Writing Advice

One of the questions I get asked regularly is “Do you have any writing advice?” Advice? I’m full of it.

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 and my setting. 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. Read in the genre you enjoy and read in genres that aren’t your favorite. Keep a notebook or memos on your phone of cool words you like, story ideas, characters you discover. Finally, 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: I’m not a teen. Have any publishing advice for me?

It’s the best time in the world to be a writer. For the first time ever, we have options. Want to traditionally publish? Go for it. Want to self-publish and be an indie? Do it. Want both? Totally doable.

If you’re interested in traditional publishing, this will involve an agent, queries, and proposals. If you’re going the indie route, there is a ton of information out there for you, as well. Either way you go, you’ve got to have a strong, edited, well-written book.

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 by Renni Brown and Dave King. This is a favorite. 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 Novelby 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.
  3. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
  4. Plot and Structure and Super Structure: Unleashing the Power of Storyby James Scott Bell
  5. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Brilliant stuff.
  6. Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
  7. The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by Jana DeLeon, Tina Folsom, etc.
  8. No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo

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.)

Conferences can be expensive, especially if you have your eye on more than one. My favorite thing to do is to buy the digital recordings of the major ones I can’t attend, such as RWA, my very favorite.

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, it’s how sedentary the job is. And being sedentary is HARD on your body. We are not created to sit. Writer’s Butt is alive. And real. And it’s coming to get you.

You have been warned.

Finally, don’t be afraid to write crap. Drivel can be edited. A blank page cannot.
You can do it!