Want to write stories? 5 easy tips to get started

Ever wondered what it'd be like to write novels? Have some rad ideas kickin' in your head but don't know how to pen them? Read this :)

Want to write stories? 5 easy tips to get started

Ah, to be a writer, a wordsmith, a creator of worlds and concoctor of dreams. Well, it's not all be gay do crimes though, is it? Sometimes, it's a ton of work—where everything but (and sometimes including) the writing gets in the way.

As being an author is far more difficult than it has any business being, I thought I'd pen a lil' somethin' to help green writers get started.

Please note that I'm not an expert, I'm just a nerd who self published 3 phat sci-fi books in the span of a year. In fact, I'm just like you. And because I'm just like you, I want to help you. Consider it clearing your path, so to speak.

Let's begin.

Tip #1: How do you even start?

Well, you're not going to like this...

You literally have to open up Notepad, Google Docs or Word and just write. If you've written a story, you won't know what to do until you try. There isn't a one-size-fits-all method either. Every author has their own approach to storytelling. Because of this, you have to put stuff down to get started.

"Just write" is good advice, but what many authors miss when trying to guide noobs is that "just write" ignores why noobs "just can't": writers are perfectionists.

Because writers are perfectionists—especially noob writers—they often get stuck on perfect, never finishing anything. However, perfection, my dears, is the enemy of progress.

Trust me and just vomit up words. It doesn't matter if it's only a paragraph, doesn't make sense or sounds silly. You have to get on the bike to learn how to ride, so get this step out of the way and slap them keys.

Ditch perfect and just do it, so you can paint the prose of your dreams.

Tip #2: Plot, world, or characters first?

You're also going to hate me for this, but...

Characters first, always and forever. Absolutely no exceptions.

Noob writers will often labor over fantastical plots and then never consider the fake-people who must navigate them. Then, they get disappointed when their characters can't traverse the plot the way they envisioned. Discouraged, they scrap all their hard work. I see this often in online author spaces.

Another issue is noob writers spin intricate lore and detailed mental landscapes, then get stuck when they have to place characters in them. As though their characters are an afterthought. They can't be. Characters are the lifeblood of all stories, forever and ever.

Is there a subset of readers who'll get hype you made a 7-part compendium about a language you made up? Yes. But most readers? No. Readers crave evocative stories with characters they actually care about and empathize with. Or, heck, maybe even characters they love to hate.

A story without characters is just a framework—and even though those can be beautiful—you'd be hard pressed to find readers gushing about your complex magic system unless you're writing TTRPGs.

A good rule of thumb is to approach storytelling holistically. Draft a blueprint of a plot/world, spend time on your characters, set them loose, then see what happens. You can always fix stuff later, but rebuilding a flat character is a billion times harder.

Your characters impact the plot, the world, other characters, conflicts, resolutions, the themes of the work, the dialogue—your entire novel lives and dies by its characters.

Put your characters first and the rest will follow.

Tip #3: What about editing?

Please, God, calm down

Do you have any idea how many times I've edited CONSTELIS VOSS into the actual dirt? How many chapters I truly cut out? How many people have edited it besides myself? How many times I've reread the same paragraph over and over again before I caught a basic spelling mistake?

I can't even give you a real number because it's well in the thousands—and all of that comes after the story gets written.

As I said before, perfection is the enemy of progress. Write your shit. Do not focus on making it perfect until later. Resist the urge to edit every time you write a chapter, or you will never finish the book. I'm serious!

Moreover, when it is time to edit, do that yourself first, get some buddies to help and then hire an editor. You are a writer, not an editor. You may, in fact, be both. However, chances are you're better at one than the other. Furthermore, if you steep in your story for too long your perspective dissolves.

Calm down, write, then get an editor when you're ready. You'd be doing your story a disservice if you didn't go to a professional.

Tip #4: How do I write better words, though?

I'm going to commit a murder

Because I'm lowkey writing this guide for reddit's writing communities—and noob writers ask this question constantly—you'll have to excuse me for being annoyed in this section. You are going to hate this: In order to write anything with authenticity, efficacy and style, you have to live.

What that means is you have to not only experience the world, but you must talk to other humans, take in sensations, think thoughts, witness things and analyze what you experience in order to articulate it.

How will you ever be able to describe anything if you haven't taken the time to both experience life and appreciate that experience in full? You can't, period, point blank, full stop. Error 404: skills not found.

To help you out here, do me a flavor and imagine a red chair.

What kind of red is it? Is it a burnt-orange, blood red, cherry red or magenta?

What material is the chair made out of? Is it leather, satin, cotton, linen or squeaky vinyl plastic? How big is the chair? Is it squat, middling or climbable?

Is the chair lived-in, brand new, geriatric, thrifted or high-end? Does it have missing buttons on it—are there buttons? Is it fancy, is it a loveseat, is it a recliner—what type of fucking chair is it?

Does it truly matter that the chair is described aesthetically? If not, then you can just call it a red chair. However, if you describe the chair a certain way, what does that say about the character who owns it? What does that say about the character who refuses to sit in it? What does the state of the chair say about the universe it exists within?

This is how you must train your brain before you get to the point of asking "how do I write better words." Answering that question starts with your experience, imagination and what you want to say.

A solid tip is to purple prose over 9000 until you get to the editing stage. Do not argue with me. It's so much easier to trim a bursting rose bush into a pleasant shape than it is to compel a plant to grow out of lifeless, unimaginative earth.

Tip #5: But what if my work isn't original?

Psst~ nothing is original, sweetheart

There's this old adage attributed to Picasso: "Good artists copy, great artists steal."

Get "being original" out of your silly little head this instant. Nothing on the face of the planet is original. Every single art-idea has been had already.

Why, even the very words you use to spin stories come from the human soup of language that has etymologically undergone countless iterations like a breathing, writhing beast. You can't be original if you force it—it won't work. Your stories will come out try-hard, which reads as inauthentic.

Now that that's out of the way, consider execution being infinitely more interesting than ideas. Furthermore, consider that your life experiences are particularly original. There's only one you, right? Take solace in knowing that the way you execute an idea will not ever be exactly like another author. Full stop, it won't happen—you're not them and they aren't you.

However, you can be derivative if you get inspired to the point of plagiarism, and that's why good artists only borrow. You don't have to simply be a dime a dozen "good artist" though. You can be a great artist by stealing.

Find some words you like and take them. Find a way to wield said words and thrift it. Find a character archetype you like and pilfer it. Snatch up a plot device for yourself and own it. Take an old idea and cram it so full of "you" that nobody on the planet can say you didn't make your mark.

Once you mix together all your inspirations—and make a cohesive, rich literary brew—then you'll be a real writer.

Steal everything and make it uniquely your own. That's how to go about this business of "originality" with any modicum of finesse.

In closing: Write. Just write.

The rest will follow organically, I promise

Writing is not like creating a piece of software. It's also not like solving a math problem. It's also not like planning a curriculum, creating a DnD structure, or orchestrating a complicated video game engine.

Storytelling lives soundly in the world of art, art-making and the experiences of both the inner and outer universe. Because of this, the best advice of all is "just write." Just write and worry about the technical when it's time to, which isn't now. For now, you write.

Once you start treating storytelling like the language of living, feeling and thinking, instead of the language of perfect machines, you'll finally be able to write the stories of your dreams.

I have faith you can get there if you try, but you do have to try, and there's no real roadmap here. You can read all the articles you want to prepare you, but there's no real secret sauce. Writing stories is a deeply personal journey.

It's also a journey worth taking. Try, have fun, fail, succeed and make the next great novel because I know you have it in you.

Good luck!

K. Leigh is an ex-freelancer, full-time author, and weirdo artist. Read their lgbt+ sci-fi books, connect on Twitter, visit their site, or send them an email if you’d like to work together. 🌈 🏳️‍⚧️

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