Many first-time writers make the mistake of believing that behind every successful novel is an author born with the talent to bring it to fruition. While there’s no denying that some people have a natural inclination for the written word, writing is a craft. And like any craft, it requires practice and time to hone your writing craft and become great—or even good.
Every talented author, even the ones that have gone down in history books, has penned downright horrible first drafts. They’ve made spelling errors, missed crucial plot holes, and spent hours in agony over prose that refused to come together. Just like every beginner, these greats had to practice their craft like anyone else—through trial and error.
What better way to motivate you to keep going than to look to the greats for advice? Read their hard-earned lessons below and let them inspire you to create your own masterpiece.
#1: Just Keep Showing Up
“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up, too.” — Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende knows a thing or two about inspiration. Without it, how else could she have written such hauntingly powerful stories about ghosts and mythical spirits? Her sage advice is simple: just show up.
Too often, we fall into the habit of waiting for inspiration to hit us like a bolt of lightning. By holding out for this magical moment, we give the power of our success to a temperamental muse. Allende suggests that if we simply keep showing up—no matter how uninspired we may be—the words will eventually begin to flow. Persistence is far more effective than talent.
#2: Protect Your Time
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” — Zadie Smith
Her stories may be short, but Zadie Smith is a powerhouse of creative wisdom. Having penned dazzling works like White Teeth and On Beauty, Smith knows that successful writers need to protect their time if they’re ever going to get anything done.
It really comes down to prioritization. If you’re serious about writing and finishing your novel, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. That means everything from saying no, putting on a ‘do not disturb’ sign, and throwing that phone on silent. Even if you only have five minutes a day, guard it fiercely. Time management tools can help protect this valued resource.
#3: Be Ready for Inspiration to Strike
“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.” — Will Self
Inspiration is a fickle beast. You never know when she’s going to strike and hit you with the most brilliant idea for your novel. That’s why Will Self, professor, novelist, and author of Umbrella, believes that you should always be prepared for her by always keeping a notebook on hand.
Whether you’re a lover of pen and paper or you prefer digital tools, having some sort of safe haven for your big ideas is essential. Ideas can come in any form and at any time, so make sure you have a reliable way to jot them down no matter what you’re doing. It helps to be just a little prepared—even though it’s hard to predict where the muse will show up next.
#4: Make Time to Read
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time—or the tool —to write. Simple as that.” — Stephen King
The king of horror himself believes that the most important tool to have in your writer’s arsenal is knowledge. You can’t write effectively or accurately if you’re not on a mission to expand your creative horizons. And the best way to do this is by reading, reading, and more reading. How else do you think he came up with classically terrifying tales like It, The Shining, and Carrie?
Read not only fiction, but newspapers, magazines, and anything else that sparks your interest. Consciously seeking out new perspectives and voices while you read helps you understand the world and how to write about it.
#5: Know That You’ll Only Get Better With Time
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” — Ray Bradbury
The master of science fiction and author of Fahrenheit 451 has a simple message for all aspiring authors: you need to write a lot if you want to get good. He alone has written over 30 books and 600 short stories, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about the power of continuously putting stuff out there.
Don’t get so caught up in the need to make your work so perfect that you never actually finish what you start. Not everything you write will be a masterpiece, and that’s okay. Just know that with each story you write, the better you’ll get.
So what are you waiting for? Let these lessons from the greats inspire you to start—and keep—writing. After all, consistently putting pen to paper is the only way to master your craft.