Fourteen Writing Tips
1. Strengthen your writing muscles by writing for an hour every day, without distractions and without stopping. Then, if your other work schedule permits, go to two hours, then three. If you have trouble sitting still that long, write for twenty minutes, get up and stretch/exercise/have a cup of coffee for five minutes only (set a timer), then do another twenty minutes. Repeat until you have your full time allotment of writing completed.2. Have a daily page quota for your writing time. Start with two pages, then go up from there.3. There is virtually no lateral movement between professions, although people often assume there is. They think, “I’ve already worked hard to become a doctor/lawyer/priest and now I want to write a book that will be published.” No matter how much education in other fields you have, take a couple of years of classes (at night, if need be, as I did) in whatever type of writing you want to do. If one class is not good, finish it anyway, then go to the next one. By doing all the assignments, you will again be strengthening your writing muscles. (If you are taking a writing class at a college or university, check out the instructors’ ratings at www.ratemyprofessor.com.)
4. Read extensively, especially in the field in which you want to be published. After you’ve read twenty books in your favorite genre, ask your friendly neighborhood bookstore owner or librarian for further suggestions. Chances are, these lovers of books will put volumes in your hands that are completely new to you.
5. When you find several books you really love, outline them. Doing lengthy outlines will help you see how an author has structured his or her work.
6. Write letters to your characters, and have them write back in their voice(s). Ask them what happened in the story; have them tell you.
7. When you finish a chapter, read it aloud. The ear will catch unclear passages that the eye may not.
8. Check out local writing groups, attend their conferences and classes, and join the one(s) that seem to fit your needs. These groups usually put on excellent conferences where you will be able to attend panels with experts in everything from the current state of publishing to the use of DNA evidence.
9. As obvious as this may sound, nevertheless, here it is: Learn the rules of grammar and spelling. Please don’t think an editor will clean up your work. He or she does not have time for that. If a work you hope to have commercially published contains grammatical or spelling errors, sad to say, it will be rejected.
10. Join one or more writers’ critique groups, where the writers are producing manuscripts like the one you want to have published. Be judicious in your choices. Attend several meetings of several groups before deciding which one(s) to join. Listen to the criticism offered on manuscripts. If the comments are all too positive, the writer will learn nothing. If the comments are all too negative, the same holds. When you listen to or read a manuscript in a group, ask yourself, “How would I critique this work?” Then see if the opinions from these readers agree with your own assessment. (Beware of groups where not everyone brings work to be critiqued. Excuse my amateur psychological assessment here, but it’s been my experience that people who never bring work, but only show up to critique, are usually quite negative. Could they be projecting their own inability to get their work done?)
11. Once your novel or nonfiction book) is written, thoroughly critiqued, and then rewritten, you can think about marketing it. First, though, figure out where your book fits in the current market. For example, if you are writing a mystery novel featuring Native Americans, you could say, “This is Tony Hillerman in Colorado.” This helps an agent see you’ve done your homework.
12. Bear in mind that the paradigm for making money from your writing is changing rapidly. The old paradigm is this: A writer finishes his or her novel, then pitches it to an agent, who decides whether the book is right for the agency, and whether he or she can sell it. The agent then takes the author on and sells the work (you hope!) to a major publishing house, keeping a percentage of whatever money the agent is able to secure. The new paradigm is self-publication, usually online. For advice on this latter, I recommend an excellent website run by JA Konrath: A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing. (Search for it on Google if it does not come up right away.)
13. If you decide to try the old paradigm, bear in mind that pitching your book in person at a conference is vastly superior to sending it to an agency by mail or email. Well before the conference, you will need to make an appointment with the agent(s) who handle the type of work you are trying to sell. (Advance research on the agents attending will save you and them time.) You will probably get five or ten minutes with an agent at a conference; a manuscript may get as little as ten seconds of consideration from a college student working for the agent.
14. Keep your chin up! There is lots of negativity in the writing and publishing world, most of which you need to ignore, or you’ll never get your work done. When members of your critique group or class compliment your work, write those comments on a separate piece of paper. Review as necessary (“I loved these characters!”) when you begin your work each day. Having a positive attitude will help keep you going. Good luck!
Diane Mott Davidson is the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen novels featuring caterer and sleuth extraordinaire Goldy Schulz. Her latest novel entitled THE WHOLE ENCHILADA (William Morrow Hardcover; $26.99) is on-sale August 27. To learn more, please visit: http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/25347/Diane_Mott_Davidson/index.aspx