. Sometimes, writing is about just showing up and doing it, whether you feel like it or not.
So write. Everyday. Write something. Write a journal. Write a story. Write a blog post or a letter or a poem. Try to set a writing schedule and get in the habit of writing regularly, daily. Write when you don’t feel like it and when you do. You’re a writer; write.
BONUS: Get a writing degree.
A writing degree is not required for a writer. I know many great writers who have no degrees in writing (or English, or anything related to words, for that matter). So this piece of advice for a new writer is bonus advice, but one that I wish I’d considered more seriously sooner. When I was in high school, I wanted to remain at home to attend university. I limited my search for degree options to those nearby, and completed an English degree in 2006. While I had an amazing experience at university, I still sometimes wish that I could go back and give myself permission to leave home in order to pursue my dream.
Many universities now offer writing degrees, from UBC to UVic (where I did complete a second degree in writing in 2014). There are also online writing degrees available. The application process for these degrees is usually different, as they want a writing portfolio rather than a transcript of marks (or both, but your portfolio is the bigger deciding factor). Research your chosen degree and what they require, and work on honing you writing in order to apply. If you aren’t successful the first time, return to my first five pieces of advice for a new writer and try again the next year. Good luck!
Are you a writer? At what point did you start calling yourself “writer”? And what advice for a new writer would you share?
All great advice. So many ways to improve as a writer.
I called myself an author as a child… ah, the innocent arrogance of youth… as an adult coming back to writing, I think it took a conference to give me the courage to call myself a writer instead of a wannabe. For those who haven’t been to a conference yet, don’t get discouraged — it was the interaction with other writers, hearing and understanding their mindset, that gave me the push to join in. You can get that through online groups and blog chats like this. (But do go to a conference as soon as you can. You don’t have to “earn” the right to be there.)
Great advice, Bonnie. And it’s clearly worked for you 🙂 Thanks for the reminder to write even when it feels like work. Because it is, but it’s worth it.
Great advice, Bonnie. I’m just a little envious that you’ve attended several writers conferences. I’m still waiting for that. And you’re so right – we’re writers, so we must write!
the part i like the most is your first piece of advice: go to conferences. i’m planning on attending my first writer’s conference this year, in september and i’m totally stoked about it! i’m hoping it’s an awesome experience. 🙂 great post.
Great advice, Bonnie. Anyone following these points will build a great writer foundation.
Thanks! It worked for me so hopefully it helps others too. 🙂
I’ve never been to a writer’s conference. That’s next on my list. But the other advice is a must for for new writers. Two of the most important ones are reading and writing a lot. 🙂
I think too often we forget about these… we get too busy with writing to keep reading, or we feel uninspired or blocked so we stop writing. But we must make time for both! 🙂
I have yet to go to a writing conference. The fear of the unknown is the main emotion that holds me back. Money is a close second. 😉 I know I would enjoy it, if I went. One day I will get there. I promise!
Many conferences offer bursaries to writers who aren’t able to afford them; ICWF’s Fall Conference does and TWG’s Write! conferences do. You can also find a conference near you to avoid travel costs or carpool with other writers. 🙂 And don’t let fear hold you back! Push yourself – it will help your writing! 🙂
Thanks Bonnie – some great, succinct advice. The best? You’re a writer; write!
Sometimes we forget the simple things. 🙂
Great information here!Thank you! Brenda J Wood
These are all excellent, bonnie. Keep learning and connecting!
Thanks for sharing these tips with us, Bonnie. I’m thinking another helpful topic would be how we as writers balance our lives and fit everything in 🙂
Yes, that would be a great topic! Balance is a topic that I hear discussed often, especially since anything creative seems to get pushed aside by more “urgent” or “money-making” things. 🙂
Love it all Bonnie,
I forgot to recommend Five Minute Fridays which I really enjoy – helps get the cobwebs out.
Yes, there are quite a few blog memes that offer writing topics to help get the words flowing. I’ve used books for this too – a good one is the Write Brain Workbook, I think. 🙂 A nice way to start the day and then when you’re feeling creative, you can move on to your WIP or other projects. 🙂
I called myself a writer at the tender age of twelve when I was published in my middle school’s literary magazine. I didn’t start calling myself an author until I was published. My advice is congruent with yours in many ways. Thanks for sharing!
Great advice! I need to concentrate on more writer’s groups…..I’ve been slacking a bit!!!