Here’s a question I get a lot when I do writing workshops, “I want to be an author. Have any tips?” I recently got the same question online from Jonathan, and rather than type my answer in the comments where he asked it, I figured I’d put a response here.
I’m not a big fan of writing tips. They’re often confusing and contradictory. Every author will recommend that you do what worked for them, despite the fact that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone. Thus I’ve heard authors say to only write in the morning; others say only to write at night. Some authors say you should write every day; others say it’s fine to take weekends off. Some authors say you should plan your books out before you start writing; others say to just start writing and discover the plot as you go.
Here’s the real answer: figure out what works for you and do more of that.
That said, I do have a few tips. I call these my 4 & 1/2 Stupid Tips for Writers:
- Read a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. I read between 100 and 160 books per year and have for more than 30 years. But I don’t have time, you protest? You probably do. Here’s the easiest way to make time for more reading–quit watching TV. The average American spends 35 hours a week in front of the TV. That’s enough time for even a slow reader (like me!) to tackle three books a week.
- Write a lot. You’ll hear different authors say this different ways. Some say you have to write a million words of fiction before you’ll be any good. Others say to write five novels. However they say it, the point is the same: practice. Nobody was born able to write novels; we all learned it. The only way to learn is through practice.
- Show your work to people who will give you tough, honest criticism. Your work will suck. Everyone’s does at first. My first drafts still suck septic tank fumes. You need to find people who will tell you exactly how bad your work sucks and why, so that you can improve. That probably means showing your work to someone who’s not your mom or English teacher.
- Revise obsessively. My forthcoming novel, SURFACE TENSION, went through 17 major rewrites before I and my publisher were satisfied. That’s not in the least bit unusual.
- And here’s the half rule: Marry someone who has great health insurance. It’s a real pain in the ass to get health insurance as a self-employed writer. I frequently call my wife, “Mrs. Health Insurance.” She loves it when I call her that.
Sometimes the next question I get is, “How do I get published?” Unless you’ve written 5 or 10 books already, don’t worry about it. When you’re sure you’re ready, there’s more info here.