5 Beginner Tips for a Better Writing Habit

Advice for the Novice Writer

Since the eighth grade, I’ve had this bucket list dream to become a writer. And it was always just that: an item on my bucket list, never taken seriously or given a second thought. Which means that I never took a creative writing class and never sought training in anything creative. All I had ever done was begin drafting characters and started a couple of pages of a novel that was never meant to be.

But now that I have all this free time (unemployment! vacation!) I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I want to write seriously. I mean that in the sense that I want to write personal essays and feature articles. And just as equally, I want to get into the different forms of creative writing. Poetry, short stories, flash fiction, lyric essays, freeform writing, and someday maybe even a novel. So how am I planning to make this happen? I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Take advantage of free online writing courses.

If you’re not ready to shell out hundreds for a creative writing course, rest assured because there are plenty of great options out there. My favorite so far is the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. IWP offers free online courses that are pretty interactive and have a user-friendly interface. The course discussions are great, and you get to join subgroups in the course to meet other writers with similar interests.

Of course, there are several other courses available from various providers on other platforms, such as Coursera, Skillshare, and Future Learn, to name a few. I find that MOOC List and Class Central are great directories for finding free and low-cost online courses.

2. Carry around an open journal and take advantage of quiet moments during the day to unleash your inner writer.

Oldest advice in the book, I know. But sometimes when I’m in the car waiting to pick someone up, I’ll take out my journal and write down a page or two. I also keep it on my nightstand so whenever a line of poetry pops into my head on a sleepless night, I write it down. That way I can make sure I get all my thoughts down on paper before they disappear. Whether they ever become anything more than just thoughts is a different question, but it’s nice to have the option of revisiting what might someday become your inspiration for a future piece. And if you’re ever in need of journaling inspiration, head over to this nifty list of prompts from Bernadette Mayer.

3. Get acquainted with the literary journal/magazine scene.

Up until about a month ago, I had no idea what was out there in the lit mag scene. But now I’m amazed and probably follow at least fifty lit mags on Twitter to hear about new issues and submission calls. Poring through lit mags helped me realize the type of writing I’m drawn to: flash prose, lyric essays, and poems. Things like this beautiful piece by Alison Green on Sea Foam Magazine. I’m not into short stories (I’ve learned this from an online course) but I live for stream of consciousness writing. Personal narratives, creative nonfiction, prose that reads like poetry or poetry that reads like prose. Know what you like to read, because more likely than not it’s going to turn out to be what you like to write.

(Some lit mags I recommend are Luna Luna Magazine, Apogee Journal, Half Mystic Journal, Witch Craft Magazine, Duende Literary, and Argot Magazine, to name a few.)

4. Get on Goodreads and set your reading goal for the year.

Reading can only help you to become a better writer. It’s enjoyable, and like lit mags, it can help you figure out what genres you might prefer. I stopped using Goodreads after college, but I started it back up again this year! I set my goal for this year to read 20 books, and right now I’m… extremely behind. But the year is only half over, and I’m hoping to get into more of a reading mood now that I’m home. The last book I finished was Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar (which is incredible and I may write about it later). Next up will be Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer.

5. Start a blog and write into the void.

This is nothing new. I’ve been blogging on and off, noncommittally since I was in middle school. It’s just a fun thing to do, even if you don’t have a following. But if you do have a following, you get to practice writing for an audience, which can only make you better. And blogging might even help you figure out the kinds of things you’re interested in writing about. For me, I’ve discovered I’m more interested in writing about wellness than I initially thought I was. With time and a lot of practice, you come into your own in your writing, and having a blog helps give you the initial push.

If you’re reading this and you’re a writer too (no matter how new), I’d love to hear from you! What are some resources you’ve found helpful for your writing? What habits have you cultivated over time?

5 Beginner Tips for a Better Writing Habit

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