Back in the day, I used to blog quite regularly (I wrote about that here), mainly because it enabled me to put my thoughts and experiences into words, and publish them without asking anyone’s permission. I liked, too, that I could edit a post after pressing Publish, so it didn’t have to be perfect. (Everyone knows that typo gremlins live in computers and sleep until you press Publish, when they wake up and scramble all the letters and words.)
Blogging was the means by which I cut my teeth when learning this craft. Sharing my work with the public meant I had to edit it (as much as the typo gremlins would allow) so it was readable and understandable and flowed. Not only that, but putting thoughts and experiences into words helped me work through and process them, which, of course, filtered into my fiction and improved that in intangible and unmeasurable ways. Blogging formed a not insignificant part of my writing apprenticeship.
I haven’t blogged much over the past couple of years. Initially, publishing my book took over, then writing my second novel. Family, paid work and general daily living have also consumed my hours.
But the main reason I stopped was because I lost my confidence. When my book came out, my audience suddenly skyrocketed. I felt under scrutiny and started second-guessing myself, and stopped writing words here.
All this backstory is really just to say I’ve regained my confidence and feel like blogging again. So I’ve decided to resurrect a series of posts I started back in 2017 called, ‘How to Write a Book’.
Without further ado, I bring you the first post:
How to Start Writing
Not so long ago—well, it was eleven years ago, but it doesn’t feel that long—I enrolled in my first face-to-face writing group. I rocked up not knowing anyone, with no idea what to expect and feeling about as relaxed as a worm on the end of a fishing hook.
One of the attendees, a friendly young man, came over and struck up a conversation. He asked me what I was writing, and I said I wanted to write a novel.
‘Which genre?’ he said.
I stared blankly at him for a longer-than-polite period before saying, ‘I have no idea.’ I omitted telling him the only genres I knew were romance, crime and sci-fi, and my novel fitted into none of those.
‘Commercial or literary?’ he said.
Aha, I thought. I know what literary means. So I said, ‘Yes, I want to write literature.’
Despite not knowing what literary fiction was, I said, ‘Mmm-hmm.’
‘Noble aim,’ he said, and I knew I’d answered incorrectly because there was absolutely nothing noble about my writing.
During the workshop, people asked questions and talked about the books they were writing and quoted authors I’d never heard of and used all sorts literary jargon that was like a foreign language to me. Everyone else sounded like they knew what they were doing, and I felt ignorant and out of place. I had questions but I didn’t ask a single one because I didn’t want to reveal my stupidity.
I’ve learnt a lot since that day eleven years ago, mainly through on-the-job training. I did workshops and courses, too, but the best writing course, the one I’d highly recommend, is called Trial and Error. This course can be taken at home, at your desk. Start with T&E 101 and progress through 201 and 301, and so on. I’ve just enrolled in T&E 1201 this year.
The number of T’s and E’s I’ve made could fill a book—and maybe one day they will. I laugh about them now, the ones I remember, but I’ve forgotten most of them because they don’t matter. Actually, they do matter because without them my book wouldn’t be written, let alone published, nor would I be writing a second. And I wouldn’t be spending my days doing something I truly love, but still dreaming about some day in the future when I’d be good enough to write a book.
Because the hardest part of writing is to start, and the trick is, simply, to start. There’s no magic to it—just begin. Even if you feel ignorant, uncomfortable, like a worm on a fishing hook.
Because there’s only one thing you need to start writing, and that’s desire. You just have to want to write. Nothing else. If you want to write, go ahead and do it.
Here’s an (incomplete) list of things you don’t need in order to start writing:
To be good enough
Perfect spelling, grammar or punctuation
To get it right first go
To know the difference between commercial and literary fiction
To know which genre you’re writing in
To have been good at English at school
To have always wanted to be a writer
A knowledge of the classics
To be able to quote Shakespeare
To have even read Shakespeare
Amazing things to have happened to you
Your mother’s approval
Your family to know
A clear diary for the next six months
A room of one’s own
As well as desire, here’s a list of things that are highly desirable if you want to start writing:
A good dose of courage
As Ernest Hemingway said, ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ And Brenda Ueland said, ‘Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.’ (By the way, I highly recommend Brenda’s book, If You Want to Write—truly inspirational!)
So if you want to write, grab a notebook and pen or your laptop, and sit down and write. It’s as simple as that.
Love this. Still rings true on book number … crikey … five. x
Oh, really?! I don’t know whether that makes me feel better or worse! I’ve heard other authors say similar—that you never learn how to write a book, just how to write the book you’ve written. But, we plod on … and on! Good luck with #5, Katherine. 🙂
They say when the student is ready the teacher will come!
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write. I’ve been feeling lost and my lack of confidence in my writing began to take over again. So it was very timely to to be reading your post in addition to beginning our writing mentoring group soon with you again!
Thank you for your post Louise!
I’ve not heard that saying about the teacher and student before, but it’s lovely and so true! My confidence suffers when I take time away from writing—I think I’ll have forgotten how to do it, and it takes me a while to get into it again. But don’t worry—you won’t have lost the ability. Glad this is timely, and looking forward to our sessions again. 😊
Ah Louise, if only you knew then what you do now… but, it wouldn’t haven’t made you into the published underlined, author, teacher and workshop facilitator you are now. You have buckets of integrity, passion and perseverance. But for me, it’s those vulnerable posts which grab me, my attention and make me want to pick up my trusty blue Pilot super Grip (M) and have another crack.
Spellbound at your KSP writing workshop one July, seeing and hearing how far you’ve travelled since first meeting you at “A Place to just be” many moons ago. I consider you a mentor of how if one plods away, plodding despite self doubt, self criticism and why’s… all in the fullness of time it shall be. Keep being you, now you’ve found you and your authentic Louise voice. Thank you, Nicola Xox
What beautiful words! I use Pilot Super Grip (M), too, but in black! Reading your words has inspired me to get back to *my* book, now, so thank you. 😘
Loved this! Thanks Louise for keeping it simple
Oh god, why complicate things?! 😉
Love this Louise. I’m just about to start some first draft writing (book 2. At Varuna!) after a long break and I really needed to read these words. Also — love Brenda Ueland’s book – it was the first book on writing I ever read. Then Annie Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. May the muse visit you every day!
Oh, to have a muse that visits at whim! Brenda Ueland’s book was the first book on writing I ever read, too. She must have been an amazing lady for her time, because this was published in the 1930s and is still so relevant. I hope the muse visits while you’re at Varuna and good luck with Book #2! 🙂
I love W Somerset Maugham’s words: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” I am currently training my muse to strike at 6am!
I’m envious of Somerset Maugham if his muse showed up on time every morning. Mine doesn’t, and, like you, I’m trying to train it to show up. Let’s hope we can trick them into it! Wishing you well with your writing, and more than happy to catch up and talk writing – or anything – with you anytime. 😊
Love to catch up and talk writing at any time.
That would be lovely! 🙂
What lovely post Louise. You’ve captured so much of the uncertainty and fear that can dog allowing yourself to enjoy writing. I can’t wait to read your next book.
Thanks, Suzy! I thought I’d revisit this series and start at the very beginning—conquering the feeling of not being good or qualified enough. Glad you enjoyed it, Suzy, and I can’t wait to read your next book, too. 😊
Love this post so much, Louise – great great great.
Glad you enjoyed it. 😊(Hey, aren’t you meant to be writing? Get off here! 😉)
haha! you’re not wrong … 😛
Louise, I just love your honesty and authenticity. Thank you for being you and sharing.
Thank you for reading it, and for commenting, Sinead! 😊
Great post Louise. Brenda’s book was one of the first writing books I ever bought at least 20 years ago. I didn’t think anyone else knew about it! It’s really good and written in such a lovely conversational style.
It was the first book I ever read about writing and for someone to give me permission to write whatever I wanted and not worry what other people thought was utterly liberating. I really need to that permission, because I was so worried people would tell me I couldn’t. She must have been a wonderful teacher— what an amazing lady! Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle. x
Awesome post Louise. It seems to be the most simple and complicated thing.
So very, very true—simple and complex. Sit down and write, she says, without acknowledging those gargantuan, yet invisible, fears that stop us from doing, or even admitting, what we want.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Ben. 🙂