19 Writing Tips For Readers Who Are Ready To Start Getting Words On The Page, Straight From Your Favorite Authors
If you read enough books, you'll eventually get the feeling that you might like to write one of your own. It can't be too hard, right? Who needs writing tips? Just create some neat characters, a cool situation or two, and voilà! Book!
OK, no so fast. If you actually spend the time writing, you'll figure out that putting together a book isn't so 1-2-3. So, lots of people who give writing a go will quit before they do anything worthwhile, because they get discouraged. And, as far as I'm concerned? That's really a tragedy. Regardless of whether you're "a natural" or not, you should try to if you want to.
So, if you want to give this pen-to-paper (or whatever your version is) a shot, it's best to break things down to the basics. You're a) not going to want to try to write your opus right out of the gate, but b) you should also heed these these 19 writing tips that break things down to super-basics — the kind of stuff that's really, really helpful if you're just transitioning from reader to writer for the first time. After all, they're straight from the authors who taught you to love words in the first place. They know what they're talking about.
Right on. Or, well, write on.
It isn't difficult to start writing, but it can be incredibly easy to stop. Writer's block, family emergencies, illness, and running out of potato chips can all inhibit your progress. Don't let them. Write, and keep writing.
Keep reading, too. Writing is a field like any other. Doctors don't stop reading medical studies when they get their licenses; they keep doing research and learning more about their work. You have to do the same. So please don't stop reading to write. They go hand-in-hand.
Believe in Yourself
Being the crappiest writer in the world doesn't preclude you from having a little self-confidence, yeah? Believe in your own success. You don't have to worry about getting yourself published until your work is ready for publication, so don't let fears about the future stop you from honing your craft today.
Don't Try to Please Everyone
If you've ever been through a writing workshop, you'll already know that you can't make everyone happy. What one person loves about your work, another will hate. So, write with a single individual in mind, and no one else.
No one puts words down on the page and gets them all right on the first try. Let me rephrase that: EVERYONE HAS TO EDIT. Don't get caught up in striving for perfection. No one ever has to see your worst sentences.
Kill Your Darlings
Kill everything. Kill adverbs. Kill backstory. Kill characters. Kill the hero. Don't play it safe. Raze it all to hell.
Use "Said," and Only "Said," to Describe Dialogue
No one needs to exclaim, or laugh, or cry, or chuckle. Ever. Your readers should be able to discern the characters emotions, tones, and pitches through their own words. Using "said" over and over again might feel mind-numbingly repetitive, but its plainness will force you to improve everything else about your writing.
Don't Use "Very"
Very is lazy. It's also an adverb, and adverbs will choke the life out of good writing. ... Ignore my adverbs.
Keep Your Toolbox Full
Many writers will disagree with Atwood's assertion that you need a thesaurus. You don't want to run for Roget's to make yourself sound smarter or more eloquent. But sometimes there's a word just out of hand that you can't quite remember, or you've called a thing a thing one too many times and now need a doohickey instead. In those instances, a good thesaurus is your best friend.
Be Kind to Yourself
You will always be your own worst critic, but that doesn't make it OK for you to go around ragging on yourself for not being as prolific as Stephen King, or as respected as Toni Morrison. You can have cheat days, pages of automatic writing, cat video breaks, and superfluous bubble baths, if they make you feel better about yourself and your writing.
Don't Wait for Inspiration
Just start writing. It's OK. Even if the story that comes out of you is silly, it's still a story.
Keep a Journal
Journals are a great way to keep up with ideas and inspirations as they hit you. They're also the perfect place to write when you're away from your laptop or tablet and need to jot out a quick poem or paragraph. Start carrying one with you, and make a point of using it.
Show, Don't Tell
This is one of the most difficult things to master, and it's not an easy skill to teach. If you're having trouble: read a lot, ask advice from fellow writers, and experiment; none of these things will hurt.
Turn Off the Internet
Go distraction-free when you write. Having an infinite source of information at your fingertips seems like a writer's best friend, but the Internet really isn't much more than a procrastination-enabler. If you have to download an app, pay for a service, or pick up a pen and paper in order to keep yourself off the web while you write, do it already.
Don't Do It for the Money
Unless you are a unicorn, you will not get rich as a writer right away. Don't quit your day job. Don't expect to pay your bills with your novel, and don't write as if you are going to. Sure, that's the dream, but if you tailor your writing to what makes money, you will — ironically — never achieve it.
Make Time to Write
Miss your appointments. Order takeout instead of cooking. Sleep less. Do whatever it takes to carve out time in your schedule to write. Even if you can only spare a half-hour a day, you'll still be writing more than the person lamenting he doesn't have time.
Don't panic. Repeat that to yourself as often as you need to. Pages can be rewritten, and the rotten ones can be tossed out. Unless you're two hours and 45 pages out from a deadline, there's no reason to pull out your hair.
Only Listen to People You Respect
"Take no notice of anyone you don't respect." —Jeanette Winterson
"Don't take anyone's writing advice too seriously." —Lev Grossman
If someone is a sh*tty writer or reads sh*tty books, hear her out. Hear anyone out you can tolerate. But don't take anything that anyone says to heart unless there's a mutual respect between the two of you. This is a boundary you have to learn, and it takes a certain degree of grace to draw. Listen to no one, and you're pigheaded. Listen to everyone, and you'll get pneumonia. Listen to the right people, and you will be successful.
Stay Positive, but Brace Yourself
Being a writer invites unwanted criticism. Grow a tough skin, stay gold, and keep on keepin' on. It's not an easy profession, but it's all worth it in the end.
Images: Gary Bridgman; Giphy (19)