TEN TIPS FOR NOVEL WRITING WITHOUT A COLLEGE DEGREE
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Now let me start by saying, this is not meant to knock a college education. Not in the least.
But for various reasons, I didn't end up going to college. Because of this, I spent a number of years believing my lack of a greater education discredited me. I'm here to set the record straight for anyone else in similar shoes.
Here's a quick recap of my story to becoming an author:
Writing came naturally to me from a young age. As a child, we were allowed to pick out a couple items at the local dollar store, and I always gravitated toward notepads and pens. I've loved writing all my life.
That love followed me into high school, where I excelled in creative writing, often having my finished work read in front of my class.
You might think I was a shoo in.
But my ugly truth is this: I've struggled with social anxiety my whole life, and high school was exceptionally difficult. The idea of going to another school setting honestly terrified me.
Fast forward a few short years, and I was married with two babies.
Then the recession hit. And layoffs...one after the other.
So what was a young, socially anxious, mother of two living at poverty level supposed to do when her passion was to write? I'd chosen the path of avoidance, but found myself suddenly desperate to make my dreams come true.
I'll tell you a few things I did to get rolling.
The first couple are all about plugging in:
#10. Join closed online writing groups.
Facebook offers many incredible communities, and the great thing is, you don't have to be an established author to join. In fact, I've found that many of the members in these groups are aspiring writers who haven't yet been published. Do a quick search for writing groups, narrowing it down with specific keywords that best represent your goals. (i.e. Indie Writers, Fantasy Writers, Christian Writers, etc.)
Introduce yourself and what you're working on. And above all: be friendly, interact, and learn as much as you can! Post questions you have, or read through other posts and take notes. ENGAGE.
(IMPORTANT: All FB groups have their own set of guidelines. Be sure to familiarize yourself from the get go.)
#9. Engage on social media
Twitter runs daily writing hashtag games. And if you tweet using the hashtag #writingcommunity, you'll connect with an enthusiastic, dynamic group of writers. Similarly, Instagram offers hashtags such as #bookstagram #writersofinstagram #writingcommunity #amwriting...
Here's the thing. You need to surround yourself with like-minded people. You'll not only gain confidence by interacting with these communities, but you'll come in contact with endless writing tips, glimpses into individual processes, and honest struggles from other writers which you'll find deeply relatable.
#8. Read Obsessively
Perhaps this is obvious, but even successful authors occasionally admit to struggling with reading enough. You'll learn the most about writing from reading as many books as you can. Read in the genre you're writing in, but don't shy away from others. Reading in a genre far from your target will add a layer of depth that might just help develop your own unique voice and cause you to stand out among the crowd.
My first series was dystopian, but I devoured a number of regency romance books while writing, including three Jane Austen novels.
Diverse reading is ESSENTIAL to developing as a writer.
#7. On that note: Read to study
You should read to enjoy. For entertainment. Absolutely yes.
But equally important is reading to study. Grab a pen and highlighter, and don't be afraid to make notes. (You might want to purchase copies of your favorite books for a few bucks at your local used bookstore. Better yet, also grab a couple books you don't particularly like.) This practice has made the biggest difference for me.
Here's what you do:
1.) Highlight lines, phrases, and descriptions that stand out to you. They might cause an emotional or physical response in you or baffle you with their genius. Highlight liberally.
2.) Circle lines and phrases that the author overuses or that fall flat of their intended purpose. Reading to learn isn't only about highlighting what works. It's also about making note of what doesn't.
3.) Leave notes in the margins. If something in the writing pulls you out of the story, make note of it. If a scene deeply impacts you, mark that down too.
4.) Underline words or phrases that are new to you. Expand your vocabulary!
#6. Keep a journal
This might be a small notebook you keep in your pocket or purse. (Remember to have a writing utensil handy...) This tip is all about keeping your mind in a state of creativity and observation.
- Mark down natural dialog that strikes you as interesting..(Maybe once you've moved on from the conversation. Might makes things weird if you're taking notes while talking.)
- When you're commuting or at the park or wherever, practice writing descriptions of the things you observe.
- Write down interesting character descriptions based on people you see.
The possibilities are endless. Journal away!
The wealth of resources for writers on Youtube is honestly mind blowing. And the range of experience is equally crazy. You'll find short, concise videos focused on specific aspects of writing, and you'll also find hour long lectures by famous authors.
All I can really say is go do a search on YouTube for whatever it is you want to learn, and you'll likely stumble upon more videos than you can watch in one sitting. Grab a notebook!
I learned so much this way and continue to watch videos on a regular basis. I also spent time on iTunes U.
And check out SkillShare.
The bottom line is, if you want to learn it, you can find a resource online. You've got this.
#4. Build relationships with other writers
This goes hand in hand with the earlier tip of engaging in groups and social media, but the difference here is you want to find a few writer friends with whom there is mutual trust.
In college, professors analyze their students' writing. They make notes, correct sentence structure and challenge ideas, suggest changes and praise work well done.
This is an important part of our growth as writers. You need to build relationships with a few trusted writers a little farther along than you (Take your time with this. Be sure.) so that they can read your work and give you honest critiques.
Which leads us to #3...
Learn to embrace constructive criticism. This might be hard at first.
Creative writing is deeply personal. But a critique partner who truly has your best interest at heart will be frank with you about where your writing is weak and what areas you need to grow in. They'll offer tips and suggestions to strengthen and tighten your prose. And a really good partner will highlight the lines and scenes you NAILED.
Be vulnerable. It's the only way we grow. At this point, if I receive a manuscript back with minimal edits or notes, I'm genuinely disappointed.
#2. Study dialogue.
I'm making a point of this, because bad dialogue has the power to kill a strong plot. Likewise, clever, witty, or otherwise dynamic dialogue might keep a reader engaged in what is actually a weak and hole-ridden story. (God forbid, right??) It's so important, IMO, that you should start thinking about this from the beginning.
Highlight dialogue in books you're reading to study. Use one color for weak, unnatural dialogue, and another for the good stuff. The stuff that makes you laugh or cry or turn the page. Read it out loud.
I can't stress this enough: natural, realistic dialogue is essential to telling a compelling story.
Can you guess?
Do not wait for inspiration, and don't stop if you find the first few writing attempts are horrible. When I first started taking writing seriously, I bought a ton of legal pads and would sit for hours in the evening scratching out stories and scenes. (I looked cracked.)
Also, don't worry if your work greatly resembles that of your favorite authors in the beginning. That's completely natural. You'll find your own voice in time, when it counts.
Choose a daily word count goal that fits your lifestyle. Maybe 500 words. 1000 or 2000. Whatever's reasonable for you starting out. That number will change as time goes on.
There are SO MANY MORE TIPS to share, and I'll do so in a later post.