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