In every interview, I’m asked, “What’s your top piece of advice for writers?”
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing, so I’ve put together a list of 8 pieces of advice I have for “new writers” (interpret the word “new” as you will.)
1. Go to a Writer’s Conference
There is almost no better way to grow in your writing skill level and challenge yourself. If you’re going to be an author, you need to get ready to challenge yourself. Conferences do this for you. They challenge you to really own your work (aka: don’t be shy about writing.) They challenge you to interact with fellow writers and professionals. Most of all, they challenge you to step up your writing to new levels. Conference workshops provide hands-on instruction from professionals that will reshape your writing in a way no writer craft book can.
Start with a small conference that’s local — search online. Or look at some of the more popular ones like the Mt. Hermon Writing Conference, the ACFW Conference, or (if you write speculative fiction) the Realm Makers Conference.
2. Find a writing buddy at your skill level
Where do you find said buddy? Why at a writers conference, of course! 😉 We all need a friend with whom to share the struggles of writing, deadlines, publication, rejections, and dry imaginations. My writing buddy, Angie Brashear (Read her book! Visit her website! Swamp her Facebook with smiley emoticons!), has seen me through thick and thin — freaking out over book covers, panicking about rough drafts, doubting my writing skills. She’s the first person I think of when I need to chat about something writing-related.
It’s good to have a friend with the same passions as you. Be intentional about this. The friendships will bring even more value to your writing passion than the critiques or advice.
3. Get your manuscript professionally edited.
It’s never going to be easy giving it to a person to tear apart, but it’s a necessity. Your writing buddy can provide critiques but it’s a whole different ball game to take your manuscript to a professional editor (unless your writing buddy is a professional editor. But you don’t want to blur the line anyway. Get another set of eyes. 😉 )
There are a lot of freelance editors out there. There are a lot of different types of edits out there. Educate yourself, then hand over your baby and buy a bar of chocolate in advance to prepare yourself for coping with the red pen.
Just like anything, you grow through constructive criticism. I know none of us have rhino skin and I don’t expect you to grow it. I just ask you to take a brave step, be vulnerable…and grow.
4. Write the first two books in your series.
If you’re writing a series, try to write the second book before contracting the first! Some agents out there are going to tear their hair out if they see me giving you this advice because they don’t want you to put forth wasted effort if the series is a flop. Neither do I. BUT, if the series isn’t a flop, then you’ll find yourself scrambling to make book two work when you no longer have power to change book one. (Take this from someone who knows.)
Even if you don’t completely finish book two, start it. Get an idea of where you’re going with it. Outline, if you have to. This will strengthen the first book and prepare you later on for that multi-book contract. 😉
5. Read writing craft books.
You’re a writer, right? Which means you like words. Which probably means you like to read (that’s kind of a must in this industry.) So read books about writing. Hone your craft through your favorite method of learning — reading!
I’m a freelance editor and, on about 9 out of 10 manuscripts, I end up educating the author about either point-of-view, showing vs. telling, character introduction, passive voice, reader engagement, etc. I don’t mind, because I understand that there is a lot to learn and that’s one benefit of getting a professional edit.
BUT, most books will cover these craft cornerstones in a much more thorough and less painful way than an editor’s red pen. Here are some of my favorite craft books:
- The Art & Craft Of Writing Christian Fiction, by Jeff Gerke
- Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
- Plot Versus Character, by Jeff Gerke
6. Write every day
I’m telling this to myself as well as to you. I don’t write every day, but I try to write every day — well, at least every work day. And it grows my habits and my writing skill by leaps and bounds. So, though I haven’t mastered it yet, I pass the advice along to you.
Write on your manuscript, write in your journal, write a blog post, write fan fiction, write a letter to your mom (you know you should). Just…write! Even if it’s scratching out a description of the sky on a spare napkin, do it. It will grow your writing skill and voice.
7. Read your genre
When I first started writing, I asked a fellow author what their first piece of advice would be for me. She said, “Read! Read! Read! Never stop reading.”
I thought, Well, duh. And then…my writing career picked up and I struggle to read a book a month. So I schedule reading days, I set reading goals, I put together a lovely shelf of books every January with the hopes of actually getting to them all.
8. Start a newsletter
Now, don’t freak out (like I did) when you first hear this advice. I know what’s going through your head. “But I don’t have anything to say!” or “I don’t even have a book yet!” or “I don’t blog!” or “No one wants to get newsletters!
People care about you and your writing. Even if you’re just starting out writing, set up a newsletter. I use Mailchimp and highly recommend it. It’s free, they have great tutorials, and you can make your newsletter as simple or as complicated as you want.
Newsletters don’t need to go out all the time. Start with two or four a year as simple “updates.” I send out my newsletter only once a month (sometimes less!) Share what you’re writing, how it’s going, what has inspired you, what you’re learning, etc. Start by asking family members and friends (and critique partners!) if they’d like to sign up.
The golden nugget to newsletters is that, people sign up because they want to know what’s going on in your life! They want to hear from you. Then, when you do have a book, and a publishing contract (or indie plan), then you have people to announce it to who have been following your journey. Otherwise, you end up shouting to an empty room. Newsletters are the very beginning of marketing (the dreaded word!) and the absolute best form of marketing you could do. It’s never too early to start growing your list.
This is all the advice I have for you for now…and I’m only a couple years into my writing career! I’m still a newbie. Imagine what advice I’ll have after five years of writing! Ten years of writing! (Eep!)
Which piece of advice is your favorite?
What questions do you have regarding the start of a writing career?