Best Writing Advice

I find that people are asking me about my writing quite often, and people who are just starting to write and discover their hidden talent are asking me for advice. Not that I am the greatest writer in the world—or any sort of an expert. But I have been writing for almost 20 years and publishing (for myself and others) for over 6. I think we all have a little bit of advice to give regardless of level of expertise. So here is my best (and most general) advice for anyone, young and old, who is embarking on their writing career:

  • Don’t let anyone tell you what to write. I’ve been saying this for years, now. I’ve had people tell me “oh you should right paranormal romance because that’s what’s in right now,”or “you should write mysteries, because I only read mysteries,” and so forth.
    • Don’t worry about what’s out or in. Write what’s in you. As with any trend, what’s popular now might not be popular within the next year or so. Trends change all the time. Don’t worry about keeping up with them.
    • Write your story your way. A lot of friends and family, and even teachers might mean well, but they are not your muse. Listen to what’s inside you—what you love—and write that. Sure you can always write a side story for aunt Jane who loves mysteries, and give her a POD copy for her birthday, but don’t cater to everyone’s whims. You’ll find yourself spread thin, and never find out what genre is for you, to tap into…and grow as an author.
  • Choose critique groups and critique partners wisely. Give each group/partner a “Trial run” first by submitting something short; not your full novel manuscript. Preferably something that you’re newly working on, maybe a first or second draft. If you have a bad feeling about a crit group, go with your gut. Try another group. Be comfortable. Not all crit groups are great, some are overly harsh, some full of amatuers who just write for fun (not that there’s anything wrong with that), some are too strict in their rules of submission, others not strict enough. And, some tend to become “mutual back patting society” while others are full of “crit vipers” and passive-aggressive types. I actually prefer a well-trusted crit partner rather than the “mixed bag” you often find with online crit groups. Sure, they’re great when you’re just starting to write…but be wary of “crit group vipers” and well-intended group members who tend to give out bad advice, (usually because they are just starting out too.)
  • Show and Tell. For years, people have been advising us to “show don’t tell.” However, I have observed that all of the best stories have the right mixture of showing and telling. Case in point: The Lord of the Rings.
  • Have a writing schedule, and keep it flexible. Start by setting a small block of time aside each day for writing, even if it’s just an hour or two. Preferably, when you’re the most creative and inspired. It doesn’t matter if it’s only for an hour or two. If something comes up (like a family function, emergency, or change in your day job schedule) you can always move it to another time (for example: right before bedtime, or after dinner). Some writers prefer to have a word goal each day; for instance 2,000 words a day minimum. They’ll create or download a NaNoWriMo inspired spread sheet or status bar to update regularly. This keeps them accountable and productive. Again, whichever works best for you.
  • Read every day. Even if it’s just the newspaper or a blog post. Read everything, especially in the genre that you write. I prefer to read at least 3 pages of nonfiction, and 3-5 pages of fiction each day. Also, it really helps to read and re-read any books on writing, craft oriented or otherwise. Read about self-publishing, read about traditional and commercial publishing. Stay informed. Which leads to my next piece of advice…
  • Chose the path that is right for you. People are always inquiring about whether or not they should submit to “big 5,” small press, or self-publish. At one time I was die-hard indie authorship, at another I was die-hard hybrid authorship. But now, my standard advice is this: Only you can decide which path is best for you. As you work on your new project keep an open mind. Look at all options both critically and objectively. Weigh the pros and cons. Not every project is suitable for traditional publishing; not every project is suitable for self-publishing. The same applies to authors. And, of course you could always try both paths, and see what works best for you. There are die-hards in each camp, and they will try to convince you that their way is the right way. There is also the advice that many give: That you should try the large commercial publishing houses first, then small/medium presses, then uber-small indie presses, and then and only then as a last resort should you self-publish. To me, this was the wrong way to go. However, there may be some that had luck traveling that path. And, several self-publishers who I am acquainted with became so successful as an indie author that they gained recognition of traditional presses, and were offered contracts. You see, there is no right or wrong path to success; and many forks in the road. My favorite motto “To each his own” applies here. However, you can only find out what is right by researching, and trying out as many options as possible. There’s no “set order” and certainly no “set method” for authors today.
  • Never give up. That’s the most important piece of advice I can give anyone, about any goal or dream that they have. Never give up on yourself, or your dreams. Sure, goals may change. And, it’s okay to take a break from it for a while, like a hiatus from the hamster wheel of “write, re-write, edit, proofread, submit…” A vacation may be needed, on occasion. But, don’t waste too much time licking your wounds after a harsh crit, slump in sales, or rejection letter. Have some R&R, have some chocolate, take some time to think, and then press on with new determination. Persistence pays.
  • Confidence is the key. No matter what anyone says, no matter how many rejections, no matter how miniscule your sales are, no matter how harsh your crit group/beta reader/teacher can be…never, ever lose confidence in yourself. Believe in yourself, your talents, and abilities. Let your self-esteem be a mountain, not a small tree that can be shaken or blown over in harsh weather. Or, cut down by the envy or nastiness in others. In all things, be confident that you are equipped with what you need to succeed, and know that you can and will prevail against all odds.
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