Five Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing Fiction

Writing, in particular fiction writing, is one of my earliest passions and first loves. I’ve been writing stories ever since I was young. As one might expect, my work was never anything very moving or serious—only the fantastical, optimistic drabbles typical of children, which I often had my parents read. It was only when I was perhaps nine or ten (I gained unlimited access to the Internet at an admittedly inappropriate age), that I discovered the sort of culture that surrounded writing—or a subset of it, at least. That was the point in my life when I began taking writing seriously. I would create my own original characters, known in the communities I frequented as “OCs;” I often participated in roleplays and collaborative writing projects where I would write from the perspectives of these characters, and in the meantime, I would actively search for ways to make my writing better.

After several years of practicing this hobby of mine, whether it be surrounding myself with like-minded people who wanted to do the same or gathering as much information on every writing-related topic that piqued my interest, I have compiled my many, many favorite pearls of wisdom into a mere five tips in my own words. Please bear in mind, both before and as you read them, that my words are not the be-all-end-all of writing. While I have come a significant way since my work found its home in months-old chatrooms and battered comprehension notebooks, I still have a much longer way to go. 

I simply share these tips because the road to a writing style I can be proud of is a road I would rather not traverse alone.


  1. Publishing Is Not Mandatory


For many people who enjoy writing, it’s a dream to become the next massive sensation. In fact, deciding that writing is absolutely one’s destiny, and attempting to pursue it as a career with barely any experience and hardly anything to fall back on, is a trap I’ve fallen into myself. The truth is, building a writing career takes time and effort; while it’s not impossible, it’s definitely not the way to get rich quickly. There are many reasons for this, from fickle publishing standards to equally fickle readers to market saturation to a fairly competitive industry. Even though money isn’t everything, financial security is undeniably important, and no matter what you choose to pursue as a career it’s important to have at least one alternative to fall back on. 

Speaking of the market, it’s important not to write solely with the intention of making money. No writer wants to be stuck with a concept they aren’t passionate about—in fact, most people would rather not work on something they don’t care about—for no reason other than monetary gain. Furthermore, your readers will be able to tell when your heart’s not in your work. You don’t have to be formulaic to be the next big success; quite the opposite, if anything. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, if you write according to your own tastes and incorporate appeals to a specific demographic along the way, success will most likely follow. 

To delve even deeper into this topic, something else important to bear in mind is the fact that being an international or even New York Times bestseller isn’t necessary to be successful. Sustaining oneself and living a happy life is a success in its own right, and it’s important not to fall into the trap of believing happiness as a writer can only come in the form of multimillion-dollar incomes and enormous fanbases.

Please bear in mind that the purpose of this particular tip is not to be discouraging. Making a living off of writing is by no means impossible. You’re free to sell or even publish your work if you would like to do so, but don’t let people make you think the only way anything can be worthwhile is if it’s profitable. Being a hobbyist is perfectly okay!


     2.   Learn The Rules Before You Break Them


This applies to both clichés and general rules of writing. In the case of the former, to put it simply, you cannot be subversive if you don’t know what you’re subverting. Cultural osmosis is not a reliable source for knowledge on clichés and tropes. This is because of the way word-of-mouth and human language operates; we are naturally inclined to exaggerate, distort, or even downplay the things we repeat to others. A common piece of advice is that one must read in order to write. This is true, but to limit your consumption of literature and media as a whole to only the sorts of things you want to write would be a mistake—and an even greater mistake would be to limit said consumption even further to only things you know you’ll like. 

As hard as it can be to acknowledge, the fact is that the single best way to learn about tropes you want to subvert is to read the stories that incorporate them. 

Even works outside your chosen medium and genre provide valuable insight on whatever it is you plan to write. Research is, after all, a crucial part of writing in any genre. For instance, one who seeks to write a mystery story can easily benefit from articles and nonfiction about forensics; those more inclined to fantasy can use slice-of-life stories and even biographies to develop their knowledge on writing three-dimensional characters and exploring the various facets of the human condition. Any writer can find use in any work, and it’s always good to have a broad range of tastes—literary or otherwise.

When it comes to subverting or even outright breaking general writing rules, like those with regard to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, I have significantly less knowledge. As a result, this paragraph will consist largely of my own personal opinions. 

Works that contain such subversions can be thought of as falling under the “avant-garde” category. However, personally, I believe that writing works that are subversive from a technical standpoint are less a matter of breaking the rules and more a matter of using them in a way they are not commonly used. Breaking them entirely is a method that I believe should be reserved for those who have mastered them, but also those who know how to do so in a particularly artful or thematic manner. Though language as a whole is naturally inclined to evolve, the fact that writing now has its own industry makes the rules of the English language particularly rigid. As a result, breaking those rules solely for the sake of breaking them is more likely to come across as hasty or ignorant than artful and deliberate. They can be broken for the purpose of illustrating a particular character’s aspects, or for other purposes such as establishing a unique tone; again, however, this must be done with great care.


     3.  You Are A “Real” Writer


Though a writer, by definition, is required to write, many so-called “tips” which circulate throughout writing communities are unfortunately mere gatekeeping which masquerades as advice. One in particular which I would like to dispute is the idea that one must write every day. This is not required to be a real writer. It’s not even required to finish a work in progress. Not everyone is able to write every single day; people have lives outside of their hobbies, and even outside of their professions. Numerous circumstances such as work, school, mental health, family life, and many, many more make dedicating time to writing every day difficult for some and nigh impossible for others. While not impossible for everyone—in fact, for many, writing can be a retreat that they look forward to every day—it’s still necessary to consider the fact that writing takes effort and not everyone can make the time for it every day. Not many people can, and it’s okay to not be the exception. Writing at all, whether you have a schedule or not, makes you a real writer. Creating short snippets, singular chapters, character bios and profiles, outlines, concepts—all of it is still writing, even if it isn’t as long as you’d like it to be. Anything you can finish is something you ought to be proud of; it doesn’t matter how long it is.


     4.  Your Concepts Are Rarely As Bad As You Think They Are


Being ashamed of the things I create is something I still have to work on doing less of. I often tell myself that my ideas will never find success anywhere or with anyone, that they’re merely foolish wastes of time. The truth is, though, that there are very few concepts in existence that are inherently bad; those stories that look like they have “bad” ideas behind them are more often than not the results of poor execution, rather than poor conceptualization. The only concepts I would consider inherently bad are those which exist for malicious purposes or otherwise are born out of sheer ignorance, and I trust that the majority of people who seek to write good stories are unwilling to form ideas that fall under either category. 

To put it simply, you are capable of turning even your most outlandish ideas into impressive pieces. Your concepts don’t have to be the deepest in the world, and neither do your themes. Your prose doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or gorgeous. If you’re a hobbyist, or at the very least you’re in the stage of your writing journey where you’re still practicing, developing your style—just write the things that are fun for you. Want to type up video game fanfiction? Go for it. There is nothing and no one to stop you. Got an idea for a fantastical creature that you scribbled down in your sketchbook at three in the morning? Awesome. Your mind is capable of creating entire worlds—or even modifying entire worlds—and that’s something to embrace, not be ashamed of. Want to reimagine yourself as a character in a story? Honestly, do it. It’s not weird or cringe-worthy or embarrassing. People do it all the time and have been doing it for as long as we’ve had written language. At the end of the day, writing is an art form—and at its core, art is about being yourself. 


     5.  Growth Is Not A Contest


In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy.” And as stated in the first item on this list, it’s not necessary to be like the most esteemed writers throughout history to make a name for yourself or be successful. Throughout your journey as a writer, it’s likely that you’re going to encounter a lot of people with the same passions and goals as yourself. As with any group of people, the groups of writers you encounter on the way are almost guaranteed to be fairly diverse from a variety of standpoints—age, gender, genre, strengths, weaknesses, and many more. 

For a long time, I would seethe with envy when I came across a writer or artist who was younger than myself, but whose skill level was vastly above mine. I never enjoyed seeing their work any less, and I never wished they didn’t have those skills; what I did wish, however, was that I could be that good when I was their age. I wondered if there was something wrong with me when I was that age—if I wasn’t trying hard enough, or perhaps I was simply born with less talent than them. I was particularly inclined to believe the latter. And in my opinion, that was immensely unfair. After all, what did they have that I didn’t?

The truth is, no one is inherently superior to anyone else. This sounds like it should go without saying, but when one is in the throes of impostor syndrome and self-doubt, it can be hard to believe. Your skills are most likely better than you think they are; the reason they don’t live up to your expectations is because the media you consume is created by experts who have been doing what they do for years. Of course, you usually don’t like your own work as much as you like that of others; not only is your perception usually clouded by your own biases, but the “others” in question tend to have had plenty of time to practice. When you wonder what your peers have that you don’t, the answer usually isn’t a question of skill, talent, luck, or inherent superiority; it often comes down to time, and sometimes it comes down to privilege. Either way, that doesn’t make your work any less worthwhile. 


It’s okay—necessary, even—to always strive to improve. Ultimately, though, your focus shouldn’t be on being better than anyone else (that’s a mentality that borders on toxic) or just as good (trust me, you already are!). When you want to improve, it’s always important to be better than you were a year before. 


Or, as I like to put it, be someone that your younger self would be in awe of.