I’ve been at this game of fiction for a while now, and in that time, I’ve had to learn some lessons the hard way. I wish I’d listened to early advice a little bit more, but for what it’s worth: here are five writing tips I (try) to employ regularly.
To Be a Writer, You Have to Write
There are countless books, articles, classes, conference, etc, on writing. Many of them are very useful. But nothing is as important as writing. Nothing will teach you how to (or how to not) write fiction quite like writing fiction.
You should improve your craft, network, seek advice, and learn more about the industry. But mostly, you should write.
Writing is hard. Often we don’t know what to say or how to say it. We don’t know what happens next. We’re not sure if it’s working. But that’s okay. Part of the process is to try, re-read, and edit.
Most of us do this novelist thing in our non-existent spare time. Fit it in where you can, but stay off social media and away from other distractions while you work. You don’t have to do it for eight hours a day. But you do have to dedicate a portion of your week to writing. If you’re not making that commitment, start now!
To Be a Better Writer, You Have to Read
This nugget of advice is perennial, but axioms become so because they’re true. Nothing will open up your creativity like reading. Reading other writers’ works will give you ideas. It will show you what works and why. It will show you instances of form and technique that are hard to grasp unless you are looking at case studies. You’ll also get a sense of what the market is like. If you want to sell your book, either directly to readers through self-publishing or via a traditional publisher, you’ll need to understand where your work fits. How is it different? To whom would it appeal?
Drop the “All or Nothing” Mentality
It’s so common to compare ourselves to others and get hit with a wave of anxiety about why we’re not further along. So we create an elaborate and rigid plan to get “back on track.” We promise ourselves that we’ll write until midnight or get up at 4 am every day. We swear we’ll hit 10,000 words a week.
Then, inevitably, when these requirements prove themselves to be impossible to maintain (or even do once), we say “forget it” and do nothing. Or we look at our manuscript once a week. Or we pause to think on it for a month. We do this because we feel that half an hour a day or 250 words a day isn’t good enough. We get into an all-or-nothing mentality, and more often than not, nothing wins.
Consistency wins the race. Start small. Start very small. Today I felt overwhelmed by other tasks I had to accomplish, so I set the timer on my watch for thirty minutes. I promised myself that I wouldn’t touch my phone, click on an email, or respond to a notification. When that half an hour was over, I could move onto other tasks. Guess what? I kept resetting the timer, and my work was focused and efficient.
If you are having a hard time with fitting in writing, commit to something that seems too small or easy to work. Then stick to it. You’ll be pleased with the results.
When in Doubt, Think Ahead
I’ve always said that I didn’t want to write a book before I wrote a book. In other words, I’ve never been much for writing a synopsis first. However, I find that if I’m procrastinating or I’m not excited to get started, it’s usually because I don’t know what happens next. It’s always worthwhile to spend time planning the next scene than it is writing myself into a wall.
Get a Second Opinion
You don’t have to find a formal critique partner but seek someone whose opinion you can trust to give you feedback on your work. It helps me to talk out my ideas and just see how something lands. Remember, writing a novel is more than being a good writer. You also have to be an intriguing storyteller. You have to write about characters people care about. I’ve always benefited from someone being able to (kindly) point out holes so I can plug them.
My final thoughts are: keep going! No matter where you are in the process, there’s someone behind you and in front of you. You’ll never achieve your dream if you quit. The worst that will happen if you keep writing is that you’ll become a better writer, a more effective communicator, and a person who doesn’t give up. Good luck!