I’ve read two great articles chock-full of writing advice lately. One is for fiction writers from famous fiction writers in the UK Guardian, the other is for freelance writers by Christina Katz from the “Prosperous Writer” blog. But let’s focus on the Guardian article.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the advice I agreed and didn’t agree with. For example, I loved Elmore Leonard’s advice about not using the word “suddenly” (though it’s come way to late for me) and Helen Dunmore’s prescription of long walks to solve knotty writing problems; but I completely disagreed with Geoff Dyer about writing in public places, with Richard Ford about not having children, and with Margaret Atwood about always carrying pencils on planes b/c pens leak — I completely loathe writing in pencil.
But the main thing I realized while reading these two pieces is that I just really, really love writing advice. It makes me feel like I’m constantly learning and it’s so nice to be in a profession where advice is given so generously and often for free. That all said, here’s what I figure are my own 10 Best Pieces of Writing Advice:
1. Write everyday for at least an hour. If you don’t have an hour, write for 40 minutes. If you don’t have 40 minutes, write for 20 minutes. If you don’t have 20 minutes — well, you’re lying, and should really consider how bad you want this.
2. Work on one thing at a time. It’s easy to get distracted by all the other things you could be writing.
3. Commit to your novels and vow to see them all the way through to the end. Vow to self-publish if no one else will support your book, but leave no men behind, leave no money on the table, leave nothing hidden in drawers for people to find after you die.
4. Format your novels correctly. Really, this goes for all writing. Be you a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist, don’t show anyone your work unless it’s properly formatted. It speaks volumes about your professionalism and work ethic.
5. After you finish your rough draft, put it away for a month and read a bunch of books on writing. I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Stephen King’s On Writing in between my 32 CANDLES drafts. And I read Walter Mosley’s This is the Year You Write Your Novel in between drafts of my rogue sci-fi novel. If there’s a good writing advice novel that I should read when I get done with my current novel rough draft, then let me know in the comments.
6. Don’t mistake impatience for drive. And don’t mistake slowness for “getting it just right.” You’ve got to balance the need for quality and the need to get your work out there. Don’t send it out too soon, but at the same time don’t spend too much time pruning it. Both are signs that you’re being too indulgent with yourself.
7. Aim to get paid for doing this. Treat it like a job, or a second job if you already have a job. That means if you have to self-publish, at the very least read marketing and business books and then come up with a plan to move as many units as possible.
8. Writing mothers should get some form of childcare while they write. No exceptions. If you’re answer to that is, “I can’t, because…” — see #10,
9. If you’re a writer and you’re depressed, then it just might be because you’re not writing regularly. You’d be surprised how many issues writing regularly solves.
10. No excuses. If you don’t have time to write. MAKE time. If you’re a busy mom. GET HELP. If you don’t have any writing resources. ACQUIRE THEM. Whatever is stopping you from writing, FIGURE IT OUT. Seriously, figuring out how to write everyday is a great precursor to figuring out how to get to the end of a novel. Vow to yourself that you won’t let anything stop you from reaching your goal of a finished, polished, published novel. Then clever your way around any road block that is put in your path.
Bonus: Prayer, Meditation, and Yoga work, but actually writing works even better.
So that’s me 22 cents. Do you have any advice about writing? If we get at least ten pieces of writing advice, we’ll throw them up next week for our readers.
Ernessa T. Carter is the author of the novel, 32 CANDLES, which will be released on June 22, 2010. Pre-order your copy on Amazon here.
Top photo by billaday. Author image by Christian Hibbard.