Lessons learned from writing fiction

It’s been a few years since I started writing stories.

I sort of fell into it. I didn’t decide to be a “writer.” I wanted to try something different. There was a story I started as a teenager but never finished. It was just one story, but it left me with a feeling of unfinished business.

I had no idea where to begin so I took a beginner fiction course. I am not sure what motivated me, but I like to try new things, so I thought why not.

Being intentional is fine too. If you have big goals and dreams that’s great as well, but be prepared to work for them. They rarely just fall into your lap.

Don’t worry there if you don’t have any particular goals. It’s not needed. There is no bad reason to write. As long as it’s what you want to do for yourself.

Writing will teach you a lot if you stick with it. It’s a great way to get to know yourself better as you develop your own self-expression. Even if you only write a short while, you’ll still learn plenty of useful lessons.

There are many things that you’ll learn in the beginning. The lessons come fast although sometimes as a beginner it’s hard to accept them until you’ve progressed. It doesn’t take long to realize how much there is to learn. It’s a long project for most of us.

And the great thing is, many of these lessons will help you with your other creative endeavors. So here is a list of lessons you’ll quickly learn as a new writer.

Start with story snippets

Break your story in bits if you feel overwhelmed by the idea of a whole story.

Start with a character, a short scene, a setting, a dialogue. Whatever you feel comfortable with. From here, you can build and expand with another character, event, or scene.

If you feel done, then it’s ok to leave your story snippet and move to the next.

Like anything creative, it is hard starting from nothing

You only need one sentence to start, just as you would a painting with one dab of color. At that level it’s easy. You don’t need to think. Just put it down a sentence and move to the next.

Getting thoughts to words is tough. Most writers find that once they have something to work with, things get easier.

Your first draft is going to be terrible

For most of us, this is true, and it’s alright. Just get it out. All the mess.

Don’t worry if you change course with events or characters. If you continue to work with the story, you sort it out. My drafts tend to be short on details, especially scenes and descriptions, but this is fine. Getting out the basics of the story is a big step.

You do get better

That’s why it’s ok to be terrible at the start.

It’s not hard to improve from this place. My first draft was terrible. Everyone was smiling or laughing all the time. That didn’t work, but now my first drafts are much improved. They still need loads of work, but at least I don’t have to cringe (too much) when I read them.

Set a timer on yourself

Start with a short period of time, say ten to twenty minutes.

This will especially help you when you get blocked or feel unmotivated.

Sometimes, it’s easy, and the words flow. Let it out. Some say to hold back and stick with your time frame, and if that works for you, then do that. I prefer to write until I’m “written out.” That’s because when I go into flow, it’s hard to pull out until I either have to go or I am ready for a break.

Start with a small habit

I do use the timer when I feel too much resistance or have taken a break and fallen out of the writing habit.

Then I keep my daily goal small as I build a small habit first. Most of us have had days where just writing 200-300 words some days is an achievement.

Keep going day by day, and your habit will form.

It’s fun

This part I wasn’t expecting.

Creative writing exercises felt like pulling teeth when I was in school. Most of the exercises were annoying and not fun. When I tried my own writing, the magic started happening.

I had no idea how fun it was to have a story going. It’s not just the writing, but the characters start living in your mind. They become real. It’s a fantasy world of your own making that you can slip into at any time.

When I feel blocked or I’m having trouble progressing an idea, I return to this. I remind myself that I’m just having fun with my characters. This always lightens up the stress and doubts, and the ideas start flowing again.

Don’t write for the bestseller

It’s fine to have a big dream like writing a best seller, but for most writers, it’s not going to come easily. It’s better to focus on learning to write and enjoy the fun. Teach yourself the discipline of showing up no matter how insignificant your writing feels. This is what leads you places in the long run.

The rewrite

Maybe you’ve heard them say, writing is in the editing. It’s really true. It’s where you shape and sculpt your work.

If you don’t edit and rework your stories, then you miss growth as a writer. It’s this that makes your future drafts better as you learn to fix problems.

Writing is an art form

This is important to understand.

Art takes time, skill, practice, dedication, and love. The more of these you bring, the better you become at it.

Art is human, not perfection. Don’t waste time trying to make your writing perfect.

Make it sing instead. Let the words sing for you. They are like the tones in music, the brushstrokes to a painter, and the stitches to an embroiderer. Use them to express yourself and your vision.

Like other art forms, writing is something you build on in layers and steps. Both in terms of your abilities, and also the writing itself.

You progress in steps. It’s not needed to be great at everything in the beginning, nor do you need to be aware of all aspects of creative writing. Take it one step at a time and learn.

As you progress, you can add layers of complexity to your writing. It becomes a tapestry of interwoven threads to follow to a conclusion where you tie them all up. Give yourself time to make the tapestry. Don’t expect too much of yourself, so you are disappointed and have to quit. Especially if you enjoy it. Learn and improve and have a blast.

So, if you are looking for a creative interest and have thought about fiction, there is no time like the present to start.

Don’t wait, give yourself permission right now. Life is too short.