Writing About Writing: On “Starting Small”

Writing about writing is difficult. It is a kind of self-expression and examination that leaves one feeling vulnerable and simple. When I think about the characters and worlds I’ve created, journeys I’ve mentally traversed, and joys I’ve brought to people through my writing, then realize that all I’ve really done is put words to paper, it makes me wonder if it really is all that simple.

Yes, it is. And yes, writing about writing is scary, and hard, which is exactly why I’m doing it.

I get asked about writing often, and mostly from beginners who are itching to write their very first story. They’ve got fresh ideas, a wide array of reading experience, and they want to know how to begin. If you’re one of these writers, let me just say…

Hi there. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and congratulations on starting your quest. I will try my best to give you forthright advice that isn’t condescending or pandering.

As a small child, I was always making up stories. As soon as I learned to write, I started writing them down in notebooks. Always a compulsive, voracious reader, I also started to find myself drawn to a specific genre of fiction:

Vampire books.

I read tons of them. Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Japanese shojo and horror manga… I even read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”. There was something intrinsically appealing to me about blood-suckers.

At age fifteen, my mind was made up: I was going to be a writer, and my first book was going to be a horror novel about vampires. For three years I slaved away every night on my laptop, diving into the world of writing. I wrote about a pacifistic, emotionally fragile young man thrust into a world of violence when he awakes to find himself a member of the undead. The novel had everything: murder, intrigue, romance, sexual deviancy, a complex antagonist, and even three bride characters. When I finally finished my book, I let it sit for a month before reading it over again. I couldn’t wait to be re-immersed in the world of My Life in Mortis.

Friends, it was terrible.

When I say terrible, what I really mean is that it was beyond fundamentally flawed. The reason is simple: when I started the journey, I wasn’t a writer. I learned an innumerable amount of valuable lessons over the course those three years, lessons that must be learned firsthand through experience. Every day was a new adventure.

Now, I understand the wisdom of “start small”. Say you wanted to run a marathon. If you started running 26 miles a night (which probably wouldn’t be possible) you would almost definitely injure yourself and be unable to run. You might even lose your love of running.

Writing a novel is HARD. It’s the kind of soul-crushing exercise that can make or break you. It takes persistence, dedication, and discipline to craft those 50,000 words or so. But if you’re up for it, just like I was at 15-years-old…

Go for it. Write what will make you fall in love with writing. Never tell yourself NOT to write, ever. Just write.

I am constantly grateful for the struggle I went through in writing that first novel. If you’ve got the passion for a genre and are practically bursting at the seams with enthusiastic ideas, please don’t let anyone try to convince you to start by writing short stories you don’t even care about. Once your love of writing matures, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to write short stories anyways.

And if you don’t, you don’t. But at least you’ll have a novel under your belt.

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