5 Lessons for Beginner Writers

5 Lessons for Beginner Writers

Over the last 6 months, I have hosted workshops for over 100 people wanting to learn more about writing.

Do I see myself as an expert writer? Not by any means. I only started writing online 18 months ago. I still have a lot to learn. I still have bigger dreams for my writing journey.

Funnily enough, my relative inexperience is an advantage. Especially as a teacher. I can help other beginner writers because I am only a few steps ahead of them. I recently went through the challenges they are currently facing.

In my mentor sessions in Write of Passage, I've focused on exercises that help my students generate ideas and overcome limiting beliefs.

Today I’d like to share short summaries of five of my favourite lessons.

1. Embrace Beginner's Mind

Starting is tough. Since we have high expectations of ourselves, odds are our first attempts will fall short of our lofty standards. And that’s okay.

One way I tricked myself into starting was by embracing Beginner's Mind (also known as the spirit of the fool).

By looking at everything as a learning opportunity, I lowered my expectations. By saying everything is an experiment, I removed the pressure. This way I overcame the perfection monster and got started.

You can only improve once you take the first step.

Deeper dive: Beginner’s Mind

2. Catch your fish

Ideas are like fish.

As writers, we need to be aware of the topics that resonate with us (get our rods ready) to capture the ideas (the fish) when they appear.

For this to work, we need to know what is important to us (define our favourite themes and topics) and then set up a system to record our ideas when they arise (take good notes).

As you go about life, try to incorporate the two states: an awareness of what resonates with you and a dedication to capturing information. Over time, you will have many topics to write about (or fish to cook).

Essay: The Fisherman’s Guide to Writing

Good writing is downstream of good information capture, which is downstream of being aware of the topics and ideas that resonate with you.

3. Don't create, document

Before I started writing, I thought you had to be super creative or highly original to be a writer. The next Hemingway or Atwood at least.

But originality isn't always necessary. It's a limiting belief I fostered for too long.

Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, look at the content you’re already consuming – the books you're reading and the podcasts you're listening to. Look at the things you're already doing – your work and your habits.

Document what you're learning, the topics that make your heart jump, your proand cess, how you overcame setbacks in your life.

These are all essay topics. It all counts.

Longer take: Don't create, document

4. Storytelling Reframe

Your challenges are usually a blessing in disguise.

As the Stoic philosophers said, no matter what you're going through in life, as difficult as it may be, there is always one silver lining: you will have a great story to tell afterwards.

Collect and use your challenging moments in your writing. This can help you foster resilience, generate ideas and help others.

Write-up: Storytelling Reframe

“A good day’s a good day. A bad day’s a good story.”

5. Add value, then make noise

Doing great work is only half the job.

If you want to increase your chances of success (your luck), you need to tell people about your work as well.

This is something I learned the hard way.

At school, I came to understand that what you put in is what you get out. If you studied hard, you’d get good grades. In the real world, the schoolboy mindset limited me. My colleagues who were working hard AND better at promoting their work were, funnily enough, also better at getting promotions.

Doing without telling is a missed opportunity. After you write an essay, you need to distribute your work so more people can see it.

Essay: Increasing Your Luck Surface Area

“The amount of luck that you have in life is how much value you create, times how many people you tell about it.” — Patrick McKenzie

Good luck with your writing adventure. The best way to get better is by practising your craft. May these lessons guide you as they have guided me on my journey.

Thanks to Rik van den Berge for reading drafts of this essay.

Originally published at https://johnnic.substack.com/p/cc-41 on May 1, 2023.