Do You Have Any Writing Advice?


One of the questions I get asked regularly (other than when are you going to pay me that ten bucks you promised for buying your book…) is “Do you have any writing advice?”  I've been getting this question a lot lately, so I thought I would dole out some writing info now.

Question 1: I can't ever seem to finish a story. Do you have any suggestions?
Not only do I have a suggestion, but I have two important words for you: You're. Normal.

For years and years I thought I had to have a complete story in my head. And so I waited for it. And it never came. The story idea stork might not come to your house either. So don't be a schmuck and just wait around for it. You're losing time. Every writer is different. Some will have the complete plot figured out and know EXACTLY what they're going to write every day. Some will be the opposite–like me–and have no idea. I usually have chapter one figured out. And that's about it. Like I went for a massage a few days ago, and I wrote a new chapter one in my head. I have no plot, no book outline, no storyline idea at all. Just a chapter one. I'm thinking if I go back for a massage 40 more times and get a chapter every time, I should be able to write those visits off for Mr. IRS.

When I sit down to write my books, I have a vague idea of the big idea of the story. But when I sit down to write each individual chapter, I have no CLUE what is going to happen. It's like standing in front of a taxi–I know I can go somewhere, but I have  no idea where. But the important thing is that I'm standing there with expectation, right?

Question 2: Do you have any advice for teens who want to get published?

My advice for anyone who wants to get published is to read, read, read. If you're a teen, I would especially read some of the teen authors who made it. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and Christopher Paolini come to mind. What makes them publish-worthy? I dunno. Read them and see for yourself. Publisher's Weekly reported last month that a teenager got a major pub deal, so it happens! If you are a teen wanting to break into the biz, don't write too far out of your field of experience. Books that won't make it would include : The Trials of Being Wife Number Three, How to Survive the Midlife Crisis, or Depends: How Bladder Protection Saved My Life.

Question 3: No seriously, do you have any advice for someone who wants to get published?

A student recently had me go over his writing. He's in a creative writing class, and he has lots of potential. But there were some elements missing that  were “must haves.” I gave him some pointers, then directed him to some common books that are usually recommended. Often when I recommend these books, I know the person won't even bother checking into them–especially if it's a teenager. But this student had two of the books within 48 hours. Not only had purchased them, but had read one of them enough to discuss it with me and edit his writing. That totally impressed  me. That kid's going places. The books I recommend are:

1. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This is my favorite for all, but it's the easiest read for teens too. Basic stuff here, but often stuff we don't do. When you read it, you'll be like, “Duh!” VERY HELPFUL. When I got my first book deal, the first thing the editor said to me was, “Go buy this book and read it.”

2. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.  Mr. Maass is a big time literary agent in NYC and gives conferences. If you ever get the chance to go, do so. I struggle reading his books, but live and in person? Highly recommended.

3. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

4. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and maybe his new one The Art of War. Honestly I haven't read either one yet, but I hear raves about both, but especially the classic Plot and Structure.

5. There's always Writer's Digest, but I think I got it just to “feel” like a writer and like I was doing something writerly. Like, “Look at me–I'm really putting in some effort on this getting published business. I've ordered a magazine. About writing. See, there's my name. On the label.”  Sadly, your mailman doesn't care.  A few years ago, I was accidentally sent a free subscription to Maxim. It took three months to get them to stop sending it to me. My mailman didn't care about that either.

My other advice along these lines for anyone wanting to get published or wanting to be a better writer, is to attend writer's conferences. I wouldn't be published if I hadn't gone to one.  (And if I hadn't told the editor I'd pay her kid's college tuition. )If you're interested in writing Christian fiction, definitely check out ACFW. I'll even be teaching a few classes there this September on YA and humor. Chip MacGregor addresses the conference issue from time to time, so search his archives at his informative blog.  As for secular lit, check the ads in Writer's Digest. You know, that magazine you're going to order but never read.

Speaking of the MacGregor, he also has some great conferences of his own, along with acclaimed authors like Susan Meissner, Lisa Samson, Susan May Warren, and Jim Rubart. I've had a handful of writing friends go to these Master's Series and RAVE.  You can check that out HERE.

Conferences can be expensive, especially if you have your eye on more than one. My favorite thing to do is to buy the mp3 of the major ones I can't attend. You can hear most of the classes, but not have to give American Airlines 25 dollars to bring a suitcase. RWA and ACFW have mp3s of previous conferences. They're not cheap, but about 1/10th the cost of a conference.  If any of you have a morning commute, you'll love this idea. Or you can workout to the sessions on your iPod. Just kidding. They're not THAT good.

One last thing that I'll mention is get yourself in semi-decent shape and clean up the ol' diet (says the girl who inhaled a pint of Ben and Jerry's this weekend, thankyouverymuch).  If there is anything that makes me sad about writing professionally, aside from bad reviews (Mom, you can back off any time now!) it's how sedentary the job is. And being sedentary is HARD on your body. I would rather do P90 and write than just sit and sit and sit and write. We are not created to sit. Writer's Butt is alive. And real. And it's coming to get you.

You have been warned.

That's it for now. I've left off a lot of advice, so feel free to chime in with your own.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 14 comments
tammy - March 29, 2010

Thanks Jenny for all the advice!!!
My biggest problem is finishing a book….Like i have the idea in my head and then i start writting but i can never seem to finish it!! but ive told myself that this summer i will finish a book!! lol

Amy - March 29, 2010

Seriously good and helpful post!

ally - March 30, 2010

Thanks Jenny!
I found this VERY helpful and I think it will help me a lot with my own writing, thanks!

Nicole O'Dell - March 30, 2010

LOL You crack me up. Great advice, though.

Hannah Y. - March 30, 2010

Thanks for the advice; I’m un-published, but working hard at soaking all this stuff in so that my book doesn’t sound like a bunch of sentences ripped from Writer’s Digest. 😉 And, to add to the rave reviews, yes — Plot and Structure is great. Bell has great ideas for generating sturdy plots and finding holes in the story before you even begin.

ally - March 30, 2010

YAY! got good news, although no one on here knows me lol. one of my articles just got poblished in a Christian teachers magazine :)) super happy!

Chip - March 31, 2010

Thanks for saying something nice, Jenny B. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Jenny B. Jones - March 31, 2010

YAYYYY ALLY!!!!! WOOOOOOOO!!!!!! That is so awesome.
And yes, I need to read Plot and Structure.

Jae - April 1, 2010

Thanks! That helps a lot…
and Tammy, me too! 🙂

bookwyrm14 - January 10, 2011

Thanks for the AWESOME advice! I wrote one 150-page book (just so u know, it took me 3 years) and now I want to see if I can get it edited and published. I’ll look out for Christian writers conferences in my area! =P

Chantel - February 14, 2011

That was so helpful thank you!

Liv - February 23, 2011

That was really helpful, Jenny! I’m writing a book, as of now, and you are a big inspiration. 😀 Thanks so much!

Beau Cornerstone - April 18, 2012

What do you think about writing e-books? Does it wreck your chances of ever getting published with a Christian conventional publisher?(Maybe you’ve answered this question somewhere and I missed it).

I live in what you’d probably call a remote area – 16000kms from the U.S and fellow writers. The chances of me getting to a Christian writers conference are a zillion to one. But God places a burning desire in authors worldwide (even Downunder) to write Christian fiction too. So e-books seem to be the only way authors like me can go.

To date I’ve written a number of YA Christian novels but only put one online as an e-book (The Weathermakers). I’m thinking of putting the sequel on.

If you haven’t written anything about ebooks I’d love you views on the matter.

Abigail - August 11, 2012

Wow. Very helpful! Thank you so much!

I’m a teenage aspiring author and the bit about the blank chapters is reassuring 🙂 Thanks!


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