The 10 Best Pieces of Writing Advice*
*There is other good writing advice. These are just the things that I’ve found most useful.
Having had my first book published doesn’t make me an expert on much at all, but it’s enough of an achievement that I get asked for advice by those still aspiring. There are lots of big books devoted to the subject, loads of blogs and vlogs and websites. It’s easy to spend all your time reading about writing, especially when you need displacement activity (which I do, often).
I’ve received plenty of advice over the 8 years while I’ve been trying to get published (including ‘give up now’), through two novels that didn’t find homes. I’ve distilled the best of these below, the ones which have proved themselves to be universally truthful and genre-neutral. Some I’ve gleaned from sources but most have come from more experienced writers or editors. I hope that they’re of some use to anyone grappling with their WIP.
- You have 5 senses in the real world; you should use them ALL to report on your imaginary world. Tell us not just how something looks, but how it feels, tastes, smells, and sounds.
- When you think that your dialogue sounds natural, read it back to yourself and you will hear where it doesn’t. Or get help from others to see how it sounds in multiple voices.
- Balance your passages of description and dialogue to create a pleasing rhythm in the reader’s brain. Long passages of either become tedious and tiring to read.
- Likewise, be sure to vary your sentence structure: mix short and long, simple and complex. Writing is a kind of music. A good balance of sentence types will fall on the eyes in the same way that melody falls on the ears.
- There is no substitute for re-drafting. No amount of editing will be as good. Nothing else will show you what needs to change.
- Find a story that you care truly, madly deeply about, one that haunts your dreams and turns you into a crashing bore. This will help propel you through the many setbacks.
- Get up and walk around once in a while. Do something else. Talk to real people. Seriously, this matters.
- Don’t stress about not having the ‘essential’ habits of successful writers. I have no writing habits as such, although I do have a special chair. It is upholstered in a flowery print that makes me happy. Writing habits are personal as where you place your bottom. Whatever habits allow you to write well are good habits.
- Avoid adverbs. They’re lazy and they clutter up the page. Find a better way to modify your verbs. And while we’re at it, don’t let the gerunds build up or every other word will end in ‘-ing’. They sneak in everywhere. Have regular gerund culls.
- You can kill off any human character but never, EVER kill off a dog.
A huge thank you to Vanessa Lafaye and Lucy at Orion. ♥
Summertime is now out in paperback, click here to get hold of your copy.
I was born in Tallahassee, FL in 1963 but the family moved to Tampa soon after. This is where I was raised and schooled until I left for Duke University in 1981. There were hurricanes most years, strong enough to send us scurrying for the safety of the bedroom closets, but nothing on the scale depicted in SUMMERTIME. I am happy to say that I’ve never experienced a natural disaster of that magnitude. A thirst for adventure brought me to Europe in 1987, first to France and then England.
Writing was always a part of my life, from my first story at the age of six, but I did not made any efforts to get published until my 40s. I never imagined that my first novel to be published would be set in Florida, the place which I left nearly 30 years ago. At age 51, I’m proof that it’s never too late to have your dreams come true.