My Top Ten Tips for Writers

I’m always trying to improve my writing, so I went to a site that had tips from published authors. I have to say that I was surprised by some of them. For example:

The first twelve years are the hardest.

Well, that’s probably encouraging for aspiring writers to hear.

Don’t have children.

Okay, that’s just bad advice. Writing can be a 24/7 job. It can easily fill all of your time.  That doesn’t mean you should let it.  So I’m offering my own tips to writers.

1) Don’t let writing consume your life.  Life is about relationships, not books. Don’t sacrifice your relationships for your work. (I do recommend letting some of the housework go, though.)

2) It takes a lot of hours to learn any craft and even more hours to master it. (Does anyone ever master writing? I’m not sure.) In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become successful at a specific task. (I am well over this limit when it comes to eating chocolate.) Don’t quit writing too soon. Put in the hours (but see rule number one).

3) Learning the craft requires you to practice—to actually write stuff—but it also requires you to learn the rules of plotting, characterization, dialogue, etc. I’m always surprised at how many people want to publish their first manuscript when they’ve never read a book on writing, never gone to a class on the subject, etc. This would be like teaching yourself to play the piano without ever taking a lesson from someone who already knows how to play the piano. You can do it, but you’ll be a lot better if you learn from a pro.

4) There are some things about writing you can only learn by reading a lot. (Pacing, for example.)  If you want to write, read lots of novels. Learn to analyze what you read. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t. You’ll learn to avoid the things that you dislike in other books.

5) Remember that publishing is a business. Yes, editors and agents love books. That’s why they’re in this business, but they buy/represent books for one reason: they think they’ll make money. Because of this, a lot of things that happen in the writing industry have to do with the business and not with you personally. You can be a great writer, and still get rejected. In fact, all the great writers have been rejected.

6) I suggest a degree in marketing. Getting published doesn’t guarantee your book any sort of success. Your book is competing against literally millions of other titles for readers’ time and money. Unless you are one of the few lead titles at your publisher, you won’t get much help from them to market your book. If you know how to market, you’re already ahead in the game.

7) Do what you can to market your book, but refer to rule number one.

8) Remember why you started writing in the first place. It was because you loved writing, right? If it wasn’t, this is perhaps a good time to quit and find an easier career. No rejection letter, no horrible revision letter, no bad review, no absentee marketing team, etc. (and there will be lots of etc.) can take away the joy of writing. Writing is magical. Write because you love the magic.

9) Be kind to other writers. They are your tribe, not your competition. They understand. Develop friendships with them. They need you too.

10) Keep on writing. Only one person can determine whether you’re a writer or not. You.


My Top Ten Tips for Writers — 21 Comments

  1. Great list, Janette!

    I’m always worried about #1. It’s tough to balance being a writer while also being a mom and a wife (not to mention a daughter, friend, visiting teacher, etc.) But, over time, I’m slowly learning how to figure that out.

    And I LOVE #8. Sometimes I look at the odds of getting published and think, “It’s never going to happen for me. Why am I wasting my time?” Then I realize that I write because I can’t NOT write. (excuse the double negative). While getting published is my big writing goal, even if that never happens, this hasn’t been a waste of time. I love it too much.

  2. “Writing is magical. Write because you love the magic.” Yes!

    And on the list of priorities, #1 is so true. Yes, write because we love the magic, but our connections with that magic aren’t real. Our relationships are. Besides our knowledge, those relationships are the only things we can take with us when we die.

  3. Loved your list, Janette. I thought the exact same thing when I saw the other list. The have no children one really baffled me. My kids are some of my best resources for material.

  4. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the author who posted her book on Goodreads before publishing, and was then stunned to see it immediately garner 1-star reviews. So she asked the simple question of how it could be rated when no one had read it, and someone took it wrong and began a campaign to tear her and her book apart. They were successful and she’s now not going to publish the book because of the horrible bullying. I really wish she’d taken your advice #9, because then she’d have had a passel of authors in her corner to help her through that, and not feel her only recourse was to back off publishing the book.

    • I did hear about it, but not enough to figure out what was going on or why a bunch of people wanted to give her one star reviews. I both love and hate the fact that anyone can review books. For the most part it’s a good thing, and nobody expects that all readers are going to love any particular book, but then you hear about things like this happening and it’s really frustrating. I’ve also heard of nonfiction authors bashing their competition’s books, and then there are also those confused readers who do things like give your book a bad review because they think it’s another book entirely. I know a lot of authors who have gotten bad reviews before their books are available. I’ve had it happen myself. I heard from one author that it was due to students who are supposed to prove they’ve read books by reviewing them. They don’t actually read the books, just give a bunch of books ratings. So yeah, it’d definitely not a perfect system.

  5. Do you have recommendations on good books about writing for aspiring writers? I definitely need to learn more

    • There are so many good ones. Self-editing for the Fiction writer is a must. I love Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham is also a must. GMC Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon is another good one. Gary Provost, Scott Bell, James Frey, have some good books on writing and there’s one by Robert McGee, Story, I think. That one is good too. And the one about The Heroes Journey. Also good.

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