Yep, only two, and they’re not plotting methods, grammar, or even how to type! (Though all of these do help, of course.)
Here’s the thing: Writing advice is extremely subjective. The tips you hear from one famous author may directly contradict the tips you read from another. The method that got your best writer friend through their first draft might be a total failure when you try it. The fact is that most writing advice isn’t really advice, but rather “Here’s what I did. Maybe that’ll work for you?” It can be taken with a grain of salt or left entirely alone.
There’s actually only two things you truly need to know as a writer, and the rest (all the grammar, plotting methods, writing software, etc.) will fall into place once you figure these things out. Here they are:
1. What works for you.
It is so, so important as a writer to learn what works for you personally. What gets you to finish the entire first draft of a book? What methods work best for you when revising? Are you more creative at night or in the morning? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or somewhere in between? Do you write best in a notebook with a pen, typing on your computer, or dictating to your phone?
When you’re first starting out, this is extremely daunting. You don’t know the answers to any of these questions! That’s why it’s great that there’s so much advice out there, from famous, well-known authors and hobby writers alike. You are bound to find something that works eventually, so pick one person’s method or advice, stick with it for a bit, and see if you get any results. If you don’t, move on to the next method. Unfortunately, it involves a lot of trial and error and experimentation to work this out, but once you do, it’s like the whole writing thing becomes unlocked, and it gets easier to repeat your successes. (Although note that I said easier, not easy. Writing may never be easy, and that’s totally normal!)
So take the time to learn about your own writer self. Experiment as much as possible. Keep track of what’s working and what isn’t, and have the confidence to know that each failed experiment will lead you closer to finding exactly what works for you.
2. Why you want to write in the first place.
Your why guides all your writer life decisions. If you’re writing just for a fun outlet and as a hobby, then maybe you’d choose to only share your writing with some close friends rather than entering a competition. Likewise, if you’re writing to make money, then you’ll want to publish rather than posting online for free.
Your why also affects the content of your stories. If you want to write a novel that purely entertains readers, you’re going to make different story decisions than someone who’s writing to send a message or comment on the state of modern humanity.
But the biggest reason your why is important is that it will get you through the hard times. If you’ve been writing for a while, then you already know—the writing life can be rough. There’s a lot of self-doubt, anxiety, and rejection involved, and that’s doubly true if you’re trying to make a living at it. In those trying times, your why is going to be the one thing that keeps you moving ahead.
So take some time and sit down with this. Why do you want to write? Why do you want to write this particular story? Keep those answers somewhere you’ll see them every day, and whenever the writing is going badly or you just got rejected or you don’t get the feedback you hoped for, look at them again.
Now, of course you’ll want to learn about storytelling mechanics and basic grammar and all that, but even if you don’t have those down perfectly, you can still achieve most of your writerly goals with just these two things.
So if you haven’t done it yet, spend some time working on these, and then get back to the work of writing. I’m rooting for you!
And I’m always here if you have any questions, so feel free to shoot me an email!