The Best Writing Advice

Diving into a new year and plowing through another dark, cold winter, I know that I need a little inspiration. I’m guessing other writers could too. With that in mind, here are five of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received.

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1) Write regularly.

As Billy Crystal said in Throw Mama from the Train (and, okay, as pretty much every writing instructor has ever said), “writers write.”

Well, sure. But define that. We debate whether we can call ourselves “real” writers before we’re published or agented or have reached some other milestone. If we’re writing, then yes, we’re writers. Own it!

However, that’s another blog post. This one is here to grab you by the shoulders and shake you to be sure you’re actually doing the work. Sit your behind in the chair, plant your fingers on the keyboard, and produce something.

Do it regularly.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

How you define regularly varies from writer to writer. Stephen King writes every single day, including Christmas. Moment of truth here: I don’t write every single day. But I doubt a day goes by that I don’t think about my stories and characters, when I don’t notice a cool article that sparks a new idea, that I don’t read a description in a novel and wish I’d come up with it.

I also know that if I spend too many days away from my own work, life goes sour. (And a sour mother, wife, and friend isn’t the greatest.) That’s why, over the last couple of years, I’ve made the deliberate and scary choice to back away big time from how many editing jobs I take on. I’d reached a point when three out of four weeks, all of my writing time was spent on someone else’s dreams.

We all make time for our priorities. If that’s binge-watching The Bachelor, fine. But then you have no one to blame but yourself when you could have used that time for writing.

2) Read a lot.

Stephen King in On Writing goes so far as to say he doesn’t trust writers who don’t read. I’m with him on that. My dear friend and fellow writer Luisa Perkins compares writing fiction to knowing a foreign language. Crafting fiction requires the writer to understand the “language” of fiction. To do be fluent in any language, you must study that language. In terms of writing, that means you must read. A lot.
 
I know writers who claim they don’t have time. (Pshaw. One day, I’ll put up tips for sneaking in reading time.) I’m not a fast reader. Many writers cruise through books at a speed I envy. But I am a regular, consistent reader.
 
Don’t be taken in by the fear that your work will be influenced by another writer. I can see avoiding a book that’s a little too similar to what you’re working on, but beyond that, reading inspires better writing and sparks new ideas.
Reading cracks open your creative brain ripping a clam shell open. Exposing yourself to new voices, stories, and characters encourages your creative side to come up with its own unique possibilities, things you wouldn’t and couldn’t have thought up otherwise.
 
That doesn’t mean copying another writer’s ideas. It does mean unlocking part of your creative side that can’t be accessed any other way. I’ve gotten countless ideas for stories, plot fixes, characters, setting, and more, all while reading something totally unrelated. Reading fills you up with new images, ideas, expressions.
 
Reading a lot is also a great way to learn how to write: Why did this scene work so well? What did the writer do here that made me so emotional? Why is was that plot twist so perfect and yet so surprising? Learn writing lessons by studying how others have done it before. (And if you’re unfortunate enough to land on a bad book, figure out why it’s bad.)

3) Learn the craft and the business.

Where to begin? How about joining the herd of writers? Go where writers go: to writing conferences and workshops, online forums and social media. Get to know other writers. (TIP: At a writing conference, you have an instant conversation starter because everyone in the room has an answer to, “What do you write?”)

Learn the craft by reading books on writing. Study and comment on blogs. Follow editors and agents on Twitter. The more you know about the craft, the better. Don’t stop learning about it, no matter how many publications and accolades you get. 

But. (And here’s the icky part.) Writing isn’t all about the words on the page. (Alas!) It’s also a business, and if you understand the basic ins and outs of publishing (both the traditional route and the indie route), promotion, agents, royalties, and more, you’ll have a big leg-up. Learn as much as you can.

The book industry has changed a ton in just the last few years, and with digital books, the industry continues to evolve quickly. What you knew about marketing a year ago may or may not be relevant today. Keep on learning the business just as you keep on learning the craft.

 

4) Get solid feedback.

Hands-down the best thing I ever did for my writing. Before joining a critique group, I had been writing seriously for about six years. I had a few magazine and newspaper articles published . . . and a stack of rejections for novels.
 
But the very first manuscript I took through the critique process from first to last page, getting feedback on plot holes, motivation issues, and highlights on plain old lame writing? That became my first published novel.
 

I needed outside eyes who could provide solid feedback.

Is it a coincidence that that book was accepted out of the gate? Hardly. Not even almost.

Use beta readers who aren’t writers but who love your genre. Use beta readers who are writers and will catch stuff others won’t. Get critique partners to swap chapters or entire manuscripts with. Join a critique group, whether in person or online.

How do you find writers who can critique? Go back to the first paragraph of #3: Hang out where writers congregate. I can’t count how many critique groups I’ve seen come together after being part of a conference boot camp, an all-day workshop, or other event.

5) Those who succeed are the ones who refuse to quit even when it gets dark.

I heard this sentiment at a workshop I attended waaaay before getting published. I looked around the room at the maybe 40 or so other attendees and thought, I can outlast all of you. I can outlast 2,000 others who start and will quit in a year or two. I’ll still be standing when they’ve all given up.
 
And in that instant, I knew that some day, I’d be one of the successful ones.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

 


head-shot-annette-lyon-croppedAnnette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, a 4-time Best of State medalist for fiction in Utah, and a Whitney Award winner. She’s had success as a professional editor and in newspaper, magazine, and technical writing, but her first love has always been writing fiction. She’s a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English and is the author of over a dozen books, including the Whitney Award-winning Band of Sisters, a chocolate cookbook, and a grammar guide. She’s a regular contributor to and former editor of the Timeless Romance Anthology series.

She has received five publication awards from the League of Utah Writers, including the Silver Quill, and she’s one of the four coauthors of the Newport Ladies Book Club series. Annette is represented by Heather Karpas at ICM Partners.

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One thought on “The Best Writing Advice

  1. I totally agree. If you really want to be good at something and then you have to have the determination to do it regularly. That’s the only way for to way to make it big time. Thanks for your tips. I’ll be sharing this on social media

    PS: https://essaylook.com

    Like

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