If any of you are thinking about writing your own story, either for the site, on your own, or for Imagine Magazine submissions, I’ve put together a helpful ‘Top Ten’ page of tips to help you guys get started! When I began writing my own stories online, I NEVER thought it would go this far! And over the past 13 years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. Hopefully, these tips will make the road a little less bumpy for the rest of you. Enjoy! And get writing! Let your heart express itself. We’ve all got a story to tell. Why let it go to the grave with us?
#1- Just Do It
Everybody has that one big idea in their heads that they think would make the ‘perfect’ story. That perfect action scene, that perfect sex scene, that perfect romantic meeting or first kiss. And that’s awesome. But guess what? It being in your head isn’t going to do anyone else any good. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t start making up excuses as to why you can’t write it yourself, or why it won’t be any good, or why nobody will read it, or why you won’t have the time or the talent to make it happen. If you can ‘feel’, and you can ‘speak’, then you can combine the two, and write it down in a way that’s bound to have great meaning to somebody out there reading. So give it a shot. Don’t go looking for the right opportunity to get started. Don’t keep thinking about it in your mind and hoping that it’ll somehow manifest or materialize all on its own. It won’t. NOBODY is going to be able to tell your story the way you can. So go for it.
Don’t say, “Hey Comsie… you know what should happen in your story next?” Hehehehe, yes. I do. Because it’s my story. Write yours. People NEED to hear what you have to say. Give it a shot. If it’s a little tingling in the back of your mind… get it out. Give it a spotlight. It’s a piece of you that will live forever in the heart of someone else reading. So take your shot. What are you afraid of? It’ll be awesome!
#2- Be Dedicated To The Process, Not The Result
I will gladly help anybody and everybody get attention for something that they’ve written. Put it on the Library, advertise it, whatever. But if you think that you’ll write one story and get 100 replies on your first try… that won’t happen. God bless you guys if you’re dreamers, but it just doesn’t work like that. It didn’t for me, either. If you’re gonna write, make sure you’re doing it for the actual process of writing. The reader fan base will come in time if you stick with it and keep delivering quality work, I promise you. But I can also guarantee you that if you go into writing looking for readers to give you praise in great numbers and become the biggest name online… you will be disappointed. Sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re writing for nobody other than you and maybe two other people. Sometimes you’re going to want to abandon the story altogether and stop ‘wasting your time’. DON’T!
Keep writing! Tell your story! And when you’re done, tell another one. Then another. And keep telling stories until you feel you have nothing left to say. People ARE reading, even if they don’t say so. When I was writing “New Kid In School”, I thought a small, but loyal fan base after a few chapters… but it took EIGHT chapters before it really began to take off and I started hearing from new people out of the blue. I had NO idea that many people were watching. But they’re out there. Believe it. Your job is to just keep giving it your best effort and turning out amazing work. Applause comes later.
#3- Push Yourself. Believe.
There is NO such thing as ‘a little story that I wrote on the internet for free’. No. EVERY story that you write should be treated as though you were getting paid a thousand dollars a page, and that you’re performing for an audience of millions! If you’re gonna do it, do it all the way. Don’t half ass it. And don’t think that it’s just something that nobody is going to pay attention to. Push yourself. Every chapter should be something you’re proud of. Something that you truly believe in.
Don’t be afraid to stretch your imagination out. Don’t be afraid to get fancy with your dialogue or your wording. This is your chance to shine, so show off! Let people know what you’re made of. Have fun with it! This is your world. You can make it and mold it any way that you like. So make it a place somebody else would want to visit often!
#4- Know Where Details Are Needed.
The difference between having a story in your head, and writing it out on the page, is that we have the entire concept in our heads. Your readers won’t have that luxury. They can’t see what you see. They can only see what you tell them. So don’t skimp on the details when the opportunity arises.
Nobody wants to watch Star Wars and see a caption on the screen that says, “And then they blew up the Death Star.” Um… no. They want to SEE it blow up! They want to see the battle, the trenches, the lasers, the tension the triumph. Don’t skip on that stuff. Don’t say, “Then he kissed me, and it was great.” Describe the kiss! What happened? What did he say? How did it feel? What was going through your character’s mind? What did he do with his hands, with his tongue, how hard was his heart beating, how short was his breath, goosebumps on the skin… give your readers a complete experience. Look over your story and see where more detail is needed. Every part of your story is interesting. So treat it as such. It’ll be a much richer experience in the end.
#5- Characters First, Story Second…
When you get an idea for a story… a certain theme or concept that you want to dive into, start building your characters immediately. And when I say ‘building’, I’m not just talking about giving them a name, an age, and a physical description. This is a ‘person’ you’re writing about. Who is this person? What’s his personality like? What’s his sense of humor like? What is his approach to the world? What’s his background? What’s his family life like? Really work to make this person feel ‘human’, whether he’s fictional or not. Go out and talk to people. People at work, at school, online chat rooms, emails, friends, family… listen to random conversations on the bus or train. Each and every single person on this planet has a story that is unique to them alone. Your characters should have some of that feeling too. Each character should be interesting enough to carry an entire story by themselves if needed. Even if they’re secondary or background characters. “Gone From Daylight” is about Justin and Taryn… but the other characters should all be able to have a personal spinoff story and have it be just as interesting. (Gyro, Dylan, Dion, Trevor, et cetera) Same with Tyler and Ariel in “New Kid”, or Chris from “A Class By Himself”. There should be no ‘unimportant’ characters in your story. If they don’t have a purpose… take them out.
Once the characters are set use those 3-dimensional personalities, those special quirks and individual perspectives, to build your story. Let your characters write the story FOR you. Give them flaws. Let them speak to one another. Let them interact with each other… and they’ll guide you in your writing every time.
Trust me… you can have the most amazing story ever written… and it won’t matter at all if nobody cares about the characters. The characters are more of an emotional investment for the readers than the story itself. Keep that in mind.
#6- Know How It Ends.
Or at least have some idea of where this story of yours is going. Do it before you start releasing chapters. Have some idea of where you want to go with this story in the long run, before you find yourself wandering aimlessly amongst your own words. That’s never a good thing.
Remember… this ending doesn’t have to be set in stone. If you find a better ending somewhere in the middle of your writing, and decide to change it… you can do so. It’s your story; you can do whatever you want with it. Just don’t start one chapter and then get stuck with, “Ok… what do I do now?” That is a MAGNET for writer’s block! Hehehe! Make sure you define ‘point A’ and ‘point B’ in your mind… and then start your story. How you GET from A to B is up to you, but have some direction. It makes things so much easier.
#7- Take and Keep Notes!
I would recommend buying a tiny pocket notebook and a pen to keep with you at all times throughout your day. It’ll cost a dollar at the most. At any time of day, a really cool idea might come to you. A bit of dialogue, a joke, a character… you never know. Maybe you see a gorgeous boy in the grocery store. Maybe something happens to you at work that would be perfect for a story situation. Whatever. Keep a pen and paper close by. Don’t try to remember it all and wait until you get a chance to write next. You will LOSE a lot of the spontaneity and passion that you had at that particular moment. Keep handwritten notes. It helps. I’ve got TONS of notebooks full of scribblings and phrases and bits of dialogue and random ideas. And even THEN, I’ve got stuff written on scrap paper, candy wrappers, the back of receipts, and envelopes. Inspiration doesn’t work on a clock, so be ready for it when it comes.
#8- Be Vulnerable! It Takes Practice!
It won’t come right away. Being vulnerable is a process that happens over time. The more you push yourself to dig deeper into your own thoughts and emotions, the closer you’ll get to discovering who you really are inside. You might be surprised what’s waiting for you. I know I was!
Have you ever been yelled at or humiliated in public? Have you ever had your heart broken or been rejected? And once the moment has passed, you have this running conversation in your head of all the things you SHOULD’VE done? All the things you SHOULD’VE said? It’s like you replay the whole situation over in your head and try to ‘fix’ it so things went the way you wish it had. THAT is your writing voice! That hindsight, that whole, “I should have told my boss to kiss my ass and QUIT right there on the spot!” conversation? USE that. Write it down. This is your chance to create the situation in a way where you come out on top. That emotion is in there. Don’t swallow it down or let it fizzle out. That’s your fire. There have been plenty of times when I’m writing and can’t help but to just flood my stories with all of these hurtful/angry/joyous/horny feelings that I need to get out of my system. And sometimes it ends up being the most therapeutic exercise in the world. So try it out. Write those feelings out, even if it’s not for a story. Do it for yourself, save it, and look back on it later. You’ll be surprised how ‘honest’ you are with your feelings when you think nobody else is watching. That honesty, that vulnerability… will be truly appreciated in your stories when you learn to combine the fact and fiction together in an entertaining way.
But it does take practice. And courage. So you might not want to spill out all of your most private and intimate secrets all at once in your very first story. Take some time to write a few light hearted stories first. And move into heavier material as time goes on. You don’t want to overwhelm folks with your life story all at once. Find yourself first, and then let them know what you see. Don’t be afraid. On some level, we all understand. ((Hugz in advance))
#9- Cool Off Before You Edit.
I know that a lot of writers use other people to edit their work for them, and that’s awesome. It’s definitely the best way to get an objective eye to find the mistakes that you cannot. It makes for a really polished piece of work that you can be proud of. But… I always recommend that every author edit their own work at LEAST once, if not twice, before handing it over to an editor to glossy it up for you.
The reason I say this is because it’s still YOUR story. Only you know how you want it to go. Only you know how you want it to ‘sound’. Honestly, when I’m editing my own stuff, I might see a sentence like:
“I didn’t like how he was looking at me.”
And I might change it to say:
“I just didn’t like the way that he was looking at me.”
It’s a very small change, and the sentence is saying the exact same thing… but I like the way the second sentence reads a lot better. The flow or rhythm of it might just sound better when I look back at it. *I’LL* catch something like that… and an editor won’t. An editor will look at it and think, “Everything is spelled right. So it’s fine.” As an author, you should be truly connected to every word. Those little touches are yours to make. Add details, take details away, rephrase certain things, add dialogue where there wasn’t any… all of these little things matter. Don’t just finish writing and hand it over to somebody else. Make it your own first. Own it. THEN send it to editors to make it even better. They can only polish the table top, they can’t build it for you.
And when editing your own work… don’t do it right away. I know that you might write that last sentence of your story or chapter, and you’re all happy and gung ho about being finished… but don’t edit it right then and there. Let it cool down first. I usually back off and wait a day or two before I go back and start editing. Until then, I won’t even touch it. Put some distance between you and the story before going back to look for mistakes. It will give you a greater sense of objectivity if you take your time.
#10- Listen To Your Critics, But Defend Your Process…
When those first posts and emails start coming… it’ll feel good. REALLY good sometimes. But let me tell you… there WILL be critics! There is NO escaping it, don’t even try. There will be people who will pick apart and complain about every chapter that you put out. And sometimes… it’s gonna hurt. I wish that I could say you’ll write a story that’s virtually bulletproof in terms of having people trash it… but that would be a lie. What you write WILL be criticized. And if you write the greatest story ever told and have a million fans around the world… it just exposes you to MORE critics than the guy with a mediocre story and a small fan base. So be ready for that.
But don’t let that break you. Listen to what they have to say. Read every word, even if it sounds mean or hurtful. Try to see where they’re coming from, and think about why they didn’t like it. Take it to heart and truly be honest with yourself, because sometimes, the most hurtful words can help you to get even stronger as a writer in the long run.
However… the thing with the hurtful critics is… most of them can’t do what you do. In fact, I’m willing to bet that NONE of them can. When it comes to your peers in writing… you’ll be able to tell the difference. Because they can give constructive criticism without having to tear you down or making you feel bad. They can point out problems without using words like ‘dumb, stupid, annoying, garbage, et cetera’. And they can give helpful suggestions because they have an idea of what you go through to actually produce something out of thin air. The harmful critics don’t. All they know how to do is gain attention for themselves by hogging the spotlight that was meant for you. Learn to know the difference. This too… takes practice.
Also, even if you listen to the critics and take their words to heart… know, love, and BELIEVE, in your process. The words you use, the way you write, your punctuation, your characters, the themes of your material… it’s YOU. It’s a part of you. It’s your voice, and it’s how you write. I know that I personally piss a LOT of people off with some of the stuff I do in my writing! Hehehe, and it drives them crazy! And I hear about it all the time. But it’s truly something that is a part of me. I write the way I speak. I write with pauses and descriptions and dialogue that I’m comfortable with. And as much as it may irk some of the fiction purists out there, it’s a process that has never failed me. And I’m not changing it until I feel it’s hurting the quality of my work. I’ve personalized it. It’s mine. And I believe in it, no matter what anybody else has to say about it. You do the same.
Don’t let ANYBODY tell you how to write your story! It’s yours! Keep it yours! If they knew how to write such an awesome story, then they’d be too busy writing it to criticize something that you worked hard on. So keep that in mind, and you’ll do great.
There you have it! Comsie’s Top Ten list of tips to help you all get started! Give it a try! Imagine Magazine is an amazing place to get your stories read by a large audience. And the Comicality Library is always open to you guys as well. Remember, write for YOU, and only for you. Never think for a moment that your vision lacks value. It doesn’t. You know you’ve been itching to do it… so what are you waiting for?