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Best Practices for New Writers from a Peer's Perspective

We'll be reviewing the basics of story craft and discussing best processes for new writers with included references.

Gabriel Sidwell
Gabriel Sidwell
7 min read
Best Practices for New Writers from a Peer's Perspective
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel / Unsplash

I had to have been five or six years old when I started to write regularly. I always carried a notebook with me to class that I used to write in whenever I was bored - which was pretty often. I didn’t get in trouble with my teachers, necessarily, but it came up in parent-teacher conferences.

My early days involved actually transcribing what happened in video games into written word, way before the concept of copyright existed in my head.

I would sometimes remix what actually happened in-game into a narrative I liked more. A year or two into me doing that, I discovered what fanfiction was. I still cringe at the stories that involve self-inserts sometimes. But no one could deny that fanfiction is a good way for young writers to get into the craft nowadays.

Welcome. I am your host, Gabe. Also known as the Penman. There are a lot of successful authors who have published their work by now. But for every one published author, there are at least like… thirty to forty writers whose work has never seen the light of day.

Those reasons can vary, but I guarantee that one of the bigger reasons for this is not having enough experience with the process of story craft to feel confident in publishing your work.

I don’t have the cure-all for stage fright. But, I wanted to at least talk about the different things new writers can do to build confidence for publishing. These include good habits you can form; to the hard realities of writing and authoring that makes us hesitate sometimes… and research-backed ways you can adjust to those realities.

Goal Setting and Routines

Milestones. Setting goals and forming a routine based on those milestones. Seriously, any progress is good progress. Real talk here for a moment… who else can’t help but feel a little disheartened when they look at another author’s social media account, and read how they’ve written like… 5,000 words that afternoon alone? I have, at first, I can’t tell you now.

We, as humans, like to compare ourselves to others. A lot more than even we may realize. We’ll look at our neighbors and think that their grass is greener than ours. But this trap is the downfall of many writers. When handling intellectual property and ideas that are our own; it’s futile to compare ourselves to others because it muddles a process that’s reasonable for us in order for our work to mature.

Ideas are born with the foundation that’s tangible to us. When we look at another’s work after an idea’s born, it makes our foundations unstable. If we tell ourselves that in order to succeed, we need to write however many words per day - we’re just putting the roof before the scaffold at that point.

Before that pen even touches paper, or before our first keystroke on Scrivener, all writers must have a simple conversation with themselves: “What are my milestones?” And that conversation answers the questions: How many words do we write per day? What does a good day of writing look like for someone at my level?

Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, used to write close to 10,000 words per day on average, back when he was still alive. In comparison, Stephen King writes about 2,000 words per day. Ernest Hemingway, back in the day, only wrote on average 500 words per day. They are all famous writers by their own right, but all had very different milestones for a daily word count and the amount of work they did per day.

No one is asking you to match any of the authors I listed just now in order to be successful. The only common thread between these authors… is that they had a word count per day. Which is the point I am trying to make for new writers: Get into the habit of setting reasonable goals for yourself (whether that’s 100 words, 500 words, or 2000 words per day), and meeting those goals regularly.

Writers live on routine. And the only way to train a routine is to meet predetermined goals daily. Doing this will help you be a better writer overall. For anyone curious - I write about 1000 words per session myself. Used to be 600 to 800 words; It’s like training a muscle, writing however much per day. Get your routine started today and start setting some P.R’s.

Get Used to Reading A Lot

Honestly, if you aren’t doing this already, start doing it now. Before it’s too late.

All writers, regardless of the genre your niche is in, should immerse themselves in a diverse array of literature. Not only is it good to be well read, but it also helps you to gain exposure to different writing styles, narrative techniques, and storytelling conventions.

It’s a good way to gain inspiration, and a good way to explore different genres, themes, subjects… while also helping you develop a better sense for language, syntax, and rhythm for when you create your own narrative.

Honestly, there’s a reason everyone says you should read any book you could. Well, any good book that you come across. You can probably get away with skipping the books your English teacher would probably assign you. Except The Giver and Fahrenheit 451 - I highly recommend those. Look for books that are big in the industry right now and trending.

Get Used to Criticism. It Can be Your Friend.

Maybe we should expand a little on this one. Criticism, feedback, reviews, you’ll want to learn to get used to hearing and really assessing comments on your work. Creation in a vacuum can be suffocated. Whether you choose to use an editor, or just have a significant other read a chapter of your book, having peer feedback can help you become a better writer.

That’s actually what one study from the Advances in Language and Literary Studies journal found: “Peer feedback, or also known as ‘peer response’, peer editing, peer critiquing, and peer evaluation’, can provide students with the opportunities to discover and explore ideas… and negotiate with the audience about these ideas.”

Now, I understand that folks who are new to the industry may have a difficult time developing the right mindset to take constructive criticism and apply that to your work. That’s completely natural. Criticism automatically triggers a response in our brain as emotional stimuli.

Kuang, Kamel-Elsayed, and Pitts from the Medical Science Educator wrote on the theory and practice from cognitive and cultural approaches to receiving criticism. This was in the context of people working in healthcare, but their recommendations are actually great and can apply to a lot of different facets of life.

There are three key points they listed here, specifically:

First, be explicitly aware of the two-level cognitive model that is involved in their response to emotionally charged stimuli. What is this two-level model? “Emotions are automatic, unconscious behavioral and cognitive responses triggered when the brain detects a positively or negatively charged significant stimulus. Feelings (in turn) are the conscious perceptions of emotional responses.”

Second, and this may require some training, be aware of the common weaknesses in human nature that hinder an appropriate response to criticism. You should never use this as an excuse to defend unease or anxiety toward criticism. Conquering these weaknesses will help you grow as a person.

And finally, recognize that good things can turn bad and bad things can turn good, and make this wisdom to be common sense. You should not be totally complacent when you get good feedback; and you can take bad feedback and criticism to make the improvements you need for… well, anything. A better product, a better story, a better work ethic. Learn to thrive on both good and bad criticism. I highly recommend checking out this report however you can, especially if you’re interested in psychology.

Be A Part of the Community

The life of a new writer can be an extremely lonely one. After all, the only barrier of entry to writing is needing a pen and paper to get started. Remember when I said creativity in a vacuum can suffocate?

A writer’s existence does not need to be lonely, though. Especially today. With the internet and social media as it is today, you can connect with any community or group you want online and only need to maybe fill out a generic application to join that one Facebook Group that requires it.

Joining the writing community helps not only you with your writing by providing you with the means to bounce ideas off of your peers, which I mentioned was a good thing earlier; You can learn so much from other writers about the process of getting your story out there. Traditional versus self-publishing… marketing… how to handle your social media accounts… the different ways you can display your work (for example, Kindle Vella versus Full Release). 

Unless you're fantastic at researching this kind of stuff on your own, then being able to just ask whatever you’re curious about can be an invaluable method to learn new things about story craft and publishing if you’re a new writer.

Check out Facebook, Twitter, and Discord after you’re done here today. These are probably the easiest platforms where you can find a group you jibe with and start connecting with your peers as soon as today.

Now Get to Work

I would love to start a dialogue today. What other suggestions do you have for a new writer starting in their craft? Have you come across any studies of your own that can apply to everyday life if not writing alone? Support an aspiring author and public health enthusiast’s journey by showing your love of the work. And remember to subscribe to my newsletter on Penman Ventures for the latest content updates on our journal. I’ll see you next time.

Referenced Articles

Authorship

Gabriel Sidwell

Gabriel, also known as the Penman, is a public health worker and enthusiast who never abandoned their creative outlets once they were out in the real world. He moonlights as a professional penman

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