Writing advice is tricky. There’s no “one size fits all” piece of wisdom that will turn us into prolific, bestselling, or award-winning authors. But there are best practices, and writing tips that make sense at different times in our careers.
Some of the advice I received as a brand-new baby writer didn’t make sense in the moment. It took a little time and experience for it to really sink in. Other bits of wisdom, I wish I’d heard the moment I sat down and put my fingers to the keyboard. Whether or not my top five tips resonate now, if you keep them in the back of your mind, hopefully someday they’ll serve you well!
Finish what you start.
When new writers ask me for one piece of advice, this is usually it. Why? Because an unfinished manuscript will never become a book. Every writer will experience a lack of momentum, a conundrum about a plot twist, or a crippling moment of insecurity sometime during the writing process.
The shiny newness of writing the first few chapters will eventually wear off, and we’ll have to power through the tough days to hit the finish line. I believe it’s worth powering through even if it’s only for the sake of getting to the end. We may have to rewrite, or even trash, some of our manuscripts, but until the whole story is out, we won’t know what we’ve got.
Patience, young Padawan.
Whether you dreamed of sitting down at your writing desk and cranking out a finished manuscript by month’s end, or you thought the moment your story went live, thousands of readers would flock to read it, you will come to realize that everything in the writing and publishing world takes time. Like a construction project, your writing project will probably take more time and require more resources than you thought.
Kill your darlings? Yikes!
Wait, kill who? This alarming bit of advice made me quite nervous when I first heard it. Would I be required to kill off a beloved main character even if they were supposed to live happily ever after? Probably not.
What I’ve come understand from this little nugget is that we have to be willing to sacrifice good bits of writing in our manuscript if they don’t serve the story. I’ve had to scrap entire well-written scenes because when I started editing, I realized the story was stronger without them. The idea here is not to become so attached to a piece of your own writing that you aren’t willing to change or discard it for the sake of telling your story better.
Recognize the things you can and can’t control.
We can’t control reader response. Not everyone will love our stories, and that’s okay. We don’t love every story we read. Variety is the spice of life after all! Let this go. We also can’t control book sales. While there are many things we can do to impact our book’s visibility and accessibility, ultimately, we have no direct control over this. We can’t force people to read our book.
We can control our work ethic, professional behavior, and commitment to our craft. We’ll have more satisfaction as artists if we keep our focus on the things we’re able to impact.
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
I’ll end here with a sports metaphor that my son has posted on his bedroom wall. We’re storytellers. Likely we have some talent at it if we’re in this line of work, just like a good athlete probably has some natural talent. But at the end of the day, if we don’t work to improve our skill, commit time and energy to our projects, and meet our deadlines, we really won’t have much of a career.