Many writers starting out try to blog and write a book at the same time. They end up doing neither one well. Or they try to write a book before they’re ready.
Then they end up with something not suitable for publication, waste a lot of time, and endure much frustration. That assumes they finish the book. But they’re more apt to give up before they finish—because they’re not yet ready to write a book.
Unless you’ve done a lot of writing—say about one million words—and invested about 10,000 hours honing your skill (see “10,000 Hours”), I recommend you start with blogging or writing short articles, essays, or flash fiction.
Blogging (and short pieces) offer several advantages:
Blog posts are quick and easy to write.
Blogging is a great way to hone our writing skills and find our voice.
Feedback is fast.
Errors are easy to fix.
Bloggers develop a habit of writing regularly, even when they don’t feel like it.
Blogging according to a schedule—which is what all bloggers should do—trains us to meet deadlines.
Blogging prepares us to write longer pieces.
There are many other benefits associated with blogging, but these outcomes are some of the key ones, which is why I recommend starting out with blogging or writing other short pieces. Save the book for later (see “Work Up to Writing a Book”).
Finding time to write is a dilemma most writers face at one time or another. Maybe all writers do.
I think the problem, however, is in the question. We don’t need to find time to write as much as we need to make time.
We each have 24 hours in our day. While work and sleep occupy part of each day, we exercise some degree of control over the rest. We decide what we will do with it. We can choose to write or opt to do something else.
Before you say, “But my situation is different,” let me agree with you.
Then let me ask, “How much time do you spend each week watching TV or on social media?” That is a prime opportunity to write instead.
If writing is important to you, you will make time to write. It may be a little or a lot. It may be every day or only once a week, but make it happen.
If you can carve out ten minutes a day, every day, and write one hundred words each day, by the end of the year you will have written 36,500 words.
If you can carve out one hour a week, every week, and write 500 words, by the end of the year, you will have written 26,000 words.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.
Many beginning writers wonder about point of view in writing and which should they use. Though there are many books written on this subject, here’s a brief overview.
Note that most people use perspective and point of view interchangeably—that’s what I learned in High School English—but others make a distinction between them, claiming that point of view is the correct term for this discussion.
Here is a brief, basic overview of perspectives/points of view.
First Person Point of View
First-person perspective uses I, as in I said… or I went…
For example, I went to the bookstore to buy the latest book by my favorite author.
Second Person Point of View
Second person perspective uses you, as You said… or You went…
For example, you go to the store to buy a journal and pen.
Second person is hard to write (and to read), so most authors avoid it. As an exercise, I wrote a piece of flash fiction in the second person, present tense. It was tedious.
Third Person Point of View
The third-person perspective uses he, she, and they, as in He said… or They went…
For example. They went to a book signing to see the famous author.
Two Types of Third-Person Points of View
There are two flavors of third-person: Limited (only what the point of view character can observe or think) and Omniscient (where the narrator knows what everyone thinks).
For each of these four options there are two choices: present tense (what is happening now) and past tense (what has already happened). This results in eight possible combinations to consider, but eliminating the second person and third-person omniscient, cuts our considerations down to four.
Past tense is easier to use, and the first person is more natural for most writers. After all, when we tell stories about ourselves to our friends, we use the first person, past tense.
Beginning writers should start with first person perspective, past tense, as in “I wondered which point of view I should use.” Then try third person, past tense, if you wish.
The main benefit of writing short stories before writing a novel is to identify and learn how to fix problems with our writing style and voice. And every writer has them.
Here are some other benefits:
Short story experience will help us edit and polish our longer works more effectively, before sending them off to a professional editor.
A novel’s chapters are often like short stories, with a beginning hook, page-turning middle, and satisfying end. So short story experience will help us in deciding chapter breaks, as well as starting chapters with more punch and ending them with more flare.
Short stories about characters in our novel will help us understand their backstory and then we can write, rewrite, and edit them more convincingly. (I wrote a couple of short stories about a sidekick in my novel, and she’s the one my beta readers most connect with.)
We can use short stories as a lead magnet to build our mailing list and to share with fans between novels. And this is even more compelling if the short stories are about our novel’s characters.
We can submit a short story to an anthology, which will give us a writing credit prior to publishing our novel.
Short stories give us an opportunity to experiment and try new things.
For those who write nonfiction, the same rationale applies to writing articles, blog posts, editorials, and so forth. In both cases, the goal is to start small and work up to longer pieces.
Many writers want to write a book about their health scare that almost killed them. But will publishers be interested in that book?
These stories are very personal for the writer, very real and raw. Unfortunately, it isn’t unique, and publishers want unique books. (Unless a writer has a big platform that will move books. Then publishers won’t care so much about the topic, because the size of the platform will overcome it.)
Publishers interested in your topic already have one or more books on the subject, and taking on another one could hurt the sales of the books they already have, so they’ll pass.
And publishers who haven’t published a book on your topic haven’t done so because they’re not interested in the subject.
The only likely scenario is a publisher who has published a book on your topic, but it’s dated and not selling well anymore. Then they may look to replace it with a new book—providing the author has a platform to move books and an agent to represent them.
The problem is that those who are most qualified to be a mentor are also the busiest, and the people who have time are usually not as experienced.
If you find someone who would make a great mentor, just ask them, but leave them room to say, “No,” because they likely will. As an option, offer to provide them something of value in return.
It could be money, but more valuable might be a service that you could offer in exchange for mentoring. If you’re flexible and willing to give them something in return, the answer might just be “Yes!”
Another possibility is to find someone to co-mentor. If you’re both at the same place in your writing journey but have different strengths and weaknesses, then you can help each other grow as writers. This may be a more viable option.
Mentoring from Afar
Last, someone can mentor you from afar. I read blogs and especially listen to podcasts about writing and publishing. I consider these people as my mentors. I’ve never met them and most of them don’t know who I am, but they do mentor me from a distance and help me write better and publish more effectively.
First, if writing were easy, everyone would do it. Though anyone who knows how to read can write, few people can write well. That’s what being a writer is: exercising our ability to string words together with excellence.
As with any worthwhile endeavor, it takes time to develop skill as a writer. As writers, we’re always learning and always growing. Each piece we write has the potential to be better than the piece before it. And each year our ability can surpass last year. Writing is a journey of discovery that lasts a lifetime.
Second, if you have a passion to write, then pursue it with full-out abandon. Don’t dismiss writing for a more profitable pursuit. If you do, you’ll always regret it. But that doesn’t mean being a full-time writer. Most authors write and do something else. They may have a full-time job and write on the side. Or they may focus on writing but have a “side hustle” or two to help pay the bills.
Writing is art, and it is science. Embrace both. Pursue both. Merge both to produce words that sing or words that sell. What joy we realize as we learn to write like that.
Third, writing is a smart way to avoid job obsolescence. In the ever-evolving job market—which changes faster every year—the career most people start with is seldom the career they end with. Writing, along with a few other skills, sidesteps the threat of obsolescence. Yes, the form of our publication will change—it already has and will continue to do so—but the skill to arrange the underlying words will persist.
People who have mastered the art of writing will always have something to do—even if we can’t now imagine what that might look like.
Fourth, writing embraces a new way to earn a living. As forty-hour-a-week jobs become less available and less desirable, twenty-first-century workers piece together a variety of pursuits to produce income, achieve better work-life balance, and find vocational fulfillment.
This approach includes freelancing, contract work, and subcontracting, with many writers leading the charge in these areas. With this mindset to guide us, today’s writers can forge ahead to produce a life with variety, purpose, and fulfillment. And you can join them in this quest.
How amazing is that?
Yes, without a doubt, pursuing a career in writing is worth the effort.
Discover What Type of Writer You Are and Then Embrace
There are different types of writers. They have different motivations, are at different places in their writing journey, and have different goals. Here’s how the different types of writers break down:
1. The Aspiring Writer
I’ve heard many people refer to themselves
as aspiring writers. But they’re misusing that label. They say aspiring
because at this point in their journey they lack the confidence to say they’re a
writer, so they qualify it by tacking on aspiring. If this is you, I
encourage you to take a deep breath, drop aspiring, and boldly say, “I
am a writer.” It will take practice to say with confidence, but you can do it.
You are a writer.
In truth, an aspiring writer is someone who doesn’t actually write; they merely aspire to write—someday. But they’ll never get around to it. Yes, they act as a writer. They read books on writing, go to writing conferences, and hang out with other writers. They talk a good game, but that’s all it is: talk.
They want to have written, but they
don’t want to put in the hard work, to actually sit down and write. They aspire
to write, and that’s where it ends.
Don’t be someone who aspires to
write. Just write.
2. The Hobbyist Writer
Next, we have people who write for
fun, write for therapy, or write for family and friends. They’re hobbyists. There’s
nothing wrong with that.
So, if a hobbyist writer describes you, accept it. As a hobbyist, you may not publish much and certainly won’t make much money from your work, but you are writing. And that’s what’s important. Own that label, and celebrate it.
However, if you want to realize more
from your writing, consider moving beyond the hobbyist phase.
3. The Passion Project Writer
Some writers have a book they must
write. It’s a compulsion, a calling. They work hard to produce the best book they
can. They self-publish it. Then they spend years promoting and marketing their
It’s their passion.
But it may be the only book they
ever write. Or if they do write other books, these may fall short because the
passion isn’t there. And it shows.
There’s nothing wrong with having a
passion project. I know many people who write one book, and that’s it. That’s
okay. But if you want more, consider the next two categories of writers.
4. The Artist Writer
I know many writers who view themselves as artists. They produce wonderful work and produce it with some degree of regularity. But they write when the muse hits, and they write when they have a deadline. However, if they don’t feel like writing, they don’t. They’re often discovery writers (pancers: they write by the seat of their pants). Writing speed and output frequency doesn’t matter. They’re artists, and that’s what they care about.
If you’re thinking of the phrase starving artist, that fits this category of writer. They may not make much from their art, and they certainly won’t earn enough to support themselves. That’s why the artist-writer needs another source of income. This could be a day job or a side hustle. It may be a spouse, an inheritance, or a generous patron.
5. The Career Author
The final category is a career
author. Although their words may flow from many different motivations, they
have one thing in common: writing is their job, and they strive to make money
from it, either full-time or part-time.
They haven’t sold out. They’re just being intentional. They value the craft and may even view it as art. They also write with passion. But, in addition to that, they write with purpose. They want to share their words with others and earn money as they do. They have an entrepreneurial mindset. They are an authorpreneur.
A Final Thought about the Types of Writers
At various times in my writing journey, I have been each of these types of writers. Some of my stops have been brief, and others longer, but where I am now—and where I want to remain—is as a career author.
Right now, I make some of my income as an author, and my goal is to one day earn all my income through writing. But money is not my motivator; it’s the outcome. My desire is to share my words with others. As I often say, my goal is to “change the world one word at a time.” And making money from doing so is a sweet result.
Discover what type of writer you are and embrace it. Don’t let anyone tell you your path is wrong or inconsequential. You are a writer.
There’s lots of advice floating around about writing, being a writer, and finding success. Though well-intentioned, some of this advice is bad information or oversimplified counsel. Here are some tips I’ve heard, many of which I’ve also said.
Check out these common pieces of advice and discover the truth about them. Though we’ve already touched on some of them, I repeat them here, so they’ll appear in one place.
Show Don’t Tell: Using words to paint a picture (showing) is more powerful than to state what happened (telling). In general, this tip is good advice, but it’s sometimes better to just tell readers what happened. For example, it would be boring to spend several pages showing readers about a four-hour car ride where nothing significant occurs. Instead just say, “Four hours later they arrived at their destination.” That’s telling, and in this case, it’s the right approach.
Write Every Day:Yup, I said this maxim before, and I share this tip every chance I get. But I don’t mean it literally. I mean it figuratively. What I mean is to write regularly. Although for you it might mean every day, it could be every weekday or only on the weekend. The point is to have a writing schedule and commit to it.
Although this guideline makes sense to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, some writers chafe at the thought of writing every day. Instead, they only write when they’re inspired or have a deadline. If this idea works for you, embrace it. Ignore the advice to write every day, but not until you’ve tried it first.
Write in the Morning:This tip is another one of my favorite adages. Many people even claim scientific confirmation that the morning is the best time to write (or do anything important), with maximum productivity and optimum results. My morning production is far better than in the afternoon. Writing in the morning works for me and works well. The early hours are when the good stuff happens.
Some people claim the morning isn’t right for them, that other times of the day work better. If that’s you, and you’ve tried mornings only to find them lacking, ignore those of us who insist you write in the morning. Pick the time of the day that works best for you.
Write What You Know: There’s an element of truth to this recommendation. What we know best, we can write most effectively.
When it comes to nonfiction, writing what I know flows with greater clarity and speed. But that doesn’t mean I can’t research something I don’t know and write an effective piece. I’ve done it many times.
When it comes to fiction, if I only wrote what I knew, it would be a boring piece about a middle-aged white guy living an uneventful, routine life. Who’d want to read that? Therefore, in my fiction, I write about what I don’t know. More specifically, I write what I can imagine. Then I live vicariously through my characters and their experiences that I make up.
You Must Have A Platform:An agent once rejected my submission, not because of the quality of my work or relevance of my idea, but because I didn’t have a platform. He didn’t say I had a small platform. He said I had no platform. Ouch! I doubled down and began working on building my platform in earnest. I hated it. It sapped the life from me. I almost quit writing because platform building distressed me so much. Seriously.
Yes, having a platform to sell our books is important, regardless of whether we want to indie publish or hope to be traditionally published. A platform will help us be successful faster, but it isn’t a requirement.
You Must Be Active on Social Media:This statement often finds itself coupled with building an author platform. I’m on several social media sites, but I don’t get them—not really. And although social media is at times enjoyable, it can be a huge time suck. I’m better off spending that time writing.
Someone who enjoys social media and understands how to use it to connect with people can realize great benefits. But I’m not one of those people—at least not yet. I connect best with people through my newsletter, on my blog, and via email.
You Must Have a Website: I agree that an author website is essential. It doesn’t have to be fancy or extensive, but it must exist and be inviting.
And for writers who think social media is an acceptable alternative to a website, I vehemently disagree. A social media platform can change its rules at any time for any reason, can shut down your account without warning, or not allow your followers to see your content. These actions happen all the time.
But a website is something we control. That’s why it’s essential. Even so, some authors claim to get along fine without one.
You Must Have an Email List: Email isn’t a sexy, new technology, but it is a proven method of reaching people. As authors, having an email list remains our most effective way of selling books. If you don’t have an email list, start one today. Every name you ethically and legally add to your list is a prequalified buyer for your books. Sure, you may get by without an email list, but why is a risk not using the most effective book marketing tool available?
Always Use an Outline: When I write, I always have a plan to guide me. It may be an outline, bullet points, or a destination to write toward. This approach is the most effective way to write quickly, not waste words, and avoid unnecessary amounts of cutting. Using an outline is the most efficient way to write, and as a career author seeking to drive income through my words, greater efficiency means increased revenue potential.
There’s nothing wrong with being a discovery writer (pantser)—and many authors prefer this method, claiming that having a plan stifles their creativity. But this approach isn’t the fastest and most efficient way to write. You decide what works best for you.
Use Microsoft Word: I’ve been using Microsoft Word longer than I can remember. Although I used other word processing programs before it, they’re now ancient. Microsoft Word is the standard throughout the publishing industry. Although alternatives exist and each one has its merits, you’ll never go wrong using what the rest of the industry uses. (See “Word Processing Alternatives.”)
You Must Use an Editor: Although this tip is wise advice, it isn’t absolute. No one forces you to use an editor before you publish your work. But if you want to avoid harsh criticism and one-star reviews, use an editor. And if you say you can’t afford to use one, I say you can’t afford to. Your writing career and your reputation as an author is at stake. (See the chapter on “Editing.”)
I used two editors for this book, as I do with most of my books. I can guarantee you they didn’t catch everything—no book is error-free—but they did make this work a whole lot better than I could have ever done on my own.
Don’t Design Your Own Book Cover:Again, no one makes you hire a cover designer for your book. You can do it yourself. But unless you have experience as a graphic artist and have produced successful book covers for other authors, don’t attempt to make your own.
Your cover is the single biggest means to sell your book, so you need the best cover possible. And you aren’t the one to do it.