In December, my first novel will hit the selves. That both excites and terrifies me. It also gives me pause. It has been a journey like the journey of most aspiring authors. I started full of ideas and passion. It got hard. I got stuck. I stopped. I got a renewed sense of determination. I started again. I felt as if what I was writing was shit. I stopped. I got a renewed sense of determination. I started again. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
When I finally started a writing regime, it was because I surrounded myself with other writers who struggled every day along-side of me. From this phenomenal group of authors in various stages of success, I learned more than I could ever relate to you in a short blog. However, there was advice given along the way that will fit nicely into this tiny space.
Here, I offer you 10 tidbits of advice from those who came before:
- Read outside of your comfort zone. This does not mean that you should stop reading romance if you write romance. It means instead that you should also read fantasy and thrillers and whatever else you can get your hands on. Reading outside of your comfort zone allows you to pay more attention to structure and word placement and flow.
- Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet during your writing times. You can create settings that will keep your social media sites unavailable during particular hours. You can go to a coffee shop and NOT ask for the WiFi password. You can even write the old fashioned way with pen and paper and leave your computer in another room. Once your brain learns the new habit, it will let go and let you write.
- When you are working through a scene or a chapter or your final rough draft, print it out, grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and read it out loud. Make notes in the margins. Cross through what doesn’t work and read it aloud again. Reading out loud stops your eyes from skipping over words and punctuation. This is a trick I use with my beginning students during peer review. It works wonders.
- Stay away from exclamation points except in the rarest of instances. They are the lazy way to show your reader she should be excited. K. M. Weiland talks about when it is okay to use the exclamation point. Check out her site before you add another one to your page.
- Find a space where you feel comfortable to write. Some people prefer a quiet office at home. Others, like me, prefer a local coffee shop where there are other people typing and laughing. Regardless of where you find your space, protect it (even from people you love).
- Always have a way to capture your thoughts when they are occuring. Carry a notebook. Use a phone app such as S-Note. Keep a Notes Cube in your bathroom and another one next to your bed. I have one friend who even has a dry erase board in her shower. Snippets of brilliance typically come when we are doing mindless chores. If you do not capture them, they will be gone. I use mine when I am stuck with a character or scene. Going through the little squares of paper always amazes me. There is always so much I forgot.
- Cut words to make your work stronger. It took me a minute to fully accept this one, but it works to help speed pacing and dialogue. If you are unsure of words that might need to go, start with “really” and “very.” These are useless modifiers. Instead, look for stronger verbs to convey meaning. Other words I have been dinged on include had, that, literally, totally, and just. You likely have a set all your own. If you do not know how to search and find these pesky words, Diana Urban shows you (and gives 43 words of her own that should be cut from your draft).
- Don’t panic. Well, you will panic. It will happen when you are sitting alone looking at the awful paragraph you just typed and when you cannot figure out how to get a character from where he is to where he needs to be. It will happen when you realize you do not know enough about landing a punch to write a fight scene and when you think of anyone in the world reading your work. When it happens, take a walk. Do jumping jacks. Go get a cup of coffee. Pet the dog. Start laundry. When you finish, sit back down and force yourself to write. My dad used to say, “The only way to the other side is through.” Now I know what he meant, and he was right.
- Learn the rules of good writing. Join writing groups in person and/or online. Read “Writing Tools 50 Strategies for Every Writer,” by Roy Peter Clark. Go back to my first tip. This time, read to see what parts you skip over. Look for similar writing in your own draft. Take a grammar class. Punctuation does matter. Take a writing class that focuses on what you love to write. Learn the language of the fiction author.
- Build your platform. This is one of the hardest pieces of advice I received. I am a total introvert. It isn’t that I don’t like people. I do. They just drain me, and I have to work very hard to figure out what to say to not end up standing in awkward silence. In today’s world of social media, it is possible to fall into the “just click like” trap. You think you are communicating. You aren’t. You have to take time to comment in a meaningful way to others. Learn how to use social media platforms. You don’t have to use them all. Maybe you are a Tweeter. Or perhaps you prefer the visuals on Instagram or the freedom of blogging. One (or all) is fine. Many writers have email lists. I haven’t done this yet, I will admit, but it is on my list. Head on over to the blog of Jeff Goin for some great tips on lists. I have it saved for later. The key is to post regularly (once a day, once a week, once a month, whatever, but post) and respond to others often.
I would love to hear your ideas and tips. Aspiring authors are everywhere. We all want the same thing: to have others like what we write. Let’s help one another get there.