Now that we’ve covered the worst writing advice that I’ve seen, here is the flip side: best writing advice I can share. It’s not nearly all the useful tips that you can find, but so much of writing advice is idiosyncratic. Outlines work for some authors but not others. Some writers succeed by writing every day. Others write prolifically in one-month bursts with long breaks “off” in between. As a writer, you have to try out different strategies to find what works for you. However, there are a few pieces of advice that are applicable to just about everyone:
- Read widely and with attention. Definitely read the kind of pieces you want to produce, whether that’s poetry, thrillers, romance or memoirs. Study the ones that are popular and/or critically acclaimed and ask yourself: what are the audiences responding to? How did the author successfully tell her tale? What structure did he use? Read outside your area as well to get ideas that will help keep your writing fresh.
- Follow the “because” and “but” rule. If you find your story has scenes that are strung together with “and then,” it’s probably not a story. It’s a series of events. To build a narrative arc, the scenes must be linked in meaning, not just chronology. Example: a detective at a murder scene believes the woman who called in the emergency is the killer so he decides to take her downtown for questioning, BUT then a second body turns up two miles away, killed in the same fashion. Or: He takes the woman downtown for questioning, and she confesses BECAUSE he tricks her into revealing her shameful secret past as a unicorn juggler.
- Get outside eyes on your work. Ideally, you want someone with editorial experience to critique your work before you trot it out in public. It can also be valuable to have feedback from a few readers who love the genre you are writing in. The editor will hone your prose and spot the plot holes. Readers will tell you whether they are dying to turn the page to find out what happens next.
- Pay as much attention to your last sentence as you do your first. It’s imperative to hook your reader on those early pages, but the last pages are what will linger with them after they have finished your story. A successful ending means that your readers are more likely to pick up your next one.
- Join a professional writers’ association. If you are interested in publishing, it’s vital to make connections with others in the business. These are people who once stood where you are, and they can offer advice to help you succeed. They’ll point out pitfalls and sand traps and help you figure out what path is most useful to you. Soak in their knowledge, put it to good use, and when the time comes, you can return the favor to another newbie starting out.