Last week, I was reading a post on writing, or maybe on science fiction. I'm having trouble remembering the article because it was one of those times where I was wandering from one link to another. In any case, I came across a few lines where the author discussed the treatment of new writers. Some, she wrote, said the new writer should be coddled, given every kindness and benefit of the doubt, because writing can be difficult and stressful. Others, however, said that we should be tough with new writers, because if someone is truly into writing, they'll stick with it no matter what anyone says.
Obviously, that bit has stuck with me long after I've forgotten anything else I read that night. Conventional wisdom, as well as the stories we love to tell, let us know that dreams do find their way. Sheena's post just before this one* gives such an example: sometimes, telling someone their dream is ridiculous makes them want to fight all the more.
But I don't think we should be hard on new writers. And I don't think that's the point of Sheena's post (to be hard on those with unlikely dreams), though I think some people take that kind of story in that way. Because what anyone will tell you about that sort of moment is that it's extremely painful. It hurts to be told your most cherished dream is foolish. If anyone had ever sat me down after my first story and told me that it was garbage, and that I should give up... well, I worry I might have listened. Because my self confidence has never been high, and because that first story really was pretty bad. I don't say that to be mean to myself - I was fifteen. And I was just starting out.
In any case, here are my pieces of advice for new writers, that I wish I myself would have been told when I was just starting out:
1. There are a lot of rules for how to write out there. That one about writing every day is the most important. And by that, I mean to ignore whatever rules you don't like, and just WRITE. Write whatever makes you happy, even if it's cliche or full of plot holes. Do the writing that makes you happiest.
2. BUT, keep an eye on those rules. Because you're going to want to share your writing at some point, and those rules are there for a reason. The rules aren't people being stuffy or resistant to change; each one of them is rooted in some logical form. So pay attention. Learn them. And once you have a full understanding of what those rules are and where they came from, then you can start to bend them in new and unusual ways, and have a ridiculous amount of fun doing so.
3. Find your writing tribe as soon as you can. Find the people who will give you honest, meaningful critiques, and give them back. Know that the critiques that annoy you the most are also the ones that are also the most accurate.
4. It's kind of alarming to read all of those experienced writers telling you that writing is hard work. It will become hard work for you too, but you'll love every darn minute of it (yes, even the agonzing minutes, because you're creating).
5. Most importantly, if anyone tells you (as a new writer) that you are terrible... well, they're full of it. Because you are a NEW writer. That's kind of like finding a kid reciting the alphabet on their first day of school and telling them they'll never be an English professor. How the heck could that person even know from that snapshot of a moment what you might someday become? I believe there is far too much emphasis on writing as a talent, like we should all spit out Shakespearian quality sonnets on day 1. Ignore the naysayers, and keep on doing what you love. But, you know, write down their names so you can mock them in person as you accept your Hugo/World Fantasy Award.
I should note, at this point, that I don't think we should be overly, syurpy kind to new writers. False praise helps no one. But there is enough cruelty in the world already. And what does it hurt to encourage? More good books for us all to read sounds like a good thing to me.
*Further proof that we can read each other's minds.