The Best Writing Tips Ever

“…I thought of the lesson, only lesson I learned and remembered from two years of a creative writing class…”

This quote from one of my commenters got me thinking about the resources we tap into on our writing journey and the lessons we take away from them.  For instance, each book I read leaves me with one memorable lesson, while each class I’ve taken teaches a new concept or solidifies an old adage.  

I have more writing books than a duck has feathers.  I have listened to speakers at writer’s conferences who impart great advice.  Some of it works for me and some is just out of my reach. 

Probably the most common advice I have heard is to “Write every day.”

I would love to, but it just isn’t realistic for me at this point in my life.  I have kids who need a taxi driver mom and a dog who demands my affections.  I love spending weekends with my DH and nights get crowded with bedtimes–mine included.  Every day does not work for me.

“Write what you know.” 

What if I don’t really know enough about anything, but I know a lot about everything?  To me, this advice is pretty vague.  I write for kids.  Do I know them?  Sure, I was one–30 years ago.  Things have changed.  I love gardening, but in my own willy-nilly way.  Not the Garden Guru kind of way.

As writers, we read blogs and books, attend conferences and cozy up in the comfort of writing communities and critique partners–all in the hopes of honing our craft and getting our byline out there. 

So, my question becomes: what have you learned?  What is the single most valuable lesson you have taken away from a mentor, teacher or kindly rejection letter?  What words do you live by to be the best writer you can be?

My all time favorite words of writing wisdom come down to this: Create characters readers can care about.  If they don’t care, they won’t read.  I live by this lesson.  It drives my novels. 

As people comment, Iwill add them to our list for easy reference.  Don’t forget to read the comments, as each tip has a little more info than is posted here.

The Best Writing Tips (Ever)

  1. Leave out the bits that readers might skip.
  2. Create characters readers can care about.  If they don’t care, they won’t read.
  3. Two words changed my life: “Precise and spare”.
  4. Finish something, even if it’s terrible, get to “The End”.
  5. Edit, edit, edit and then edit some more.
  6. “Cut the crap” was one thing a prof used to always say. It made me smile, and works.
  7. Don’t just kill your darlings; kill your gerunds. Die, “ing” clauses, die.
  8. Mind your misplaced modifiers.
  9. Know your characters.  Interview them.
  10. Type, don’t think. Thinking comes later after you get it on the page.
  11. Open your brain–to learn about writing and to let your characters in.
  12. Write, get it down on the page. You can edit crap. You can’t edit a blank page.
  13. Be true to your vision as a writer.
  14. Of criticism, know what to take and what to leave behind.
  15. Do what works for you and your story.  It frees me to use any words I want in any way I want whenever I want.
  16. Don’t compare. My writing journey is mine, not yours.  I enjoy my journey and celebrate with others along theirs.
  17. “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” Ray Bradbury
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26 responses to “The Best Writing Tips Ever

  1. This is hardly an original tip, but I like ‘leave out the bits that readers might skip’.

    Great post – and totally agree on your point about ‘write what you know’. Most writers don’t have the kinds of lives that would make stories – but we are very good at making things up.

    • Roz,

      Thanks for the tip. I think it says so much about description and the lack thereof. I am actually a page skipper, so I like it when writers say “flower garden” and let me fill in the blanks instead of describing the garden for three paragraphs.

      Great gobs of exposistion kill me.

  2. Two words changed my life: “Precise and spare”. I repeat it over and over again during the editing stage of my writing.

  3. The first great advice I heard was, finish something, even if it’s terrible, get to “The End”. The second was edit, edit, edit and then edit some more.

    • Barbara, I love this “finish something…get to the end.” It’s easy to start and we self-sabotage when we fail to finish a given project.

      Great advice.

  4. Good tips and this post makes quite the companion to CKHB’s post, I’d recommend checking it out today if you haven’t already.

  5. I love the advice listed 🙂

    “Cut the crap” was one thing a prof used to always say. It made me smile, and works.

  6. jmartinlibrarian

    Man, I wished I’d learned the “leave out the bits” tip as I wrote HOLY. I look back and cringe at the glacial pace.

    My favorite tips?

    1. Don’t just kill your darlings; kill your gerunds. Die, “ing” clauses, die!

    2. Mind your misplaced modifiers.

    Thanks for another illuminating round of Words From the Woods!

    • Jenny,

      I wish I had known a lot of things when I first started writing! I think that’s what makes being part of a community like this so fun. You can learn with less pain.

      Thanks for the tips.

  7. My personal favorite is, ‘Know your characters.’ I interview them. I know where they went to grade school and their worst memories as a child. I know about their relationships and about their family, and whether or not they like what they do/who they are.
    As I write character driven stories, this helps immensely!

    • Steph,

      You are the Queen of Characters as far as I’m concerned. Your interviews are amazing and it shows in your writing. You have such strong character devolpment.

      Thanks for sharing.

  8. One that helps me came from a movie line in “Finding Forester”. “Type, don’t think. Thinking comes later after you get it on the page.”

    • Deb,

      What a master concept. This is the first year I have ever really lived it during NaNo. Writing this way was such a big help.

      Thanks so much for weighing in.

  9. Open your brain. There is always something to learn about writing–even if you are an expert. Plus, if you open your brain, you’re characters will tell you some pretty amazing stuff.

    • Thanks Jean.

      There is definitely something to be said for allowing your mind to accept outside ideas. Especially from your characters. By opening ourselves up to other options, we feed our creativity in unexpected ways.

  10. 1. Write, get it down on the page. You can edit crap. You can’t edit a blank page.
    2. Be true to your vision as a writer. Of criticism, know what to take and what to leave behind.

  11. Very excellent list you have going so far.
    I have a couple and I’m not sure how close they are to writing. But they influence my writing.
    1. Do what works for you and your story. So for you, you can’t write everyday. I’m right there with ya. And I used to beat myself up so badly about it. Not anymore. I feel the same way about outlining and using adverbs and sentence fragments. I used to care so much that I was or wasn’t doing those things. Now I don’t. It frees me to use any words I want in any way I want whenever I want.

    2. Don’t compare. My writing journey is mine, not yours. What you can do in two days might take me two weeks and vice versa. So I enjoy my journey and celebrate with others along theirs.

    I’m happier this way.

    • Elana,

      I love your tips. Number two is probably the most important thing for aspiring writers to keep in mind. We want so desperately to incorporate every piece of advice and every tip and trick that we forget to own our own journey. What works for some may not work for others. And that’s okay.

      Thanks for sharing.

  12. That was a fantastic post and there is some great advice here. I think number 12 – just getting it down on the page and editing later rather than staring at a blank page – is the best advice I have ever been given. You really can’t edit a blank page. Thanks so much sharing.

    • Cassandra,

      I wish I could take credit for it, but the advice is not mine. I couldn’t have written it without my fellow writers sharing what works for them and what keeps them centered as writers. It’s you guys I applaud for the post!

  13. Here’s a tip from the pro. “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” Ray Bradbury

    I’ve started to include my MC in my consciousness at various times throughout the day (so I guess he’d actually be following me) just to see if I can get some little clue to add to his personality.

    As you know I love the interview technique. It really brings my characters to life!

    • Rahma,

      That’s an interesting concept to me. I have never really considered my characters outside the context of my writing. I know this is a huge no no, as I am supposed to know everything about them to make them real. Maybe that’s why character development is one of my issues…

      I hear their voices and feel them, but I have never interviewed or followed them. I think I should give this a try.

      Thanks for passing along the tip from Mr. Bradbury.

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