In the beginning, writing is easy, because you don’t know yet how much you don’t know, and you don’t know yet how much work it’s going to take to get better.
And eventually, you know that you’re not yet as good at it as you can be, but you’ve been at it long enough to know that you’re at least adequate and — more importantly — you know how to work at getting better.
In between those two states, though, is a trackless waste where a lot of dreams go to die. It’s the stage where you’ve realized how much you still don’t know, but you haven’t got any idea how to go about getting better. This is the point where despair can take over.
What can an aspiring writing do to avoid getting mired in despair? Different remedies work for different people, but here are some that have proven effective:
- Write something with the pressure-for-excellence taken off. Blog posts; a journal; letters to imaginary friends, or to real ones; fan fiction, even, if that’s where your heart lies. You don’t have to write the Great Post-Postmodern Novel every time, or even the Next Big Novel in your genre of choice, any more than a concert pianist has to play the Warsaw Concerto every time he or she sits down at the keyboard.
- Go for some education. Sign up for a writers’ workshop, or take a course online, or read some books on writing. These are all good ways to pick up tips on craft and technique, because craft and technique are things that can be taught.
- Seek out the company of other writers. You may not pick up any tips on craft or technique from them (then again, you might), but writing is a lonely business and too much time spent alone with it can make it seem like you’ve been hiking through the same stretch of desolate landscape since forever.
- Read for pleasure — books in your genre, books out of it, whatever takes your fancy — and read for instruction as well. Watch how your favorite writers handle the tricky bits you’ve been struggling with; notice when even your favorite writers sometimes don’t quite hit the mark. (Even great writers don’t hit it every time. Point of view in Moby-Dick wanders all over the place; Mark Twain had trouble writing endings; Dickens was fond of plot advancement through incredible coincidence. And so on.)
- And keep on writing. Nobody ever got through the wasteland by stopping in the middle of it and waiting for something to happen.