Work It, Baby
Kick-in-the-pants Writing Article # 2:
So you've carved out time to write. The next obvious question for most aspiring writers is what to write. A lucky few may have a Great American Novel lurking around in their heads just waiting to pour out onto the paper, but I've never met any of these writers. Most of us have to try out different things until we figure out what it is we're supposed to be writing.
It's scary to experiment with entire novels. We don't want to set out to write a whole book, only to find out when we've finished it that we've written the wrong thing. Well, truly, there is no wrong thing to write, and everything you write will contribute to your future success in one way or another.
Writing is very much like any other discipline that requires a lot of practice. If you want to be a great musician, it's accepted that you'll have to spend many years of your life practicing. Same with being a great dancer, or a great singer, or a great actor, or a great artist, or a great athlete. I can't say enough how important it is to practice. Write, as much as you can, as often as you can--this is the only way to improve.
Sometimes practicing the craft of writing means writing a book that never sells--or ten books that never sell. It means writing first chapters that go nowhere, or writing a hundred pages that you later have to throw out. It means playing around with ideas that you may never use. It means trying different forms of writing--novels, short stories, non-fiction, poetry--partly to see what you enjoy most and partly just to stretch different writing muscles.
For all the books I've written and published, I have just as many--probably more--that I've started but never finished. Maybe I'll go back and finish some of them someday, but you know what I usually discover when I open old manuscripts? That the way I wrote back then is not the way I write now--and that my current writing is much improved.
That's the thing about practicing. It's an act of learning, and the more you do it, the better you'll get. I'd never think of discouraging anyone from pursuing a dream of being a writer, even if their early work is the worst crap ever. Because who knows--maybe they'll be more diligent than the average writer. Maybe they'll practice so much that in a few years, they'll be writing some of the most beautiful stories ever put on paper.
Maybe you're the next New York Times Bestseller, but you won't know until you try.