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January 20, 2012

The Best Writing Advice that Nobody Ever Gave Me

I'm sure that by this point in my life I've read upwards of two hundred books about the art and craft of writing. You'd think that with all of that research, the most important lessons I've learned about the process would have been learned the easy way - but you would be wrong.

What do I wish that someone had told me when I started down this weird and wild path years ago? Oh, I could go on and on, but I'll instead pass along to you those that I feel have been the most critical to my sanity and success.
  • First drafts don't really matter. The quality of those pages should not be an issue - they are for your eyes only, so don't stress over it. Think of this as the "training wheels" phase of your story or book and know that the more you work at it, the smoother and more enjoyable the ride will become.
  • Ideas need time to compost. When you feel that glimmer of a good idea come to you, jot down the things you don't want to forget and keep them in a safe place, like a special notebook set aside just for this purpose. Resist the urge to write anything else that pertains to this idea for a while. Think about it when you're driving, when you're in the shower, or doing rote tasks like vacuuming carpets or mowing the lawn. You may be surprised at how much the idea will change during that time - becoming richer and more ripe for the picking. This is the time to start writing.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other writers. Everyone's voice is different, especially when you're reading someone's edited, revised, and polished work and holding it up against your own rough draft. That's just unnecessary mental torture. Remember the first piece of advice in this list? Okay, just checking.
  • Don't stop reading. Continuous reading of good writing has a magical way of programming your brain to recognize and better craft the music of language. To put it another way, the more you read, the less clunky your own words will become. Careful not to fall into the "comparison trap" mentioned above, though. 
  • Learn to love a deadline. Nothing helps to break through a tough wall of writers' block like a deadline looming over your head, especially if there are financial repercussions if you fail to deliver.
I don't think I could have ever completed my first book without learning these lessons. So many other little tips and time hacks have popped up here and there that I'd be hard pressed to ever share them all, but I also know that there are many more I have yet to learn.

What is one of the most useful or productive writing tips you've learned since you began your writing journey? Was it something you learned on your own or from a book or mentor?


  1. Fabulous points and things I need to often remind myself of. Thanks for posting them. :D

  2. Great advice, Beth. I have a little black moleskine that is full of ideas the just come out of nowhere. I love it!
    A really good tip I picked up from a book I read is to "jog on the spot" when I'm blocked. You know the feeling when hands feel like steel and the glaring from the screen makes your eyes hurt? So I look at where I left my story. Say my character is in a room. I describe the room, the setting, my character's feelings, etc. You get the idea.
    This really works for me. Most of it gets deleted during the first edit, but at least it gets me moving. Thanks for the blog post.

  3. Great tip, Elpi!

    Sometimes just getting the words flowing like that, even if they are meant only to be chopped out later, is enough to stop a potentially serious block before it has a chance to take hold.