Tips for Writers

There are innumerable tips for writers out there. As a first-time self-published writer, I can only tell you what has worked for me. Here are my rules for writing:

1. Write something.

A writer has to write. Without writing, you’re not a writer. So make yourself sit down and write. Figure out a rhythm that works for you. Many writers will tell you that you must write every day. But maybe weekly goals will work better for you. Maybe not. Try things out till you find the method that (a) makes you more productive and (b) doesn’t completely drain the joy of writing from your life.

2. Write some more.

Writing is hard, and sitting down (almost) every day to write can be hard, but if you still aren’t enjoying your writing by the end of your daily session, and you’ve been trying this for two weeks, then you need to make some adjustments. Either set a lower word count goal for yourself (failing often is much worse than surpassing your goals), or work out a different time of day to write, or try a variation on your goal setting (e.g. a chapter a week). The key thing is to keep working on your story.

3. Write something else.

For those of you who are interested in not just writing but improving your craft, and possibly publishing, the only way you will improve your work is by going over it again and again and again. However, you need to take a break from it before moving into the editing phase so that you can approach it with new eyes. Therefore, write something else.

4. Edit, cut down, revise.

Remember that you are revising a first draft, not a perfectly written manuscript: print it, sit down with a pen, and do not give up. Just because it doesn’t read like your favorite novel does not mean it can’t become an excellent piece of writing itself–it will just take work. The novelist John Gardner wrote a guide to writing  fiction which rather hilariously made the case that all writers must, as part of their character, be a little crazy. That’s the only way we can actually stick to what we’re doing. So join the club. We’re all a little mad here.

5. Repeat, with support.

Every writer needs a community of some sort as they go through the maddening process of writing and editing. For some writers, their community is their family and/or immediate friends. But most writers need a community of individuals who share their particular madness. Recruit like-minded people. How to find them? Look for existing writing groups via your local library or independent bookstore. If you’re in school, you may be in luck – there may already be critique groups around, or clubs of people who share your subject/genre-interest of whom a few are interested in writing.

There are also some great online opportunities. The one that worked best for me was National Novel Writing Month, or. Every November, people around the world sign on to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 short days (yes, madness). In support of this, many cities have volunteer municipal liaisons who will organize “write-ins” at local coffee-shops and the like. Not only has NaNo helped me to write great chunks of novels that have been stewing in my mind for years, but I’ve made some great writing friends and have recruited some of them into a writing circle. NaNo also has a Young Writers Program designed to support younger writers.

6. Keep reading.

Finally, there are hundreds of books on improving your craft. No one can really tell you what will be most helpful to you. We can only talk about what worked for each of us. I still refer to Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” I’ve heard a lot about Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing,” but it didn’t really work for me. So all I can say is, read extensively. Read about writing and read other people’s writing–not just books on craft, but books as craft. Read outside your genre, but definitely also read your genre.

7. Most important of all, have fun.

Enough said.