• Sofiya Pasternack

The (Sorta) Complete Beginner's Guide to Writing

Advice From a Profeshinul Auther


The first rule of writing advice is to never listen to anyone else's writing advice.


Okay, now here's my writing advice.

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El Oh El okay okay, caveat before we get going here. I'm sure you learned in elementary school that any time a true/false problem uses a word like "ALWAYS" or "NEVER," you can assume the answer is false, because very rarely is something ALWAYS or NEVER anything.


The same thing goes for writing advice. Any time you see a "List of 10 Things New Authors Should NEVER Do," you can (probably) safely write that list off as being wrong and bad. I say "probably," because sometimes people will have a list of actually good advice and they give it a clickbait title to get more views.


But yeah, in general, the advice to NEVER or ALWAYS do something is usually bad. Because people are different and experiences are different and taste is different and you never know what rule you're going to break that's going to revolutionize your genre.


Okay Sofi, calm down. This is a guide for new writers, not literary revolutionaries.


WELL. Literary revolutionaries had to start somewhere.


In this post, we'll go through these things:

Reading

Writing

'Rithmetic

Reading


My non-author job is in healthcare. In order to renew my licenses and certifications every 2-5 years (all of them are a little different), I have to do Continuing Education (CE) between them. And just like every license has a different renewal period, each one has a different number of CEs required, and what the CE parameters are.


For example: I have Trauma Nurse Core Course (TNCC) certification for my disaster job, and this requires that you're an RN, and also that you have to take a 2-day class with a hands-on pass-off and a written test every 4 years. There are no CEs in the interim, and no hours requirements.


I just let my Critical Care RN (CCRN) lapse, because it requires that you're an RN who had worked at least 300 hours in a critical care setting over the last 3 years. There's no retest, but you must provide proof of those hours. You also have to be a current member of American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and that is expensive, so I stopped paying for the membership. I don't work ICU anymore, so it was a waste of money. However, when I did work ICU, the membership and the CCRN certification were both awesome! I got free CEs from AACN that I could use to stay on top of the latest in critical nursing care.


A lot of healthcare jobs are like this, requiring proof of hours worked and CEs to show you're advancing your healthcare education. We don't want to remain stagnant in a field that's constantly moving forward. As a patient, you wouldn't want care from a doctor who stopped learning in 1995, right? Tons has changed since then. Nah. You want someone who regularly reads the latest journals, goes to conferences, and does extra training.


I mean... a doctor who stopped learning in 1995 can absolutely still do doctor things. Sure. But the one who's updating their knowledge is a better doctor.

You gotta read, fam. And you gotta read new stuff. Saying "I read Lord of the Rings for the 40th time" does not count. Any book older than, let's say, five years? Doesn't count.


Read new stuff.

Read your contemporaries.

Read the market you're trying to get into.


You'll have your finger on the pulse of trends that are good, bad, going, or coming. You'll have a broader understanding of genre tropes, good and bad. You'll stan other writers' books. You'll see what's being done well, or what could use an overhaul.


And, my friends, when the time comes, you'll have read enough so you can do two very important and difficult things easily:

  1. Comparative titles

  2. Promote other authors

More on that second one in a second...

Writing


So, if you're a writer, you have to write. Obviously.


Do you have to write every day? No.

Do you have to write brilliantly every time? No.

Does your writing need to be groundbreaking? No.


It just has to be.

Writing is an art, just like painting, music, dance, etc. And I think the fact that writing is something that anyone can do makes its difficulty misleading.


If someone picks up a paintbrush for the very first time and tries to paint the Mona Lisa, they are going to fail in a spectacular manner. It's not going to look like the Mona Lisa. It might not be the worst thing to curse eyeballs, but it's not going to look like the Mona Lisa.


Same goes for a musical instrument. You're not going to play Midnight Sonata your first time tickling a piano. You're not going to dance the Nutcracker Suite the first time you throw on a pair of ballet shoes.


And, sorry to tell you, the first time you try to write a story, you're going to write something that isn't amazing.


But???? That's okay! Practice is something we all have to do in order to come up with art of any stripe. The more you practice, the more you learn. The better you become.


So... write.


And get feedback on your writing. Creating in a vacuum means if you're making mistakes, you'll continue making those mistakes until they become part of the art. Practice makes perfect is not correct. Perfect practice makes perfect is the accurate mantra. And submitting your work for feedback to other writers is going to help you ascend in your practice.


Also? When you critique other works? That helps you ascend, as well. You can see how something works or doesn't work in someone else's writing. I can't even tell you how many times I'd drag someone for doing a certain thing in writing, only to realize oh snap I do that exact same thing!

'Rithmetic


Okay we've circled back to promoting other authors. This falls under the social aspect, which I have titled "'Rithmetic" because I'm insufferable. It's really important to be social and develop a writing family. This is something I really wish I'd done prior to getting an agent and a publishing deal. LFMF!

How does a lil goblin introvert author even make friends?


Good flippin question.


Social media is a clear answer, but don't just focus on follower count. Really interact with people. Find writer hashtags to participate in. My early Twitter days were focused a lot on daily tag challenges, where you write a snippet or post a picture with a hashtag so others can find you. Then you search the hashtag, comment on posts that you like, and BLAM instant friends!


Okay maybe not instant friends... but it's a start!


There are author communities on every social media platform out there: Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok... The possibilities are endless and robust!


Once you've met some people, start talking to them in DMs or messages etc. Get excited about what they're writing about (if you find it exciting, pls don't pretend if you think it sounds boring). Offer to beta or read a chapter or something. Repost their hashtags.


Hopefully, there is reciprocation! If there isn't, there's no shame in putting your energy into a different relationship.


Another route for making writer friends is to find a local writing group! You can do this through your state's writing league or club (Google it!), or through something like MeetUp or Facebook groups. Find one that works out for you for the Three Ts:

  1. Tempo: When does the group meet? How often? How far in advance do you need to turn in materials?

  2. Topics: Does education happen? Is it purely a critique group?

  3. Temperature: The "feel" of the group. Are the people nice? Is there a genre limitation? Are there certain genres or topics (i.e., erotica) that are verboten?

If all of that works out for you, hooray! If not, there's no harm in saying, "This group seems cool but it's not meeting my particular needs at this time. Thanks bye!"

There are also online places to find critique and community, such as Scribophile.com (posting here does NOT count as pre-publication because it's a password-protected site chiefly intended for feedback, so you're okay to post chapters here!) and WriteOnCon's CP Match.


Ultimately, writing is a very personal and individualized process. There are definitely authors who don't read. Authors who write very occasionally. Authors who have EVERY FRIEND or no friends. None of them are wrong or right. Everyone has their own path! So figure out what yours is and how you can get to where you want to be.


Good luck!

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meet sofiya!

Sofiya Pasternack is a mental health professional, the highly-distractible author of Jewish MG and YA fantasy, and prone to oversharing gross medical stories.

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