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Tips for Writers—The Down and Dirty

July 23, 2011 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified July 23, 2011

For writers who want their tips bald and without the sugar coating—

Learn the craft. That means learn how to put a story together in terms of fiction elements and writing elements. Learn the ins and outs of plot, character, dialogue, and setting. Learn how to write conflict. Learn how to write scenes. Learn how to write.

~  Familiarize yourself with the writing tools.

~  Learn what you can do with punctuation, syntax, and diction.

Read. Anything that appeals to you and many things that don’t.

Welcome criticism. Put it to work for you.

~  Write something new.

~  Find a critique partner or group that challenges you.

~  Refuse to quit.

~  Change your story ending, your story opening, your story’s premise.

~  Learn how to critique.

Learn how to self-edit.

~  Write when you feel good.

~  Write when you feel bad.

~  Write when you feel nothing.

~  Ask questions. Of other writers. Of editors. Of those with the knowledge you don’t have.

Rewrite. More than once.

~  Aim high. Prepare yourself to reach what you’re aiming for.

~  Submit something. To agent or publisher or critique group.

~  Try a new style, genre, subject matter, POV, or era.

~  Realize that your work will not be universally loved or praised.

~  Write short, sharp sentences.

~  Write long, flowing phrases.

Finish a manuscript.

~  Be bold—know what you can do.

~  Know what you can’t do. And start studying.

~  Work at your weaknesses. Practice writing.

~  Remain unique but learn when following the rules is the best option.

~  Take the time to get it—all of it—right.

~  Don’t bad-mouth your agent, editor, or publisher in public.

~  Don’t settle for so-so.

Change something when it doesn’t work, even if what doesn’t work is your protagonist or plot.

~  Don’t make excuses.

~  Conquer the blank page. Conquer the problem plot. Conquer your writing fears and defeat your personal demons.

~  Assume that you don’t know it all. Assume that you can learn it all.

 ~  Create characters with conviction.

~  Spend more time writing than talking about writing.

~  Make bold promises on page one and deliver them by story’s end.

~  Remind yourself that not everyone will like your work.

~  Remind yourself that most of the time when someone doesn’t like your work, the dislike isn’t personal.

~  When someone doesn’t like your work and it is personal, remind yourself you could never write something to please that person.

Learn to look at your writing dispassionately.

~  Write to serve the story and not your ego.

~  Remember both characters and readers when you write; give them what they need.

~  Stand up for yourself and your words.

~  Your words aren’t Holy Writ. Be willing to change  a word, a sentence, an event, a scene, a chapter, a direction.

~  Be serious about your writing, but don’t always take yourself seriously.

~  Realize that you will have differences with your agent, your editor, and your publicist.

~  Don’t fear the reviewer.

~  There’s more than one way to say everything. Find the best way for the scene, the character, the conflict, and for the emotional impact.

~  Teach others what you know.

~  Push yourself. Challenge your limitations. Reward your successes.

~  Understand that being published once doesn’t guarantee a long and successful writing career.

~  Consider that you will fail far more than you succeed.

~  Don’t give up the job that pays the bills.

~  Dream big, plan realistically; there’s only one JK Rowling.

~  Move beyond the novice stage. And quickly.

Realize that you might not be a writer.

~  Polish the whole manuscript, not only the first three chapters.

~  Write fiction that others will want to read.

Realize that you might not yet be ready or skilled enough to write the masterpiece rumbling around in your mind or the one clawing at your heart.

~  Create memorable characters.

~  Note that writing novels is not a sure-fire way to fame or riches.

~  Learn the craft.

~  Did I already say that last one? Well then, how about this:  Don’t shun intentional repetition.


Are you writing today? Here’s hoping that the story that will one day satisfy your readers is satisfying you as you create it.



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