“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” – Proverbs 13:20a
Over the past several years, I’ve been privileged to conduct interviews on my blog at kaydibianca.com with many highly-respected authors of books on the craft of writing. One question I’ve asked almost every interviewee is “What advice would you give a new writer?” Here are some of their answers:
James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure) “It’s the same answer every time: write to a quota. Get in the habit of writing a certain number of words every week, week in and week out. You have to practice what you learn in craft books and classes. You have to exercise your imagination. You have to produce the pages if you want to make it in this game.”
Steve Laube (The Christian Writers Market Guide) “To quote a line from the movie “Galaxy Quest”: Never give up. Never Surrender. Seriously. This is an industry that demands excellence. Few writers are born as a perfect writer. Instead, most writers are marked by a dogged determination to improve their craft, learn the industry, build relationships, and create great ideas.”
Randy Ingermanson (How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method) “Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality. So write every day. Every single day.”
Renni Browne (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later.”
Dave King (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Writing is hard. It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT). But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.”
Angela Ackerman (The Emotion Thesaurus) “Tough to narrow it down to a single piece of advice, lol. I think what I would probably say is to not be in a rush. Developing strong storytelling skills takes time. Can anyone belt out a book and publish it? Yes. Should they? Not if their intent is to have a satisfying career if their skills are not at the level needed for that to happen.”
H.R. D’Costa (Story Stakes) “The advice I’d give is to make sure that you work on cultivating the right mindset. In fact, I’d put that above even developing plotting and marketing skills. With a healthy mindset, when you run into a thorny plot problem, you won’t give up on the manuscript (or perhaps on writing itself). Instead, you’ll persevere. You’ll power through.”
Jodie Renner (Fire Up Your Fiction) “Don’t be in a rush to publish your novel or send it off to agents. Be sure to go through it several times, then get some volunteer beta readers to go through it and give you their impressions. Then, if you can afford a professional editor, that would be invaluable. Agents and small publishers are flooded with submissions, so the slightest off-putting issue (wordiness, repetition, bland characters, stilted dialogue, not enough intrigue or tension, typos, punctuation errors, bloopers, etc.) will quickly land your story in the “rejects” pile.”
K.M. Weiland (Creating Character Arcs) “Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.”
Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer) “Understand that writing a novel from beginning to end takes you on an epic journey. You’ll learn as much about yourself as you do about stories the longer you write. Keep going. Trust the process.”
So, TKZers: What advice would you give to new writers?
It’s About Time
The Watch Series of cozy mysteries is available here.
Experiment with what works for you. I take what I learn from JSB, mix in K. M. Weiland’s plot points, and Randy Ingermanson’s log line teaching, and use the Conflict Thesaurus, stir in Donald Maass’ emotional writing advice…all this to say that no one thing works for me. I think we have to take what we learn and adapt it to what works for each of us. And I’ve learned something from each of the ones you’ve mentioned.
Good morning, Patricia!
I like your advice for each person to experiment with what works for them. There’s a lot of great advice out there, but we each need to develop our own process.
Btw, when you spoke to our writing group in Tennessee recently, I asked you the same question. Do you remember your response? It was a great one.
Unfortunately, I’ve slept since th–No! Wait! I remember–learn the craft!
I’m thankful for all the writing advice I’ve received over the years, and thankful that often multiple options are given because each person has to find what works for them. For example, it has never been feasible for me to “write every day” but writing to a weekly quota is less intimidating.
I still consider myself a new writer even after all this time & my wonky fits and starts are not something I would recommend to anyone. However, I would say, if you truly love writing—if it’s not just some fad you’re trying cause you think it might be cool to publish a book, since everybody does it–if you really love writing and you keep pursuing it but feel like you are blundering through–DON’T give up. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never get your act together and finish a book. But keep working through those fits and starts and one day you’ll have a completed manuscript in your hands.
Despite my utterly slow progress, I have learned and I have grown as a writer. It has all been worth it.
Good morning, BK!
Never Give Up. Such an important thing for writers to understand. Several of my interview guests mentioned it, so it’s apparently very common for a writer to get so frustrated that he/she wants to throw in the towel. But like you said, the love of writing will sustain us.
Richard Bach put it this way: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Excellent advice, Kay. Everyone’s response resonated with me.
Sisters in Crime just asked me the same question, and I’m still trying to narrow it down to one piece of advice before the Zoom meeting on Wednesday. LOL Creating real, multi-level characters is vitally important. If readers can’t connect with the characters, the novel won’t work. So, my advice is, before writing one word of the WIP get to know your characters as well as yourself — their hopes, their dreams, their plans for the future, their favorite color, preferred music, worldview, their flaws, their true character, etc. — even the bad guys.
Good morning, Sue!
Great advice. I believe it was Socrates who said, “Know thyself.” You’ve just added a corollary: “Know thy characters.”
Btw, you’re my interview guest tomorrow on my blog at kaydibianca.com. One of my questions to you was, “What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?” You had a great response to that one.
Oh, good. I’ve forgotten what I wrote. LOL
See ya then!
Read–books in and out of your genre.
Good morning, Terry.
Thanks for another great bit of advice. You’re in great company — Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
I’m tempted to make a list of these bits of wisdom to hang on my wall so I can just glance at it every day when I sit down to write.
I’m with Terry — read. Read everything. Read the best sellers, read new authors, read prize winners. Learn your genre. I was lucky enough to be an Edgar judge for best novel one year — it was a short course in novel writing. I was so glad to be on that committee.
You’re getting a lot of tremendous advice, this morning, Kay.
I agree with Terry. Read widely. Look for a style of writing that resonates with you. If that author has written a craft book, buy it and study it. And while you’re reading and studying the craft book, binge on all the novels by that author you can get your eyes on.
I’m currently studying Lawrence Blocks Writing the Novel, from Plot to Print to Pixel, and enjoying the Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery series. Good stuff!
Good morning, Steve.
You’re right — a lot of wisdom is being communicated this morning on TKZ.
I haven’t read anything by Lawrence Block, but the title Writing the Novel, from Plot to Print to Pixel is interesting. I need to look deeper.
Thanks for the recommendation.
Here’s one I’ve synthesized from years of conversation with my editing clients: Don’t waste your debut-author card.
Publishers, they say, are far more inclined to deal with an author with no track record than one with a record of novels that haven’t sold well — often because the author, anxious to get published, chose unwisely when it came to a literary agent and publishing house. Those numbers, my clients say, follow them around like the smell of a dead chicken tied around their necks and hobble their future deal potential.
Far better, they say in retrospect, to have a mature novel that, in combination with their blank sales slate, seems to represent fertile ground that publishers will pour themselves into. It’s largely a myth, they say, that small presses will be seen as a seasoning experience that will prepare an author for the big leagues. And that big-pub authors whose sales numbers aren’t strong will get much of a second or even third chance for decent news contracts — or any new contracts — in the big leagues.
Do everything you can, they say, to gave a first novel positioned for maximum exposure and success. Don’t go small with your debut.
I’m taking that to heart because I still have that debut-author card in my holster.
Good morning, Jim, and thank you for adding this bit of wisdom into the mix. I like the way you put it: “Don’t waste your debut-author card.”
Unpublished authors: take note!
First off, write and read regularly. That’s the basis. But for single piece of advice (very tough to narrow it down to one thing), study the craft of fiction writing. Don’t just read a craft book and think that you’ll absorb it by osmosis (I did this for years). Practice what you learned. Do any writing exercises that are in the book, and consciously aim to practice what you’ve learned in your next novel or story.
Great thread that gets Monday off on the right foot. Have a great week, Kay!
Good morning, Dale.
Studying the craft of writing is excellent advice for novice writers. And practicing what we learn is important in everything we do.
There are many great books on the craft of writing, and we’re fortunate to live in a time when we can access that wisdom at the touch of a computer key.
Have a great week!
Advice I would give to myself as a beginner: finish one manuscript. Pick an idea, stick it out to the end even if you realize how much it sucks halfway through. Once you’ve done that, you’ve achieved a goal, and you know you can do it again, better and faster.
Yes. Finish the manuscript! Great advice.
I recently read this quote by the late mystery author Phyllis Whitney: “Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.”
Totally agree and would add—don’t sidetrack yourself with reading more books about writing IN PLACE OF writing that manuscript. Get it done. No dallying!
Kay, your chosen experts set a high bar of wise advice!
Ask yourself questions. Is it a drive inside you as strong as the need to breathe? Is it a compulsion you can’t help? Are stories continuously unreeling inside your head? Do you give up writing for a time but keep coming back to it?
Do you write because you can’t not write?
If you answer yes, you’re doomed to be a writer 🙂
Good morning, Debbie!
“You’re doomed to be a writer.” What a wonderful life sentence to endure. 🙂
I’d add “Don’t overlook the power of the Unconscious*.” Whether you call it “The Boys in the Basement,” “The Inner Writer,” or “The Guardienne,” it is an amazing resource. It is faster than the frontal cortex, can work while the latter is asleep, and is the mind’s creative center (among other things). It has no self-censor, which suits it for maximum creativity. Feed it (e.g., with good music & books), thank it when it performs well, treat it with due respect, but do not give it alcohol. It has no conscience. Make it clear that You are in charge, not the Guardienne.
* “Unconscous” and “subconscious” are obsolete and ambiguous terms, potentially luring us down a Freudian cul de sac. See Albert Rothenberg’s work on creativity, as well as:
An instance of using the Guardienne for creation: Brainstorming at each major decision point can guide our characters along the most dramatic paths in their journeys.
Good morning, JG.
Unleashing the boys in the basement through brain-storming. Another great piece of advice for new writers.
Your paper on “The Guardienne and Creativity” is very interesting. Thanks for the link.
My advice is to keep a pen and small notebook with you at all times, so you can jot down snippets of conversation, descriptions of people, snapshots of scenery, and ideas for plots, themes, and anything else as they present to you while fresh and new.
Good morning, Truant.
Another great suggestion to add to the list. It’s so easy to make a mental note of something, but then forget all about it. Jotting things down gives the writer a record that can be reviewed at will. (Just don’t lose the notebook! 🙂 )
My first agent gave me a good piece of advice: Go to writing and mystery conferences. But choose them wisely. Don’t be a “conference queen,” someone who goes to so many conferences she never get a chance to write. It’s fun to talk about writing, but the hard work starts when you go to your computer and pound the keys.
My husband and I just returned from our second conference this year. I can’t imagine going to more than that — conferences are somewhat enervating for me, and my fingers itch to get back to the keyboard.
Nothing can take the place of a solid professional editor’s comments, but for me, letting time pass–as much as is reasonably possible–is vital before going back to take a fresh look. And then I read aloud to myself what I’ve written. This strategy results in a great many palm-smacked-on-the-forehead moments.
Hi Barry. Thanks for reminding us that a good editor is essential to the process.
It’s amazing how easy it is to miss even obvious mistakes. I use Word’s text-to-speech to read my manuscript back to me, and I’ve had a few of those “palm-smacked-on-the-forehead moments.”
Yes to both of these! Letting time pass before re-reading aloud.
I also highly second the editor experience. I had the privilege of that for a short story prequel anthology submission.
I learned so much from that single interaction with a developmental editor!
Read a lot. Write a lot. Be passionate about the craft. That’s pretty much it. Good topic, Kay, and some great dialogue going on here.
Hi Garry. Good advice. With apologies to JSB, Carpe Readem, Carpe Writem.
Have a good week.
Great post, Kay! Such good advice all around that all I can do is nod in agreement.
Personally, I highly recommend Barry’s suggestions: wait to re-read, and do it aloud!
It’s easier now for me to go back for that “fresh look” as I have four full books sitting there as a series, impatiently waiting for me to cap off No. Five.
So re-reading (yes, aloud!) on say, Book One, means that I enjoy as close to new reader experience as I’ll ever get, being that I’m the writer.
Yes, there are *palm to forehead* moments (just reason 182 that I’ve held on to all the books instead of submitting to agents this far), but also some “Wow! That scene is even better than I remembered!”
Sue’s advice for “getting to know your characters” is huge, too. Nothing worse than cardboard cutouts. Knowing them as well as you know yourself makes the craft easier, imho.
Definite yes to “READ.” Read across the spectrum, but don’t fall behind on what’s current in your genre, because it makes stating comps for an agent query letter SO much more difficult!
And my Muse (aka “the Boys in the Basement”) is powered by nerdy archaeological articles, very particular music, dark chocolate, and rich, dark roast coffee (zero adulterations to that last, please!)
Thanks for adding your thoughts, Cyn. There is certainly a lot of wisdom shared here today, and I need to make a little list so I don’t forget any of it.
Dark chocolate is a good way to get the boys in the basement to share their thoughts. 🙂
Have a great week.
Late to the party, but wow, Kay! What a great fire you lit today. This goes into my file for sure, and I like the idea of posting it in my office to glance at every once in awhile.
PS: what’s with the + in our names?
Glad you’re here, Deb. Early or late, the party never stops at TKZ. A lot of valuable information here.
I noticed the + in the names also. Maybe it’s a new “feature” from WordPress. 🙂