First Steps for New Fiction Writers

Setting off on a fiction writing journey can overwhelm even the most excited, steadfast new writers. How does one make that very first step?

What follows here is not the only way to begin, but it's one particular way, and one of the best things we can do when we're new to something is just decide to start. So now that you're here, on this page, I hope you'll give it a try! The world always needs more creative souls to nurture their imaginative inclinations. ✨

Think of the ideas that follow as guidelines rather than a step-by-step list to be strictly adhered to. The aim here is to help you set off on your journey, not load you down with a cartful of baggage right here in the prologue! Bound lightly along these stepping stones, try the ones that feel right, and before you know it, you'll have taken your first steps on a lifelong creative adventure.

Now, where to begin?

To save your future self some grumbling, you might want to decide on a fixed location for all your writing efforts, whether it be one notebook, one document, one shoebox, or one digital folder. You'll always know where to look, and valuable writing time can be spent writing and pondering and exploring rather than hunting down what you were working on last time!

Once that's sorted, let's move swiftly to the writing itself! If you don't have a specific story in mind yet, two low-pressure ways to dip your toe into the pool are (1) responding to writing prompts and (2) writing fanfiction.

Writing prompts are everywhere: Pinterest, Tumblr, writing websites, writing books, and this collection I've created. Find one that intrigues you, take a deep breath, and start writing your response to the prompt. If what you write begins to diverge from the original nature of the prompt, let it! This is your imagination trying to break free, your creative muscles strengthening, your Muse trying to speak to you. 💖

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

  • Choose a local-to-you landmark and write about an encounter between two people in which this landmark plays a significant role - you decide how!
  • Look at one of your hobbies or greatest interests and spend a few minutes listing all the words  or phrases associated with it that you can think of. Birdwatching, for example, would include words like "nest", "binoculars", and "migration".  Once you have a list at least 10 words/phrases in length, write a scene/short story using most or all of these words, without having it be about the original hobby/interest.
  • Listen to the radio and write the imagined inspiration for the next song or piece of instrumental music to catch your attention.

Fanfiction involves writing your own prose within a world that someone else created - building on the foundation of their characters, settings, and worldbuilding. It's done for joy, not profit, as you aren't the original creator of this world and copyright must be respected, and it can be a fantastically fun way to develop your prose writing skills. While some people write novel-length fanfiction, it's also very common to write smaller pieces, and that's a great way to begin.

Have a story of your own in mind already? Consider trying one, or both, of those avenues first regardless! It helps to establish a sense of enjoyment as well as the stamina of coming to the page without the additional complexities that accompany novel-crafting.

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It's never too early to begin developing a writing support network. Writing often suffers as a solitary creative endeavour. Many of us thrive on having a creative friend to bounce ideas around with, someone to send encouraging messages when your story has crashed into the rocks, a fellow writer who shares helpful writing exercises. And this, of course, is a two-way street!

As another aspect of this support network, find a few writing resources (in print or online) to gather advice from and stick to those few for the foreseeable future. Make these resources your first call when you're puzzled about something, and only move beyond them when you absolutely have to.

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Once you have a story idea that makes your soul dance, you're ready to dive in! If you don't feel prepared, carry on with the previous suggestions a little longer, but don't wait too long.  Story ideas have a life of their own and won't always wait around forever.

Take a deep breath, and let's get you prepared to write your first rough draft!

These topics have all been covered in more detail elsewhere, either here on Something Delicious or in other writing resources, but you know your body of knowledge and experience best! Use this list to guide your journey, and look into things more thoroughly as and when you need to.

Jot down everything you know about your story idea, without editing yourself. Be sure to include the initial spark of inspiration and what has you most excited about this idea.

Gather inspirational touchstones to keep you grounded along the way. This could be a music playlist, a Pinterest board, or a scrapbook page of newspaper clippings - anything that helps you connect to the story.

Clarify the audience you're writing for and the genre you're writing in. Research what readers (yourself included!) love about this genre, what's traditionally been a part of this genre, and make sure you (a) include in your story what's important and (b) consider which aspects of the genre, if any, you're excited to embrace or subvert (the latter should be done with care).

Also, if you don't personally love this genre, ask yourself why you want to write within it. I guarantee you'll enjoy writing within a genre you yourself enjoy more than one you can't be bothered with as a reader. While it may be too early to think long and hard about marketability, it's never too early to be genuine.

Decide whether you'll work towards a wordcount goal for the rough draft, or write until the story is finished. For someone who's never written longform fiction before, a wordcount goal can be a useful guideline. Look up typical wordcounts for your genre-audience combo and try aiming for that, allowing yourself a small buffer either way. If it starts to feel overly restrictive, you can do away with the wordcount goal! That's what revisions are for. Your priority is to finish the story, not get caught up in a potentially arbitrary finish line.

What, if anything, will you need to research? Start keeping track of what you need to know from the very start, where you can look for this information, and start a list of questions that feel important but can wait until further down the road.

Finally, ensure you have a basic understanding of the setting, plot, and characters, and give some thought to the heart of the story.

Now embark on word one, page one, day one of your rough draft! And don't fret if your prose doesn't immediately feel brilliant and witty. Writing is a skill like any other, and longform-fiction writing a specific subset of that skill. Expect a marvellous, exasperating, rewarding learning curve, just like you would if you were learning to play the guitar or do mounted archery.

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you.”

Beatrix Potter

From now on, the entire creative world is open to you. You have so many adventures ahead! I'll link to a few blog posts below that will help you build and strengthen the foundation layers of your writing life, but for now, I hope you write. I hope you create. I hope you ask questions, take chances, embrace passion and courage and whimsy.

I hope you have an incredible start to this journey. Bon voyage, creative soul, and happy writing!

Helpful Resources & Works Cited

"How to Build a Creative Support Network": an approach to making creative connections that helps you focus both on finding what you need and giving what you can.

"How to Name a Character": the beginning of a three-part blog post series on character creation.

"How to Nurture the Heart of a Story": a way to clarify the glowing golden thread woven through the entire story.

"How to Prepare for a Year of Writing": ideas and suggestions to shape your writing life in a way that best suits you and your current creative adventures.

"A Peek Into How I Organized My Work-in-Progress": a method of digital organization that works wonders for sprawling story notes.

"Writing Prompts from Tori Fry": a collection of prompts I've written over time, ones that are particularly helpful once you have characters in mind and a story underway!