Next year I’ll celebrate 40 years of stories. I stopped counting before the indie revolution and I was already over 500 titles, with less than 10 unfinished.
Before you ask: yes, they suck. No, I will never publish most of those stories, although I did throw the very first in a couple of books, because I wanted to show bad writing and I didn’t know how to show that except by using my own beginner writing.
I’m not even rewriting most of those stories, just keeping them as background or world-building if it’s SFF, especially if I wrote them last century. Of course all were unpublished, since I started putting my work out there only in 2011 and joined KWL at its inception in 2012.
So, what did I learn at the time of the typewriter, when I wrote in my mother tongue (Italian) and wasn’t a very strong reader? When my main inspiration came from TV series and comics? I learned the following five things that I can still rely on today in my digital publishing.
1) You’ll never run out of ideas
Writing is like muscles, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I used to write at school (that’s probably why I didn’t do very well in my secondary education and never went to university), at home, wherever, whenever. Notebooks filled with one-draft stories.
2) Sometimes rewriting is okay
Some stories I loved so much that I kept rewriting them. Which meant that I learned the beginning by heart, so in later years I started reading only the last scene/paragraph before going on. But then, at that point I also started typing in a word-processor…
3) Finish what you start as fast as you can
Just pour it all out as it comes, you can worry afterward about edits.
The few unfinished stories I have are because I probably lost momentum and forgot what I wanted to write about. I never outlined, I just sat down and wrote the scenes playing in my head.
To be honest, I always did my very first draft longhand until 2015. Making corrections is a hassle and makes everything messy, so if you think this might help in finishing what you started, write the first draft longhand.
I’m a typist (had to learn the skill to find a day job) and I learned to type with ten fingers on an electric typewriter, therefore moving to computer keyboards was a piece of cake. But it didn’t feel like I wrote it. That’s why I stuck to handwriting the first draft (I called it Draft Zero) for so long.
4) Be your own fan
Until I found someone willing to read my stories (and I was in my 20s by then), I wrote to entertain myself (hence the one-draft stories, they worked perfectly fine for me!). I used to read and re-read my stories quite often, and not only to write prequels or sequels to them.
Now I don’t do that anymore for lack of time. I sometimes get to re-reading something only when I translate it back into Italian . . . and usually go: “Yikes, this sucks! Oh, well, let’s see if I can make it sound a little better in Italian…” Perks of doing your own translations (and no, I don’t actually rewrite the whole thing, but sometimes I do tweak a sentence or a paragraph that sounds too clunky)!
5) Don’t worry if it’s crap
You’re done, yay! It sounds like the best story you’ve ever written, double yay! And then you go back to it after a week or a month and OMG this sucks! Not. Remember: writers are the worst judges of their own work. Besides, it’s practice, and practice never hurts.
You know the theory of “one million words of crap”? I wrote those and more, before I came out of my writing cave, wondering why publishers weren’t knocking at my door. It was the era of the typewriter, therefore no internet. I sent out my very first manuscript in 1993 and it was rejected unread (it was also very unprofessional, but I didn’t know the rules of submissions).
So remember this very basic fact: Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. So go back to your laptop or notebook and just write. Stories will come. Your craft will improve. Life and the universe will conspire and one day you’ll wake up and be a professional writer with an actual career.
This won’t happen if you don’t write.