4 min read

Writer's Wednesday: My favorite writing advice

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I recently read a blog post giving 54 tips for writers and was surprised that my favorite bits of advice weren't there.  I thought I might compile my own list. So here goes:


1. "Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a 'real' publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it's promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart's couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn't mean it's going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people." (Seth Godin, Advice for Authors, Seth has published most of his own books)

2.  "Don't get taken in by the Get-Rick-Quick Myth. It takes Ten Years to Become an Overnight Success." This section talks about the dismal financial reality of being an author. (July Delton, The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


3. I've linked to this article before. Corey Doctorow gives the best reasoning for giving away your work in this article.

4. "Play for anyone who will listen." Mark Hoppus says this is one of the most important tools in becoming a successful band. But I think it's very true for authors. You must get your work out in front of people. Hoarding your work stifles your own creativity and growth. Get your work in front of as many eyes as possible. You'll be amazed at what you learn.


5. "Use small words. Best-selling novelist consistently use shorter words than non-best-sellers. It's a main reason their writing reads at a faster pace than most mid-list books." (James V Smith, Writer's Little Helper


6. I think this chart speaks for itself. If you want people to understand you, write short sentences.

7. About the word said:

"The whole purpose of using 'he said' or 'she said' is to identify the speaker.

  • Said is preferable to words like remarked, uttered, declared, articulated, murmured or chortled. Descriptive words such as these can stop the flow of a sentence.

  • Don't be concerned that there will be too many saids in your book. Readers will never notice it."

(Janet Evanovich, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author


I heard this for more sources than I can count. You want a fast reading book? Don't shift off the word 'said.' Anything else slows the reader down.

8 .  Some paraphrased advice:

  • Your characters must be better than you. If you think you've hurt them enough, go back and hurt them some more. Really slay them. Seeing a character over come all odds makes for great fiction. (Daniel Maas, Writing the Breakout Novel


  • Adjectives and adverbs are only necessary when you have weak verbs and should be avoided at all cost. Imagine that you have to pay $10 for every adjective and adverb in your text. You'd think differently about using them at all. (Stephen King, Lawrence Block, Hemingway, and a host of others)
  • Buy a great thesaurus and use it often. (Every author I can think of)
  • Keep it simple - you're stupid if you don't.


9. "Do one task at a time without distractions. This is one of the most important habits in ZTD. You must select a task (preferably one of your MITs) and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. First, eliminate all distractions. Shut off email, cell phone, Internet if possible (otherwise just close all unnecessary tabs), clutter on your desk . Then, set a timer if you like, or otherwise just focus on your task for as long as possible. Don?t let yourself get distracted from it. If you get interrupted, write down any request or incoming tasks/info on your notepad, and get back to your task. Don?t try to multi-task. See How NOT to Multi-Task for more." I use the timer on my Google Sidebar when I'm writing. I set it for an hour and work until it rings. Check around my world, then start over again. It's very effective. (Leo Babauta, Zen to Done)

10. "No one's coming." My book mentor. He says this to remind me that:

  • No one is coming to make your career.
  • No editor or beta reader or friend or expert will take your manuscript and make it the best possible.
  • No one is going to market your book.
  • No one is going to make you a best selling author.
  • No one is going to give you the time to get the work done.
  • Unless you're already famous (think movie star), no one is going to give you a big advance.
  • No one is going to make it easy for you.

Writing is a solo game. If you want to be successful, you need to start thinking today about what you can to do make it happen. If you can't do it, no one will.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice?