You know, I’m pretty much addicted to writing advice. I mean, psh, I devour writing advice like I'm at a cheap Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. I’m basically drowning in fiction tips.
But over the years, these 5 pieces of advice stuck with me. #1 even completely transformed my life. I see these 5 tips as the absolutely most essential, especially for aspiring authors. I’d feel terribly guilty if I didn’t share them with you.
Essential Advice #5: “Get the story moving fast!
Novels today are competing with a lot of other entertainment. I think it’s important to grab a reader with the first 25 words or so.”
Essential Advice #4. "Read your writing ALOUD
Don't read in your head, don't mumble - actually read the entire piece aloud, projecting. Reading it to another person? Better."
This is writing tough love. No avoiding awkward writing when speaking it.
Essential Advice #3. "Keep conflict coming!
It’s not enough to get your protagonist in some kind of trouble on page 1; you have to keep building complications into the story. If everything is easy for your characters, the story will stall out and die."
Essential Advice #2. Things must get WORSE
“You’ll hate me. But in 6 months, you’ll be a better writer
From this point forward, you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Loves, hates.
Instead of characters knowing, you must now give details that allow readers to know them."
Essential Advice #1 (The GOAT tip): “Writing is Tireless and committed collaboration. We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation."
In short, BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK! Take advice. Your work can always be better, you can always be better. It’s other people, especially our audience, who help us improve most. Listening, (not accepting everything you hear, mind you!), but really listening to feedback had been the best way for me to improve, from writing to life. It sounds dumb, obvious, silly, even. “oh, of course, I listen!” But I know for the longest time, I didn’t. I heard, but I didn’t listen. I’d qualify the advice, or make it less seriously based on the advice-givers credentials, or think that my work was the exception to rule because of some obvious detail the advice-giver had missed. But when I started really listening to all my audience feedback, that was when I produced work my audience really loved. It was also when my writing went from meh to muy bien. This simple John Green tip saved my work.
I like to review these 5 tips every day before writing. They’ve changed my writing and my life, and I hope they help you, too.
If you want more help getting published or want to follow my writing journey, sign up for my email list below! This is the best way to support me. Plus, you'll get free query letter materials, a sample, plus updates on my journey. I don't bite. Err, unless there’s cake. Then my sweet tooth gets shockingly aggressive.
1. The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester
This is hands down the best writing book I’ve ever read. Period. It’s practical, precise, and always to the point. The Fantasy Fiction Formula is tragically underrated, rarely on recommendation lists or blogs, but OH MY GOD is it good. Read it. Trust me. Not only is it incredible for prose and text level suggestions, it will change the way you see storytelling, with an emphasis on plotting and delivering on conflict. No matter what genre you write, Deborah Chester’s advice will change your writing forever!
2. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Writing is editing, and if you’re editing you need to pick this book up. It’s incredibly practical, accessible, and will help you sculpt the piece of your dreams. Read it.
3. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Yes, I’m including novels. And yes, I'm aware this was published quite a while ago and will likely not make a great comp title for those pitching their books. I'm not including novels in the list because they're my absolute favorites (Although they’re all quite good!), but because they represent archetypal plot or even prose structures. Jim Butcher delivers incredible voice with Storm Front, a clear personality that comes through the writing. Plus, it follows a fairly traditional Hero's Journey for his main character. Butcher really did set the tone for most contemporary genre pieces.
Oh, and Jim Butcher's mentor? Deborah Chester, author of the FANTASY FICTION FORMULA, the book clocking in at the number 1 most essential to read. Butcher wrote Storm Front using the formula Chester gave him. Meaning his success is repeatable. Storm Front isn't just a success for Butcher's writing skill, it's a success for reading and listening to craft advice, success that anyone can achieve. TLDR, reading Storm Front is a must for writers looking to get a better understanding of how most contemporary fantasy pieces are structured and executed.
4. The Essential Guide to Getting your Book Publisher by Eckstut, Arielle
This is your one-stop guide to the publishing industry. It’s got editing tips, query letters to get you an agent, a guide to publisher submission, and impossibly helpful tips on actually selling copies of your books. Look, even for a guy who devours this stuff, publishing industry jargon can make my head spin. I mean, the word blurb can mean three totally different things, sometimes more. Eckstut’s book will give you an understanding beyond just vocabulary, so you actually understand how the industry operates. Can’t recommend it enough.
5. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Another archetypal fiction piece, this time for fantasy worldbuilding and witty dialogue! If you want to keep your high fantasy or other genre fiction relevant and sharp, this is a wonderful example. What’s more? It handles multiple POV’s in third-person, so well. This is a huge trend these days. If Storm Front was the archetypal adult contemporary piece with lots of first-person voice, King of Scars is the archetypal 3rd person, high fantasy book
6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
This non-fiction piece is not only written with more personality than most novels. It’s also an absolutely incredible book on the mindset of great writers, and will really inspire you on your writing journey. There are so many gems and quotable lines in this book that I ran out highlighter reading it.
7. Deep Work by Cal Newport
We waste so much time. We really do. And that’s normal. But in Newport’s book, you’ll get a sense of how much of that time is actually useful for you, and how to manage it to maximize your creativity.
8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Another novel that’s defined contemporary fiction in our lifetime. Not only is it an incredible read, but THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO will give you a window into impossibly strong plotting. Told out of time, Diaz connects plot thread to plot thread to create the sexiest plot sweater you’ve ever seen. And then he spins it around, and oh my god, it’s not just pretty, it means something. This really is the gold standard for well-placed motifs, themes, and strong plotting.
9. Riveted by Jim Davies
What's so funny? What makes a story funny? Memorable? Riveted will let you in on all the ‘why’s, so you’ll not just have a practical understanding of storytelling, but you’ll uncover the mechanisms behind fiction, the stuff inside all of us that resonates with different aspects of a good story.
10. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
It’s a jungle out there for editors. Luckily we’ve got THE FOREST FOR THE TREES to be our witty, ever-practical jungle guide, whacking common writer-fears and insecurities with a trusty editor machete. The Forest for the Trees not only gives writers a look into the mad mind of publishers, but it helps them tackle the biggest, baddest villain kicking around in your writing: self-doubt. This is a must read for writers.
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