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1. Let your characters speak to you
Most people have encountered this before: you’re merrily writing along when suddenly your characters start staging a mutiny. You want Susie to fall in love with Bobby, but as you type she’s rejecting Bobby and running off with the milkman instead. This is not a bad thing. It means you’re creating characters who are starting to take on a life of their own instead of just being puppets you maneuver into place. Just run with it and see where it takes you. You might surprise yourself with what opens up before you.
2. Write all the time—but give yourself breaks too
I’m a firm believer in the butt-in-chair method of writing. Turn on your favourite tunes, turn off the internet if you can’t make yourself stop surfing Tumblr every five seconds, and get your fingers tapping on that keyboard, or moving that pen. It’s hard, especially with the five million and one distractions that everyone has running around them at any given time, but you’re not writing if you’re busy squeeing over the latest Supernatural, or texting your BFF, or cleaning the bathroom (which is often my method of procrastination). Set yourself a goal, even of only a few hundred words, and write.
On the flip side of that coin, it is actually okay to let yourself take breaks, especially if you really get into the groove and realize you’ve just written 6000 words in a few hours. Try to time it for when you reach a milestone, such as the end of a chapter, or even the end of a particular scene. I wouldn’t recommend just leaving in the middle of a scene, because it can then be difficult to get back into the flow of where you were. Treat yourself to a snack or go outside for a bit to recharge, or maybe answer those fifty e-mails from concerned friends and family. Then get your butt back in that chair.
3. If you want to write a novel, write a novel
I see advice saying to start with smaller things and work your way up, but the only thing that’s going to teach you how to write a novel is actually writing a novel. A blog post won’t teach you the correct pacing, and neither will a short story. This holds true for any format of writing you wish to do. If you want to write poetry, how is writing prose going to help that? This is not to say that you should pick one format and stick to it. All kinds of writing will teach you valuable skills and eventually you will be able to cross those skills, creating some sort of hybrid monster to take over the writing world.
4. It’s okay to suck
As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” It is perfectly okay to suck, but it’s not perfectly okay to let that discourage you from writing. Nobody sits down at their computer and writes a masterpiece on the first go. You will write clunky sentences, your characters will do stupid things, you’ll completely forget about that plot point you put in 70,000 words ago. And that’s fine. Wail and gnash your teeth over it, rend your clothes, and then sit your butt back in the chair and keep writing. Practice is the only way you will improve, no exceptions. Give yourself a pass for that incomprehensible gibberish you wrote at 3 am while hyped up on coffee and mini chocolate bars, mark it, and leave it alone until you’re finished and can go back to edit.
And consume other media. Play those video games and see how they lay out the story. Watch TV and see how the plot is presented. And read, read, read. You can’t expect to know how to write if you don’t read, because reading is an act of learning, whether you do it for pleasure or because you’re in high school English and you have an essay due the next day. By reading other stories, you will learn how a plot is laid out, how characters are created and moved through the story, how to set up your pacing, and how to construct language. If you don’t read, you will not learn the skills of creating and telling a story. Plain and simple.