5 Writing Tips from Famous Authors
By: Elizabeth Carlton
I’m known to be a tough editor. My clients are told before they sign on board that my services are not for the faint of heart. I will work closely with you, pushing you to pinpoint the premise of your story, hone your writing skills, and polish your narrative to perfection.
Why? Because good books aren’t written easily. If you want to be successful, there are a few things you must do:
- You have to be willing to be humbled.
- You have to take critiques with an open mind.
- You have to accept when something doesn’t work.
- You have to push yourself, even when you’re not motivated.
- You have to finish what you started.
Writing is an art that requires an unyielding stubbornness and thick skin. It isn’t a frolic with the muses. It is a battle in the trenches, and only the tenacious make it out alive.
Have I scared you away yet? If the answer is no, congratulations! You might just have what it takes to become a successful author. Below you’ll discover 5 seemingly harsh writing tips backed by notable authors, but trust me when I say they’re worth learning now.
As you delve into these priceless words of advice, take them to heart, but don’t get disheartened. Learning from them will help you write better, faster, while reaching your goals.
DON’T DEPEND ON INSPIRATION
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
– Jack London
You won’t always feel inspired to write. The urge will come and go, but no matter where your muse may lie, you must hold strong to your resolve and write anyway. Treat it like a job with deadlines, and missing them isn’t an option.
You may find that in doing so, the dream of writing a book starts to feel like work, and you aren’t wrong. Calling the writing process “hard work” is almost an understatement. Many attempt, but few succeed because the process is laborious. It is the final product that makes it worthwhile.
Are you suffering from Writer’s Block? Identify why. There is always a reason, whether it’s a lack of planning, a plot hole that needs to be addressed, or distractions in your head or in your life that are preventing you from focusing.
If you find yourself staring at a blank word document, consider these tips to help get your first draft started.
EXPECT YOUR FIRST DRAFT TO SUCK
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. [It’s] hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, ‘Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this.’ But I had wasted years—literally years—writing and rewriting the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”
– Joshua Wolf Shenk
You have an outline, now it’s time to execute. Don’t worry about the draft sounding perfect. Don’t even worry about it sounding good. All first drafts suck. The important thing is getting it down on paper.
I reiterate this multiple times with my clients: when it comes to writing a book, only 20% of the process is writing. The other 80% is spent editing that manuscript into something worth reading. So don’t stress about what you put down on paper. Don’t even let yourself look back. Keep moving forward, scene by scene, until you have a completed rough draft.
Once you have that rough draft , the real work begins. You should go through multiple rounds of edits before your book goes to print. This includes your own read-through, rounds with your editor, and feedback from your beta readers.
By the time you’re done, your rough draft and final manuscript will seem like two different books, and that’s exactly how it should be.
EXPECT TO STRUGGLE
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing it one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
– George Orwell
You will have moments where you want to do anything but sit down and write. There will be days where every word you put down sounds unworthy of the paper it’s scribed upon. You’re going to get frustrated, perhaps to the point of tears. The thought of giving up will come to mind, and you may toy with it—more than once.
These experiences are more than okay. They’re expected. Even the best writers struggle to scribe the story inside their mind. Writing a book is an emotional turmoil that will make you feel like you’re losing your mind.
You’re not. At least, not anymore than the rest of us. Take heart when the writing gets hard. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. The struggle comes with the territory, and we all claw our way through it at some point during the writing process.
The only way to beat it is to keep going, even when you feel like you have nothing more to give. Keep writing. Keep moving forward. Those who reach the end are the ones who refuse give up.
LISTEN AND LEARN FROM YOUR CRITIQUES
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
– Harper Lee
Sharing your writing with an editor, beta reader, or even just a friend can make you feel vulnerable. Even when you’re writing a complete work of fiction, you become invested.
Don’t let your attachment keep you from taking criticism. As I stated at the beginning of this post, being a writer takes thick skin. You can’t look at your work through rose tinted glances and expect everyone to fawn over your work.
Be open to constructive criticism. Don’t discredit your editor’s advice just because you like what you have down on paper. Chew on it. If they ask you to rewrite something, challenge yourself by making what you may already think is good even better.
My second book, Chivalry’s Code, went through 3 original manuscripts before I settled on the finished project. By the time I was done, the book was completely different from how I originally envisioned it, but you know what? It was also better than I ever could have imagined.
The amazing thing about writing is that you will always remain a student. The learning process never ends. Your writing voice should always be evolving, but this process can only take place when you humble yourself enough to look at your work with a critical eye, and try to improve it.
FIND A WRITING PROCESS THAT WORKS FOR YOU
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
– W. Somerset Maugham
Lastly, find a writing process that works for you. There are innumerable articles and books available to help teach you the ropes on writing your novel, but at the end of the day the ones that count are the ones that work.
Like any art, writing is part method, part exploration. Try various methods to identify which ones work best for you. You’ll find yourself tweaking and adapting your process the more you write.
With time and experience, you’ll develop your own approach to outlining a story, developing your characters, and drafting your novel. This process, born from the culmination of all the tactics you’ve tried, will be entirely your own.
But that is exactly how writers grow. It is through the labor, frustration,exploration, growth, and tears that we carve out our place. Wherever you are on your path, never get weighed down by the struggle. It will always be a part of the art.