Retreading the Beginner’s Path as a Writer

Ready to rekindle your love of the craft and cultivate a sense of play in your writing? My guest today, Victoria Fry, shares why you should retread the beginner’s path. All yours, Victoria.

When we think of being a beginner, what often comes to mind is naivety, unsteadiness, and mistakes: wobbling along on our first two-wheeler bike; mixing up baking soda and baking powder in the kitchen; saying hair (les cheveux) rather than horse (le cheval) in French. It’s not usually the case that we want to be beginners again. We’re quite happy with our relative level of expertise, thank you very much.

When it comes to our writing, however, being a beginner—or rather, having a beginner’s mindset—can be incredibly valuable.

The reason for this is because, as well as the uncertainty, there’s also a giant dollop of adventure and a sense of joy in being a beginner. Nothing is impossible because everything is possible until proven otherwise.

Think on this for a moment: in your writing life, do you have things sorted? Do you tend to come to the page the same way every day? Do you write in the same genre? Develop characters that could have gone to high school together?If you’ve settled into a comfortable routine with your writing, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let your mind soar for a moment: when was the last time you did a writing prompt and turned it into a short story just for the heck of it? When was the last time you went to a museum and imagined which exhibits your main character would (a) laugh at, (b) recoil from, and (c) never want to leave? When was the last time you did something solely for pure love of writing?

Honestly, we’re human. In a world that’s getting more chaotic by the day, it’s nice to have some semblance of routine, and the consistency that comes from routine (as any of you who’ve taken Faye’s Write Chain Challenge will know) will help you create novels from stardust. On the other hand, without necessarily abandoning these routines, we sometimes need to inject a little freshness into our writing process, and that’s where we cycle back to being a beginner.

Thinking like a beginner doesn’t mean repeating all your past mistakes. It means:

Going back to basics

The more you read and the more you write, the more the fundamentals can start to feel like “write by numbers,” nothing to it. This can feel more efficient but it can also lead to stale writing.

To combat this, pull your writing books off the shelf. Reread the parts about the fundamentals of plot, character, setting, and dialogue. Try some of the exercises. You could even try re-reading some of these books from cover to cover. I guarantee you’ll discover something you could swear you’ve never read before that’s exactly right for your current work-in-progress.

Being open to a new way of doing things

Just as we can feel we have a lock on the fundamentals, we can have a sense that we know the “right” way to do things. We’ve written hundreds of thousands of words: we must be doing something right! That may be true, but you can still benefit from trying something new. If you’ve plotted your last three books by outlining them meticulously on index cards, try winging it! If you’ve never spent more than a few minutes brainstorming a character, be bold: spend a day on them. Spend two!

You don’t have to shun the old ways forever. Doing it in a slightly different way can (a) shake the cobwebs loose and (b) help you appreciate your routine even more, or you might like the new way even better. I tend to switch things up from story to story, sometimes even draft to draft, so I don’t get stalled.

Feeling that you know enough to get started

At the same time as we put paid to the idea that we know everything and don’t have any more learnin’ to do, we need to be mindful of the fact that knowing everything is not only impossible but is in no way a prerequisite to being able to begin. The goal here is not to get caught up in an endless cycle of reading, learning, practising, and never actually doing. It’s to cultivate a sense of play, to remember how delicious it feels to learn something new, to refresh your writing routine and rekindle your love of the craft.

Above all, dear writer, be gentle with yourself. Retreading the beginner’s path is a wonderful reminder that we love what we do and that it shouldn’t be all work, all the time. Remember the joy. Recall the wonder. Rejuvenate your writing spirit. And when all’s said and done, return to your writing and know that you’re exactly where you need to be.

Ready to rekindle your love of writing? Here’s why you should retread the beginner’s path.

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