The Question New Writers Ask That Bothers Me the Most

How do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?


I am a member of a few writing groups online. I also poke around the NaNoWriMo forums, explore other writing blogs – anything I can do to be a part of the conversation, because that’s the main reason this blog exists. To help writers in any way I can.

Lately, I’ve been seeing the same question pop up. It’s not a new question: I’ve seen it plenty of times before. For some reason, it has really started to bother me.

The question: Which word processing tool do you/should I/do professional writers use?

I have a question in response to your question: does it matter?

I think the focus is a little off here. If you’re more worried about writing tools than you are about what you are actually writing, I am genuinely concerned.

I use Microsoft Word to write most of my projects because I needed to purchase it as a student. Then, it was an investment for my education and I still use it for that purpose and for writing. I also use Google Docs, which is completely free if you sign up for a free Google account and don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office software. They both serve the exact same function: to type words onto a page. To write a story. To put my ideas into words.

That is all I need. I don’t need a special program to count my words or track my progress or keep me from being distracted. Other writers might need these things to keep them going, so they might want Scrivener or another program or app. But here’s the problem … how do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?

The reason this question bothers me so much is because I feel like new writers especially spend WAY too much time, energy and valuable resources on things that do not matter. You want to be a writer? Well that must mean you need to spend money on a word processor and all kinds of fancy tools, right?

Wrong. What you need to do is … can you guess? WRITE.

This is the kind of question I might expect from a writer who is trying to solve a specific problem they have discovered is an issue for them: they get distracted too easily, or they need a built-in feature that helps them track word count progress. But from a new writer, honestly, this question just seems silly to me. I expect new writers to have questions. But what I expect them to do even more than that is to go off on their own and write stuff. Isn’t that what being a writer is?

You can spend all the time and money you want on products and writing forums and asking questions in Facebook groups. But if you never actually write anything, I just don’t know how to help you. Maybe you’re a little nervous about starting, and that’s fine, but really … just open up a Google Doc and start writing something. THAT is how you become a writer. By writing.

I do worry that new writers aren’t focusing on the right things, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to solve that problem other than to tell people to just write. So many people want to be writers. And that’s great! The more voices we have to adequately and accurately communicate messages, the better.

But the thing is, I first started writing when I was very young. There were computers, I’m not that old, but there really weren’t online communities yet like there are today. I didn’t join one until I joined NaNoWriMo in 2008, when I was in high school. I had written plenty of stories before that, on paper and on Word, without asking anyone any questions about it. I just wrote, because that was what I wanted to do. It didn’t matter what tools I used: the story was the only thing I cared about.

So my question for you is this: are word processing programs like Scrivener misleading new writers to believe they can’t write until they have ‘the right tools’ to get started?

I’ve never tried Scrivener, I have nothing bad to say about it and I’m sure it’s a great tool. But I’m worried for future generations of writers. Yes, I worry about things that don’t matter, too. But after this, I’m going to set aside my concerns and write a whole bunch of words because it is my job. I love online communities, but sometimes, they can take away from the actual writing process, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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Yes, I Write with Strangers: An Interview with Olivia Zimmer


By day, Olivia Zimmer, 23, is an English teacher living in Incheon, South Korea, far from her cozy hometown in northern Illinois, USA. By night, she’s an aspiring writer, like so many of us. But her chosen path to developing and refining her skills is one you may not have heard of before.

Just one year after she fell in love with writing, Zimmer joined her first roleplay (RP) writing community—a place where writers from all over the world come together to write back-and-forth, in character, to create collaborative works of fiction just for fun.

After 10 years of RP, Zimmer has met and interacted with dozens of fellow writers who share her passion and love for words. We sat down with her to hear more about how RP, for some, might be the key to turning small fragments of ideas into functional, beautiful strings of words.

How did you first become involved in RP?

I’m not really sure how it happened, really. My best friend Mary and I were having fun on MySpace one day and all of a sudden we were a part of this community of people that had the same idea we had.

Who was your first-ever character? What was that first RP experience like?

My first-ever character was Hermione Granger, but I made her original. Her name was Hershey and she was obsessed with chocolate. [That] first RP experience was a lot different than it is now. Back then, people didn’t write really long responses (what we call multi-para or novella). Everything back then was in the perspective of your character, but you basically chatted. It was what we now call one-lining. Where you went on some kind of adventure. But you only wrote a sentence or two, and your actions.

Who is your favorite most recent character to write as?

I don’t think I could pick a favorite! I currently write as several characters from the T.V. show “Once Upon A Time.” I love them all in different ways because it allows me to write in so many different perspectives of the same situation. As a hero, as a villain, and as a child.

Describe what it’s like to interact with other writers in RP online communities.

It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Most of the time, interactions are kept solely on the storyline, so you stay in character and you only write your story. Other times, you can interact in other places (like the status stream or on AIM). While interacting on the stream, it allows you to stay in character but also talk to people faster than through your writing. On AIM, you can choose to write in character or out of character (OOC). That’s where we form our friendships outside of RP.

How is RP different from writing stories by yourself?

You can’t plan ahead. Most people like to discuss a starting point for the story, but after that, you can’t anticipate anything. You don’t know what the other person will write and you have to adapt from there.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of RP in terms of developing writing skills and interacting with other writers?

I think being able to kind of think on your toes is one big advantage. You can take your time in writing, but whatever you write has to both make sense to the story you’re trying to create with another person while also incorporating your own style and voice.

Personally, it really helps my creativity. Some storylines push me past my comfort zone ad I write things I wouldn’t normally write about. I also think interacting with other writers gives you a chance to let out your creativity in a variety of ways instead of limiting yourself to just one world or one story.

What are the disadvantages?

The biggest disadvantage of writing with other people is the drama. It’s hard to believe that a majority of the people on the site are adults and they cause drama with others. We always welcome the drama in storylines, but outside of that, it tends to get personal and people are still cyber-bullied.

Another disadvantage is when people lose their muse or abandon their page. You lose a story that way. One that you really can’t recreate with anyone else, even if they play the same character.

How has RP helped you become a better writer?

I think it’s really helped my overall creativity. I’m able to move outside of my comfort zone in writing and work on things I wouldn’t normally think about.

Is it harder to write on your own, being so used to collaborating with and building off of others and their ideas?

I don’t think so. Granted, I haven’t written a novel-length story on my own in a while, but sometimes I have ideas involving characters that no one else wants to write about. So I write short stories just to get the idea out.

What’s the most important thing RP has taught you about storytelling?

I guess not to hold back. The more detail, the better the experience. Really get inside your character’s head and figure out the holes that the original creator left open or fill them in with your original character. Make the story yours.

What advice would you give to a writer who might be hesitant to share their work online or roleplay with other writers from around the world?

Don’t by shy! If you want to be a serious writer one day, you need to be willing to share your work. I know it’s difficult. But there’s no better way to share something with someone who has similar interests and similar writing styles than by sharing it on RP.

What should someone’s first step be if they are looking to join an RP community and create a character?

Really the first step is to find the right website. [There are] a lot of them out there. Some are more like forums, where they only accept one of each character and they build their community that way. There are other websites that allow more creativity. You can create your own characters or create ones that already exist and interact with multiple others. and Tumblr are both good places to start if you’re looking for a larger community. Otherwise, looking for a forum-based group for a specific T.V. show, movie or book would be good for a smaller community.

Whether you start out small or dive into the Tumblr scene RP has the potential to change the way you interact with characters and develop captivating storylines. With a lot of practice, you can use the skills you learn in interacting with online forums in your own individual writing projects.

If you think RP might be able to help you build your confidence and keep you outside your comfort zone, give it a try! Joining in the RP scene doesn’t mean you have to stop writing on your own. Like Zimmer, you can do both. Like any online community, it has its advantages and disadvantages. But it’s worth it, if it gives you a new excuse to write more often.

Have more RP-related questions for Olivia? Leave them in the comments and we’ll pass them along!

Image courtesy of Olivia Zimmer.

Solution Saturday: Joining an Online Writing Community


If you’ve never been a part of a writing community online, but are thinking about looking for one to join, it can be difficult at first to figure out where to look, how to participate or even whether or not joining an online community of writers can benefit you personally.

You can find online writing communities anywhere—on social networks such as Facebook groups or on Tumblr; Twitter lists; forums or blogging networks. But it’s not enough just to join a handful and wait for something to happen. Like anything else, if you’re going to find any benefit in joining, you have to strategize. 

Find a group that fits your style

Do some serious searching around. If you’re a creative writer, you’ll obviously want to look for groups that talk about plot, character development and all the fun and quirky (and not-so-fun, not-so-unique) things writers have to deal with when trying to turn a tale into an actual book.

But if you’re interested in branching out, or you want to try writing blog posts or gain experience writing nonfiction articles, you can also find writers on blog networks or apply to join a team of magazine contributors depending on the subject matter you’re interested in writing about. You can learn a lot from working with others who are looking to gain experience in any field of writing.

Bring your ideas, skills and enthusiasm

Everyone joins a writing community for different reasons. Some are brand-new to writing and are looking for supporters and advice from more experienced members. Some just enjoy “meeting” new people and engaging in conversation about writing topics.

The best way to engage with other writers is to treat your membership like a gem. Dive right in! It’s not necessarily smart to comment on every post, go off on unrelated tangents or start arguments, but the more you share your ideas and enthusiasm for writing, the more others will want to connect with and share their own ideas and excitement with you.

Know that you’ll get out of it what you put into it

Joining any kind of online writing community isn’t just about signing up and waiting for the updates and threads to appear that appeal to you the most. At first you might be a little hesitant to join in, and there’s nothing wrong with poking around, seeing what others are posting and getting a good feel for the kinds of topics routinely discussed with your group.

But joining a community just for the sake of joining doesn’t benefit anyone, and if you’re frustrated no one is interacting with you, take some time to really think about what you’re looking for in a writing community. If you just want to find people to read your work, maybe a Facebook group isn’t the right place for you. If you want to be a part of a team, you have to participate, and sometimes that means starting your own conversations and checking back frequently to keep up with threads.

Joining an online writing community can connect you with people who share similar experiences related to writing, whether it be struggles or triumphs. Writing may be an individual experience, but when we come together with others, we’re reminded it’s okay to support each other, build each other up and contribute to one another’s success in this diverse, competitive industry.

Are you part of an online writing community? Do you find it beneficial to your work? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below—we’d love to hear from you!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.