New writers: It’s okay to start somewhere.

At the beginning, it’s perfectly okay to have no idea what you’re doing.

It’s okay to spend hours at a bookstore, running your fingers over the spines of new releases and dreaming. It’s okay to imagine your book sitting on a shelf there, even if you’re years away from your first query letter.

This is how you learn what sells.

It’s okay to write fanfic until five in the morning, experimenting with plot and form. It’s okay to write coffeeshop AUs and out-of-left-field OTPs and just generally have a good time. It’s okay to upload that fanfic to the Internet for likes, upvotes and general good fuzzies.

This is how you learn what kinds of things you love to write.

It’s okay to take your time. You don’t need to be a bestseller by 25. It’s okay to never tell anyone you’re a writer, ever. It’s okay to blast your National Novel Writing Month status on Twitter sixteen times a day. It’s okay to experiment between the two to find out what feels comfortable.

This is how you learn how you’d like to present your authentic self.

It’s okay to concentrate on writing the things that give you joy, rather than the things that you think might be trendy. It’s okay to write vampires even if they’re not “in” this year, because everything comes back around. It’s okay to dabble in genre to see if you like it, or go zero to sixty on your newest literary masterpiece.

This is how you develop your own distinct voice as a writer, which is what publishers want.

It’s okay to go to conventions and book fairs. It’s okay to be that new kid in back, raising your hand to ask questions. The really good pros know that everybody starts somewhere, and they won’t judge you one bit. They’ll answer your questions.

This is how you grow your network.

It’s okay, when learning how to write for publication, to… not write for publication.

Everyone starts somewhere. It’s okay to enjoy this beautiful time before reality puts on its stompy boots and tracks mud all over your dreams. The hustle can change you. One day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’re worried about the money, that you’re worried about the reviews, and that it’s harder to find the sheer joy of words that used to come so easily.

One day, you’ll wake up and writing will be stressful.

And then, you’re going to need the part of yourself that has no idea what they’re doing. The fanfic part, the zero-to-sixty part, the in-the-stacks-and-dreaming part.

So play. Discover. Have fun. Keep dreaming. It’s the most important thing you can do for your career.

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Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.

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