It’s exhilarating to complete your first piece of professional writing, whether it’s a novel, an advertisement, or a blog post. Most aspiring writers are eager to get their work out there, which often means they publish these first projects without thinking about the need for practicing (and perfecting) their writing and storytelling skills. Readers expect excellent, interesting, and compelling writing; do not put your future vocation at risk by presenting amateurish, underdeveloped work to an audience before you have done all you can to improve as a writer. The reading public at large is not fond of being coerced into the simultaneous roles of beta reader and editor when they are seeking information, quality, and entertainment.
A common theme in writing forums and groups is to not let rejections or criticisms of your work discourage you from writing. When this topic comes up, it’s inevitable that someone will mention one or more well-known writers who faced ongoing rejection of their work—some over extended periods of time—before that one contract offer came through or that one piece caught readers’ imaginations and the writers’ careers took off. However, this viewpoint is somewhat misleading; it may be assumed without further context that those rejections were all of the first written works of each author. Another potential implication is that these rejections were of a single written project and that this oft-rejected piece was the same one that later brought that writer success and fame.
The reality is quite different. Few writers ever find success with their first written piece (or their first several written pieces), often because the writers have not had enough experience or constructive feedback. Most famous writers hone their writing and storytelling abilities (which are distinctly different from one another) for many years in various forms: journal or personal blog entries, short stories or flash fiction for their own amusement, school assignments, newspaper contributions or magazine submissions, white papers, transcriptions, etc. These opportunities to practice and perfect their writing may present themselves by chance on occasion, but career writers usually seek out these opportunities while simultaneously seeking feedback on ways they can improve their work. These writers have had many different written pieces rejected, critiqued, ridiculed, or corrected. Some may have a range of their work published for years before a random piece (lucky book number thirteen, perhaps?) catapults them into notoriety.
Writers cannot afford to seek ego-boosts any more than they can afford to avoid criticism. If you are new to writing, accept it: you are a novice. There’s no shame in that. It simply means there is a great need for you to learn both the mechanics and artistry of writing and storytelling before you make your work available to the masses. An excellent bit of advice for a beginning writer is to avoid writing stories or pieces that you are “married to”—the story or pitch concepts that you are the most passionate about or have the highest expectations for— as your first works because that attachment makes it much harder to improve the writing. You have to be able to “murder your darlings” (and no, that is not a Stephen King quote), and it’s so much easier to tear apart the stories which don’t hold your hopes and dreams captive.
Does this mean you shouldn’t submit your story to a reputable literary journal or that you shouldn’t seek out an internship as a contributing columnist at a regional newspaper? No. Those are the sorts of things that can help you get feedback on your writing, particularly with an editor—or several editors—standing between you and your audience, filtering the best of your work out to readers and discarding the dross.
However, low expectations may serve you well as you embark on your path to professional writing. Anticipate that your first few bits of writing will probably flop in terms of quality or content. There may be problems with voice or verb tense. Perhaps there is too much head-hopping or else excessive exposition (also known as infodumping). The narrative may ramble rather than engage. There could be any number of problems with the text—that’s all right, for now. This is your chance to discover what your weaknesses are so that you may improve. See the humor in it all, and use this as a stepping stone. Like any other creative professional, a writer’s education is an ongoing process.
As an aspiring writer, now is the time to educate yourself. You’ve heard it before, but this is what it takes to develop writing talent: Take the time to read up on the art of writing. Study elements of storytelling. Review basic grammar and punctuation rules. Write on a regular basis. Read a broad variety of books, articles, or other texts relevant to your career goals, and try to identify the important elements or well-applied (or judiciously broken) rules in the work of others. Take that ability to spot these things and apply it to your own writing. Use that awareness to self-edit and revise your work as necessary. Ask for feedback from others with experience and expertise. You should be proud that you finished writing that manuscript (or screenplay, or article, or marketing copy, or whatnot), but if it’s your first venture into the realm of professional writing, don’t publish it yet. Perfect it first.