The 10 Best Writing Tips I’ve Learned
As practically all authors will tell you, writing isn’t easy, and yet I firmly believe that over time it can become a far less excruciating experience and sometimes even—dare I say it?—downright joyful. I’ve written several books of nonfiction and eleven mysteries and thrillers, and I love sitting down each morning at my computer. Here are some tricks I picked up along the way that make the ideas come faster and the words flow (at least some of the time!).
- Let other writers show you how. Some wonderful authors have shared fabulous thoughts on unleashing one’s creativity and making the process more doable. You can find their advice in books such as Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Stephen King on Writing, but it’s also great to actually see and hear authors discuss their craft. If you can’t catch your favorite authors at a Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore, type their names in the search bar on YouTube and there’s a decent chance videos will pop up of them talking about what they do and how they do it.
- Read slowly. Doing so helps you analyze the way an author paces his or her story, brings characters to life, creates metaphors and alliterations, and so much more.
- Schedule your writing. Trust me, if you don’t block out the time, it’s not going to happen. But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Research shows that we often fail to accomplish meaningful goals because we make them far too daunting. For a number of years I would promise myself that I’d write “all day Saturday” and never did. Finally I changed my tactic. I decided to write for only fifteen minutes a day, and before long I had several chapters of what became my first Bailey Weggins murder mystery, If Looks Could Kill. If you start small, you will expand over time. Another strategy, one many writers use, is to aim not for hours at your desk but pages written per day.
- Devise your “writer’s cocktail.” By that I mean the mix of ingredients that make things more conducive for you as a writer. What time of day allows you to get into the zone easily? What type of workspace is best for you? Does music set your creative juices flowing or does silence do the trick? The answers will direct you to your cocktail recipe.
- If inspiration does not come, go half way to meet it. That’s what Freud advocated, and who am I to argue with him? Don’t just wait for that big idea to explode in your brain. Keep an idea folder filled with clippings and scraps of paper on which you’ve jotted random ideas (I got the whole plot of a mystery from a clip I’d saved). Be present in life and pay attention to everything around you. Harlan Coben let his curiosity be aroused by a certain website he came across one day and used it for the basis of his best-selling novel The Stranger.
- Go big or go home. Out of self-consciousness or fear, it’s easy to hold back when we write. Keep asking yourself, “Have I allowed myself to be as gutsy and bold as I secretly want to be with my pages?”
- Don’t believe in writer’s block. I worked in magazines for much of my life and ran Cosmopolitan magazine for fourteen years. In the deadline-filled world of magazines and websites, you can’t wait for the muse to move you. You just have to do it. Borrow a page from that. If you feel stuck in your writing, put anything down and then go back later and make it stronger. As Lee Child has said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
- Many writers are what are called pantsers, meaning that they work by the seat of the pants and don’t know where they’re going with a novel until they get there. But I think an outline can really save the day when you’re just starting out. It doesn’t have to be too detailed because some of the fun is enjoying the magic when ideas and plot points just pop into your head. I keep a notebook for every book and work out those smaller details in those pages.
- Reward yourself. I love to drink tea when I write but deny myself a cup until I’ve finished a certain number of words.
- Don’t show a draft of your work to anyone unless the person is responsible, articulate, generous, and a huge fan of the genre you’re writing in. (This list may include your mother, your romantic partner, and most of your friends.) Otherwise, the person will never get back to you or will offer lame comments, both of which will make you feel like a stripped car. In fact, the only people you probably should share pages with are members of your writing seminar/group.
Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of ten works of fiction—six Bailey Weggins mysteries and four suspense novels, including, Eyes on You, now in paperback, and her brand new novel, The Wrong Man. For fourteen years she was the editor in chief ofCosmopolitan magazine, and though she loved the job (and the Cosmo beauty closet!), she decided to leave in late 2013 to concentrate full time on being an author.
Her books have received starred reviews from a variety of publications and she has been covered everyplace from The Today Show to The New York Times. Her first Bailey Weggins mystery, If Looks Could Kill, was named as the premier Reading with Rippa selection and soon shot to number one on Amazon. She is published in 13 countries around the world.
Kate is also the editor of the Mystery Writers of America cookbook.
Like many mystery writers, Kate fell in love with the genre after reading her first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of Redgate Farm, and she still admires those cliffhanger endings that “Carolyn Keene” created.
She is married and the mother of two children, and once had her daughter stalk her through the woods so she could better describe the sounds of someone being followed.
Kate is also the author of several very popular career books, including I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve, and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do.