The ten most valuable writing tips I’ve received

tipswriting

image source: mcargobe.wordpress.com

 

The internet is full of advice on how to write and it can be confusing and contradictory at times, especially when you are starting out. This isn’t because people like to give false advice but because each writer – and their writing process – is different. However, out of all the good advice I’ve received, these are the ones that have worked best for me. I hope by sharing them they will be of some help to you too.

1. Allow yourself to write poorly

Some days I find writing easy, some days it’s as if the language centre of my brain has decided to go on vacation, leaving my fingers to fend for themselves. However, even if I’m having one of the latter days I still write. It may be painful at the times, even more horrific when I read it back, but at least I have something on the page to work with when it comes to the all important edit.

2. Write your first draft in haste, edit at leisure

When I start a project my energy levels and enthusiasm are at their highest. I look to harness that spirit and blitz my story down as fast as possible without stopping to self-edit. This is important because it’s often not until you have the full story down that you realise what the story is really about. When it comes to the edit, I always take as much time and care as is needed to produce the best version of my story I can, to tease out the story’s themes and cut back on those bits that get in the way.

3. Write every day

When I write every day, my writing becomes ever easier. If I take regular breaks, or just write when the feeling takes me, I end up using valuable writing time just getting back into the swing of things. This is one lesson that continues to surprise me whenever I take a prolonged break from my writing.

4. Write the book you would like to read

I like books that make you think. I like books where you have to work out what is happening as you read. I like books that explore ideas but not at the detriment to the story. This is why I wrote Second Chance in the way I did. My book shelves are full of speculative fiction, thrillers and a number of horror titles. This doesn’t mean I dislike non-fiction, historical fiction or many other types of books, but it was clear where my interest lay and which direction my writing should take. While I have nothing against romance novels, I wouldn’t attempt to try and write one because I don’t have either the background, skill or knowledge to do the genre justice.

5. Read while writing – but a different tense buggers you up

We are often told to read a lot to fuel our craft, but many writers refuse to read other author’s work while writing something of their own. I don’t understand this. If you can watch more than one TV series at a time without getting confused, you can read while writing. There have been so many occasions where reading another’s novel has prompted new ideas on how to approach my writing. I’m not talking about plagiarising plot points or prose, but learning how to improve dialogue or restructuring a particularly troublesome middle third. My only caveat would be to only read works that are in the same tense as yours. Reading a book in present tense when yours is in past tense can cause some serious issues come edit time.

6. You cannot see your own mistakes

I suffer from self-typo blindness (this should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog). It’s a common affliction amongst writers. While I can spot errors in other people’s text from 100 paces, when I read my own text my eyes skip over the most blatant error as if it wasn’t there. When publishing your book (or preparing your manuscript for submission), use others to help you track these errors down. Start with beta readers to find the big errors (plot holes, character issues), then if you can afford it, use professional editing to correct any typos. But don’t stop once your book is published. Second Chance has had two major revisions, once just after launch and another more recently. Both times I thought my work was error free, both times the kindness of others informed me otherwise.

7. Never turn your back on constructive criticism

One of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me was sharing what I had written with my beta readers for the first time. It was also the most rewarding. That isn’t to say they praised it unconditionally. Quite the contrary, but the did so from the perspective of trying to improve what I had written. This criticism was difficult to take, at least at first, but because I trusted them and knew they had my best interests at heart, I reeled in my ego, listened to what they had to say, then improved my novel.

8. Some people will hate your book but it’s not personal

Not everybody will love your book. Not everybody you like will love your book. One of my good friends, on reading my book, said “sorry, it’s just not my kind of thing.” And that’s fine. We’re still friends. I don’t think any worse of them than before (especially as they paid good money for my book), because it’s not personal, it’s just individual taste. Lots of people love Moby Dick but it leaves me cold. I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Gatsby but when checking the reviews saw that hundreds of people hated it with a passion. That doesn’t make me right and them wrong (or vice-versa). However, if you ever to receive a 1-star review, I suggest you read this great post by Heather Hill to cheer you up.

9. Writers support writers

One of the greatest parts about writing is how supportive the writing community is. If you become active on any form of social media and let people know you write, other writers will seek you out and offer support. Lots of them. In my case it started with blog and has continued on Twitter. Next time you’re having a bad writing day or a moment of self-doubt, tweet about it followed by the hashtag #amwriting and you will find out what I mean. I am continually amazed and humbled by the support and advice I have and continue to receive from other writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

10. It’s all about the story

This is the biggest one of all. I’ve seen this piece of advice in so many forms, whether it is “don’t get in the way of the story” or “kill your darlings”. The main point is that whatever choice you make about your work, the question you should ask is: what’s best for the story? It’s not about what’s best for you – what shows off your writing skills or command of the english language the best – nor is it about what area of the backstory or world you have designed you are most interested in. As writers, we work best when we reign our egos in and realise it is all about the story.

 

So what is the best piece of advice you’ve received. Have I missed anything off the list? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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92 thoughts on “The ten most valuable writing tips I’ve received

  1. Excellent tips!! Thanks for sharing!

    Like you, I, too, have been astounded by the kindness of other authors, and have made many new friends since embarking on this weird journey we call self-publishing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this has been the best part of it. 🙂

    • Absolutely. There are so many people I now consider to be friends – who I have never met and in most cases am never likely to – all through the generosity they have shown. The writing community is just fantastic!

  2. Great advice – Thank you. I am part time worker but see the need to be writing on the days I am free. You are right – some writing is cringeworthy and then other days it just bites. I call it ‘finding my voice’. Really interested in the re-editing of your books even after launch.

    Will follow your blog with interest as a new blogger myself.

    • I would highly recommend making sure you don’t have to re-edit after launch, but if like me you made mistakes and you have the chance to correct them, you should take that chance.
      What I wouldn’t necessarily recommend is changing the story. Some writers are happy to do this – and I have made a clarification of a plot point in an edit – but to me the re-edit option should be purely for quality reasons.
      All the best of luck with your writing 🙂

  3. Great tips all, Dylan; the one I particularly like is No 4… I don’t think you’ve omitted any biggies — these are all crucial (speaking as one who’s only written the occasional short story).

    • Thanks, Chris! As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I never set out to write Science Fiction (as much as I love it) but the ideas I wanted to explore really demanded it. That said, Second Chance was always going to be a thriller because I love the style, have read thrillers in their various guises for as long as I can remember.

  4. Hi Dylan. I’ve just read your tips list and signed up for your blog. It’s an interesting and informative list. Thank you.

    I am interested in your experiences prior to becoming an author. Did you prevaricate before starting on the journey? Was your first story burning it’s way out of you? What were your main concerns about what to write?

    I have started to write several times but I worry that it’s too like something else or the market is flooded with similar stuff.

    Any thoughts would be incredibly helpful. 🙂

    • Hi Anthony. Thank you so much for your kind words and welcome! To answer your questions I have always loved to read and write but my writing stopped when I was younger when other interests – and life in general – took over. I went back to writing because I didn’t want to ‘die wondering, but I didn’t have a specific story in my head. What I did have were certain themes I wanted to explore.
      My biggest concern about writing was that it would be terrible and nobody would read it. It is still my biggest concern and there are times where I’m just waiting for somebody to call me out as a fraud. This is normal, apparently.
      My advice is to write for yourself. Don’t think about whether it will sell, if other people will like it, or if your family or friends will be offended by certain scenes. Write the story you would like to read, your way, because regardless of anything else that happens, you will be proud of what you have achieved.

  5. Great advice Dylan, and I concur with it all. The one piece I might add is: However good you think you feel about it, your first draft is not your book – it’s not even close. If your first draft is even 20% of the way there, you’re doing really well.

    If it’s ok with you, I’m thinking I’ll reblog your post later today – it speaks to the heart of the writerly experience.

    • That’s an excellent point, Jools, and very true. I still remember my shock on receiving my first ever beta reader feedback on a draft I thought to be brilliant, only to be told it needed a lot of work.
      Of course I’d be happy for you to retweet. It would be an honour:-)

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Writing every day is hard, and as I alluded to in my post, it isn’t something I manage to achieve all the time. I do regret it every time I fall short, though. All the best for your writing.

  6. Reblogged this on A Writer's Notepad and commented:
    In this post author Dylan Hearn shares the writing tips he’s found most useful – and I couldn’t agree more. One of my rare reblogs, but worth reading for anyone with ambitions to overcome obstacles and become a better writer.

  7. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    I was going to gripe about my opening week numbers for Occasional Soulmates, but instead I think I’ll broadcast something constructive. Dylan Hearn has compiled ten terrific writing tips, all of which are spot on!

    • Thanks so much for the retweet, Kevin. As for your opening week, all I can say is that there’s no accounting for people. I’m sure as the word-of-mouth spreads it will become a sleeper hit (or at the very least, a have cult following). 🙂

  8. Great advice Dylan! All of these are solid. I especially agree with the need to keep reading while writing. There is so much inspiration and technique that just seeps through when doing so that can make your story better. Looking forward to more of your posts.

    • Thank you! I think reading while writing helps an awful lot with pacing, both over the whole story as well as the pacing of scenes and even individual moments of dialogue. Thanks so much for dropping by 🙂

  9. These are fantastic tips Dylan. I think I might print them off and have them to hand. I agree with absolutely all of them – but I’m more likely to take notice of your version 😀

  10. I needed to hear this today. I gave my work to ten beta readers and two sent it back without a read because they could not relate to characters or setting. It’s regional crime fiction, so I don’t expect everybody to “get it”. But I like to think they are still friends.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s tough when you hear somebody doesn’t love your work (or even give it a chance). There are lots of people I know who haven’t read my book because they “don’t read sci-fi”. At the same time, I have had a lots of people who have told me “I don’t normally read sci-fi but I really loved your book”. It’s all swings and roundabouts. If you really want cheering up and you haven’t already, I highly recommend you click on the link to Heather Hill’s one-star review post. It will help put things in perspective for you 🙂

    • If your beta readers will only read a book because they can relate to it then you need new beta readers, and perhaps all those beta readers shouldn’t be friends and family first. It’s definitely not your book’s fault when a reader doesn’t relate. Or yours. Beta readers should be able to read broadly and deeply enough to comment and advise on just about anything. You don’t want Yes-men/women, but people who will give you an honest opinion of what works and what doesn’t. That’s how I would want beta readers to respond to me. It’s only later, when the book has been published and is finding its market, that we can allow for readers to say they can’t relate to what we’ve written.

      • Thanks. I had ten readers. Some are total strangers who really enjoy reading any work. I’ve gotten great feedback on things I might need to tweak for a smoother read. It’s the consensus I try to look most closely at. I guess I am more sensitive about my work than I expected. It felt bad to disappoint 20%. It was more the way I was looking at it.

      • Better to have feedback from just a few good readers rather than a consensus from a group who mostly “don’t get it”. Those few who did respond with constructive criticism are worth their weight in gold. Try not to let the reaction of the others bother you. (I know that’s easy for me to say.) But just as a bad review says more about the reviewer’s ability to really read and criticize a book well than it does about the book being reviewed or the author, you just can’t pay too much attention to readers who can only read or enjoy what they relate to personally. (I’ve always called this the “Oprah method of reading”, because it always seemed that what appealed most to her reading club members was that they could personally “relate” to characters and situations. Reading something foreign or challenging was too much work for those readers. Sad, really, because I think of all the great books those readers are missing out on.)

  11. Sound advice! Some resonate with me more than others (I will gladly take a day off if I’m not feeling it), but the overall emphasis of your post shows the wisdom of experience: Be open but stay true to yourself.

    • That’s a great summary. Of course, the crunch comes to understanding what is being true to yourself and what is being inflexible, and therefore not open. I read a great quote from Joe Abercrombie (who may have been quoting somebody else). It said: if your beta readers come back and say something is wrong, they are usually right. If they come back with suggestions on how to correct it, those are usually wrong.

  12. A great set of tips, Dylan. I love #10 especially – I agree that in fiction it’s all about the story. In my world of corporate writing, it’s all about your audience and whether they understand the material. So I like to keep a typical reader in mind when I write something. I may love the piece, but will my audience get it?

    • Thanks, Sue. My background is in corporate writing as well so I can completely relate to what you are saying. It’s not want you are saying but how it is perceived that is important.

  13. Some great tips – thank you. I must confess, I used to try to write everyday. Of late, I just can’t seem to manage it. That thing called a job gets in the way: it consumes sometimes even my extra hours, my thoughts and my energy. Weekends are best for me at this point in my life. I’m not happy about that, but I’m not happy about beating myself up either when, too tired to write, I collapse from lack of energy and will, and have the guilt of not writing to deal with on top of everything else. I’m curious how others deal with this.

    • As I mentioned in my post, I’m not perfect at this either and nor are many, so you really shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. I read a great book on self-publishing called Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt & Johnny B Truant where they mention a writer needs to learn to write tired because most of us do have jobs or other commitments as well as our writing. One of the best ways of getting around this for me is to schedule ‘writing time’ at the same time each day (whether early in the morning or late evening). This way your body gets used to the routine of writing at that time of day. Also set yourself smaller targets to begin with, maybe just 100 words, just so you gain a sense of achievement each time. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the reblog, Arran. I haven’t seen anything from you for a while and was getting a little concerned. I hope all is well and look forward to further updates on how writing your sequel is going 🙂

      • Thanks Dylan, all is ok, just the day job has been a handful. I know you don’t like blog hops but I would love for you to take part in the 7-7-7 blog soon. It will give you a chance to showcase your new book!

      • I’m glad all is OK. Thanks for the invite to the blog hop. Let me have a think about it. I’m heavily involved in the edit of the Sequel to Second Chance so that’s my priority. If it falls into a bit of a lull I may well be interested 🙂

      • Sounds great, I still haven’t had a chance to read your first, it’s on my kindle and I’m hoping to get started on it when I go in holiday.

        I’m working on my sequel called 110 steps to Piccadilly.

        You’re actually in the UK so we could always meet up for lunch and a chinwag, it’s amazing what you learn from fellow authors

        A

  14. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Great post. We all have different quirks when writing – I tend to write my stories in my head while on the treadmill or swimming then sit down and throw it on the page as fast as I can before I lose the plot! I guess that I will read one of my books or blogs three or four times but then get word blindness and pass it on….great tips and please pass it on.

  15. Agree with all your points, especially 4. The oft quoted Write What You Know, should be Write What You Like. You don’t need to know a subject matter – you can always find out – but if you don’t like the kind of story you’re writing it won’t work. A bit like eating food you dislike. Sure, you can do it, but everyone can tell.

    • That’s a great analogy and so true, and I agree completely that we should get away from write what you know, at least in the literal sense. Write your book from the perspective of your own experience so that it is unique to you, yes, but don’t be constricted to base it purely on things you have done or witnessed.

  16. Firstly I agree writers support writers, and its a great and beautiful community. My only self-learned tip is, to leave your first draft alone for as long as possible so you read it almost for the first time when you edit it. You will have much more perspective that way. As always your posts are gems sir, and I thank you for them

  17. Very informative post, Dylan. #1 and #2 are rules I live by and hack away at every day, which is not always easy given my perfectionistic tendencies. The important thing is to have stamina and allow yourself to fail. If I’m not failing, I’m not trying hard enough.

    • I was lucky that I heard #2 as soon as I started writing. I know many people struggle to let things go in the first draft, even with the knowledge you can fix it later in the edit. I can only think of four or five scenes I’ve written in my past two books where I’ve gone back and edited while writing the first draft. Thanks so much for dropping by 🙂

  18. Yes, getting that story is paramount. I remember people asking me, when the book I was currently working on would be finished, and all I could answer was ‘When I found the story’ I didn’t really understand what that meant exactly, but I’d hoped I know when the time came. Three years later, my answer changed to ‘Tomorrow, I’ve finally got it’ Yee-bloody hah! lol

      • Thanks for asking Dylan, that’s kind of you. I came to a part that I had to get my head around and found that by taking some time out to think things through helped me formulate my ‘game plan’. So all that to say I’m not as close to the finish I’d like to be but I’m getting there 😉

  19. Thanks for this Dylan! As you know, recently I am a little behind with all my online activities but today I am getting back on track – just in time for the weekend *snooze button*. I have linked back to this in today’s post as I think it is excellent advice. It think the ‘some people will hate your book. it’s not personal’ part should be framed and put on everyone’s wall. I try not to read the bad reviews now – honestly, I try! But I can’t help myself. Then I am repeating this line over and over whilst taking deep breaths in and out of a brown, paper bag. As always, excellent post and I am genuinely loving your book! You have great talent and such a generous nature too.

    • The author Joe Abercrombie regularly celebrates his 1-star reviews, especially those that hate his books for delivering what’s advertised (in his case gritty, violent fantasy centred very much in the moral grey area). When your 1-stars outweigh your 5-stars, you know you may have a problem. I think you have little to worry about. What am I saying? I know you have nothing to worry about!

    • Thank you, Arran, for the nomination. I would love to take part but it won’t be straight away as I need to get the final part of my WIP to my editor. Also, I forgot to reply to your last offer of a meet up. I would love to. If you are ever in the East of England, please let me know and if the timing is right it would be great to meet.

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