Writing Tips

Here are pieces of advice I come back to again and again. Some are from well-known writers, others are from anonymous sources, a few are from me.

  • Honor the wonder of the ordinary.
  • Trust your creativity. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities.
  • Find out what your characters want. This is the key to understanding them.
  • When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  • Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward. Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
  • Rarely use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  • Use a thesaurus, but sparingly. Chances are the first words you think of will do fine.
  • Read your work aloud to yourself; you’ll catch grammatical mistakes and clunky sentences more often than if you silently read it on the page. And this leads to…
  • Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Sooner or later you have to let it go and start the next thing. Otherwise you’ll end up polishing the story forever.
  • Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue; it’ll give you juice to start again. But never stop when you’re stuck. Play what-if with the plot and characters to open up the story in new and unusual ways.
  • If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps back to where the story was right.
  • Have what you need at your desk before you start writing. Don’t wander off to get a glass of water or you’ll find yourself watering the lawn and wondering how you got outside.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key. It’s only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we progress and develop our own style. As Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.”
  • Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing sticks in your head.
  • If you have to convince yourself that what you wrote is good enough, it isn’t.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to publish.
  • Don’t seek the approval of others; look within yourself for validation, for your unique themes, interests, and ways of expressing yourself.
  • Most importantly, finish your project. Do whatever you have to do to finish it.
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