You’re a beginning writer. You may consider that your biggest challenge is — (fill in the blank.) That challenge will fade when you use your biggest asset.
At least once a month a student will say something like: “yes, but then they’ll know I’m a beginner”.
A beginner is a wonderful thing to be in any field and it’s your biggest asset. Here’s why: beginner’s mind. This mind state is a gift.
Please be proud to be a beginning writer: approach writing projects your way and ask as many questions as you like. Remember that you won’t be a beginner forever — and while you’re a beginner you may come up with something truly new and innovative.
Beginning writer? You won’t be a beginner for long
After you’ve been writing for a few years you’ll understand why a beginner’s fresh and questioning outlook is so valuable. At that stage you’ll have something else to worry about: retrieving a semblance of beginner’s mind to avoid becoming a hack.
Let’s look at a couple of strategies for a beginning writer… and for any professional writer, who’s afraid he’s lost his edge.
1. Stop “writing”. Communicate
Beginners who want to write try to do that. They “write”, without giving much thought to communication.
Beau Brummell, who changed the way men dressed a couple of centuries ago, once said:
If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.
Similarly, if readers pay attention to your words, you’re writing; you’re not communicating. My favorite Elmore Leonard quote:
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
My hero, advertising master David Ogilvy, wrote in his book Ogilvy on Advertising:
When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
A beginning writer focuses on the words, and it’s natural. Sooner or later however you’ll stop caring about the words. You’ll care about clarity instead.
2. Write a lot: shift the dirt to find the diamonds
Writing is thinking. Ideas won’t come to you in words. They come as insights, impulses, or compulsions. Often they’ll arrive as images (if you’re writing fiction.)
Write down the words which arise from those insights and images.
Then hey presto — you’re thinking. And writing:-)
From Joan Didion:
I don’t know what I think until I write it down.
It’s rare to find a beginning writer who’s happy just to get words onto the computer screen. Since words are all you have, and all you need — generate as many as you can.
As I’m fond of saying, no word you write is ever wasted. Be happy to shift a lot of dirt (write a lot) in order to find a few diamonds.
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