Kirkwood Public Library’s Summer Reading theme for this year is “Imagine Your Story,” and what better way to celebrate that than by writing? (And reading, of course).

Many of you are avid readers, lovers of books and words, and are sure to have your own little library at home. But have you ever thought to write a story of your own? Or simply even trying it? You don’t need to publish your own story or novel, but you can just tell a story that you want to read, creating your own world and characters that you either love or hate. Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

You don’t have to be a wordsmith to write—you don’t have to be at the skill level of the many authors we love and adore. You don’t even have to know all the complicated rules of English grammar or know those big, fancy, poetic words. If you want to learn eventually, there are many tools online that can guide you, but getting your ideas out on the paper is the most important goal. It’s as simple as…well, writing. I’m a librarian with a love for writing, and I’m here to give you some guidelines on how to start your own story!

1. The first step is very crucial, and one I often forget when writing myself: Don’t compare yourself to other writers and their abilities. It’s difficult to do, because I often wish I was as good as the writers I love, but writing isn’t about meeting some sort of grandiose standard. It’s about enjoying the process and being happy with what you create because whatever you create will be cool and unique in its own way. When you first start painting, you don’t expect to create a Picasso or a Monet. You just have fun with the colors and experiment. And you can be proud of yourself for the time and effort you put into the piece. Writing is the same way.

2. Allow yourself to write badly and write badly a lot. Don’t worry about following grammar, formatting, or using the precise adjective or verb. Just write, write, and write. If you hyper-focus on making everything perfect and ideal while writing, you’ll never get far. You’ll end up exhausting yourself and not want to write at all. When I first started writing in middle school, I didn’t care about how I wrote because I just wanted to tell my story. I ended up writing for hours and hours on end and loving it. Was it amazing work? Of course not. Did I love it anyway and do I still love it reflecting back on it? Yes! But once I started aiming for perfection, my writing output declined because I burnt myself out on finding that perfect word for one sentence.

3. Read A LOT! Reading a lot gives you some basic information about what makes interesting and good writing, and it can help you figure out what you yourself want to write about. When I read a book, it gets my creative brain buzzing and helps me think about what stories I’d like to tell. Even though I said above to not compare your writing to other authors, it is normal to mimic their techniques and styles when you are writing. By mimicking other authors, you can develop your own unique writing voice too.

4. If you have no idea where to start your story, start in the middle of the story or even just write out a scene that you envision or particularly like. When thinking of a story, I never know how to start the beginning, but I usually have an awesome scene planned out in my head. Write the most exciting part of your story first and fill it in as you go. Writing isn’t about going from beginning to end. It’s more like a dabbling in the middle, then the end, then the middle some more, then the beginning. It’s okay if it’s an unorganized, messy process. You can even check out our Summer Reading Writing Challenges here to spark some ideas on where to begin.

5. What helps you stay committed to writing your story as a passion, hobby, or whatever you want to call it, is keeping a notebook and carrying it with you everywhere you go. That way you can jot down ideas as they come to you suddenly—because that’s how they often come up—or even write down words of the day. Set aside time for yourself to write and even set yourself up a little writing station, too, because having a routine and an area to write makes you more likely to do it.

It’s important to remember that everyone is capable of writing and telling their own creative stories. You don’t have to be a gifted artistic person to write and enjoy writing. You don’t have to write for other people—you can write for yourself and as long as you enjoy it, then that’s all that matters.

Mariah Pugliese is a Reference Librarian at the Kirkwood Public Library. When not at the library, she enjoys reading and writing sci-fi/fantasy and taking care of her 25+ houseplants who are all named after fictional characters in literature.