My Top Ten Writing Tips

(writing)

First off—and totally off topic—I just had to share my exciting news this morning: SADIE is #5 on Deseret Book’s fiction list. Yay! And the ebook is third. I’m just a little excited. Okay, a lot excited. :)

Now to the other stuff.

As I’ve been talking to people about SADIE, it’s surprised me how many have said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

Before I started writing, I had no idea how many people would love to write a book.

And usually their next question is, “Was it hard?”

So let me ask: Are you one of those who has always wanted to write a book but never tried? Or have you started but are feeling overwhelmed? If so, I hope this post helps you out a little bit.

*disclaimer: I’m fully aware that I’m still new to this writing and publishing thing. No one knows better than me that I still have a lot to learn. But here is my list of the top ten things I’ve learned about writing in case you’re one of those people who has “always wanted to write a book.”

Writing Tip #1: Writing. Is. Hard.

Yeah. Sorry, but that’s the truth. SADIE took 3 ½ years from start to bookshelf. Sigh. But don’t get discouraged. Writing is also fun. It’s extremely fun. Like lose-five-hours-in-front-of-the-computer fun. And it’s well worth it. I talk more about this below (see #10).

Writing Tip #2: The first draft is the hardest.

Hey, that kinda sounds like a song title. ”The First Draft is the Hardest.” I can already hear the melody. :)  Anyway, it’s true—at least for me.

Maybe other writers enjoy the first draft and dread the next 20, but I think getting it down is the most exhausting part. It’s also the most fluid and therefore the coolest part because once it’s there it’s hard to change. But my advise is to push through the first draft knowing that there can be second drafts. Or thirds. Or hundredths as needed.

To quote from an earlier post, “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.

Writing Tip #3: Fictional people canand will—talk to you. And that’s a good thing.

This one still kind of freaks me out. I’ll be lying in bed either right before sleep or right before completely waking, and these people—who don’t exist in real life, mind you—will start talking to me. Freaky! And what’s even freakier is that I start talking back. This can happen at any time of day, but I find it happens most late at night or early in the morning when I’m really tired. While I have mentioned this phenomenon before, I have to quote Shannon Hale again because I love how she put it:

“Becoming a writer sounds more like a mental illness than a professional choice.”

So true.

There have been times I have wanted to say to my kids or hubby, “Wait. Don’t interrupt. Somebody’s talking to me.” They know me well enough now to give me the  Mom’s-losing-it! look. But these characters seem so real sometimes.

Actually, most the time the characters don’t talk to me, but rather they talk to each other and I’m just eavesdropping. Like with the four guys at the cabin. I felt like a fly on the wall and all of a sudden I’d think, “Hey, this is kind of funny. I should write this stuff down.”

Crazy, right? I know. Shannon nailed it.

 

Writing Tip #4: Read!

A lot!Everything and anything. And take notes.

Try to figure out what about your favorite novel makes it so enjoyable. Is it chapter length? Character quirks? Paragraphing? Cool words? When I first started writing, I took my favorite novel—which at the time was THE HOST by Stephenie Meyer—and went page by page with a paper and pencil, tracking what happened, when, why and how. Then I did this for another great novel, THE HUNGER GAMES. And another. And another. I wrote down ways to say a person was angry without actually saying, “Now Sadie is angry.” Did they throw something? Punch someone? Pull their hair out?

And while you’re at it, try to figure out why you don’t like a particular book. What happened? What was missing?

Don’t just read in the your genre either. Branch out. Read for fun. Read to better yourself. Just read!

 
Writing Tip #5: (this one has two parts)

A: Have a writing reader.

(You might need to read that again.)

What I mean is that you should have a reader read your book (or article) who actually knows how to write. Call them your writing partner or buddy or whatever—preferably something nice so they’ll keep reading—but their experience will be invaluable to you. Plus, they’ll see things in your manuscript others won’t.

I’ve been blessed with some great writing buddies the past few years: my sister-in-law, Sarah, and my dad just to name a few. They’re insights and critiques have been invaluable to me. If you don’t know any writers, join a group. There are thousands of writer’s groups out there that meet in libraries and coffee shops all over the world. Most likely there’s one near you.

 

B: On the flip side, have some non-writer readers.

A lot of them if you can. Before I sent SADIEto a publisher, I had around 25 people read it. And then as I worked with the publisher and editor, I had several more follow behind to see if what I changed was working. That included friends, relatives, and people who didn’t know me from Adam. Many of them said, “I really liked your book.” And I said, “AWESOME!” But others saw things that didn’t make sense or were just plain stupid. I took their comments and tweaked the manuscript to clarify, tighten, and hopefully improve.

Now it’s impossible to please every reader so don’t do try. In fact, that is going to be #6. But if you start seeing a trend in what your readers are saying, then it’s time to get out the red pen.

Writing Tip #6: You can’t please everyone. 

If you don’t believe me, go read the nasty reviews of your favorite books on goodreads.com. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to please a few people. In order, you should A: Please yourself first. Sounds kind of selfish, but if you don’t like your own book, why would anyone else? Seriously. Put things in that you like, you love, you adore! Pretend nobody will ever read your book and then write.

Once you have that down, figure out B: Who is your target audience? Young adult? Middle graders? History buffs? Octogenarians? If you’re saying to yourself, “But I want everyone to like my book!” then I would say, “Me, too, but it’s never gonna happen.” So figure out realistically who is going to like your book the most. Once you know that, make sure you are meeting their expectations. If your target audience is romance readers, then you better make sure your two main characters end up together in an endearing, believable way. If it’s teens, then you probably shouldn’t have parents that are too perfect. You get the idea.

Knowing your target audience also helps you prioritize which person to listen to when two of your early readers disagree about something you’ve written. Whoever fits within your target audience should win. (And this means you should have early readers in your target audience, readers who are willing to give you the honest brutal truth).

Once you have yourself and your target audience happy—or as happy as they’ll ever be—then C: Branch outand see if you can tweak things to appease other readers. However, do this if and only if it won’t compromise and B. They come first.

 

 

Writing Tip #7: Research.

Read Self-editing for Fiction Writers, a great, must read. Read other books on writing or stuff on the internet.

Many writers are amateur bloggers (like myself) because we love to write and blogging is the quickest way to get published. :) So go looking for what other authors have said and done. Research like your life depends on it. And then…

Take it with a grain of salt. (Where does this idiom come from? What does it even mean? Hopefully you understand it.)

Everyone out there has THE ONE AND ONLY WAY to write a book. But honestly, each author has a completely different process of writing. For example, Sarah and I are polar opposites when it comes to how we write. Then again, so are my dad and I. So yes, research because there is a lot to learn and a lot of author’s (and agents and editors) are willing to share their knowledge. But then…find your own style, write your own way, and break a few rules now and then just for fun.

Writing Tip #8: Most authors don’t make a lot of money.

I probably should have listed this one earlier because if you’re writing a book to ‘get rich’ you need to know that you have been sorely misinformed. Sorely misinformed. I would guess that most authors make around minimum wage. To give you an idea, here’s something from someone who knows more than me:

 

(1) Tara K. Harper, when asked, answered this way:
“How Much Money Do You Really Make?”

“The Author’s Guild conducted a survey recently on author income. If I recall correctly, and including the stats from those incredibly high multi-multi-million dollar contracts, the average author earns about 10,000 a year.

“However, because author incomes vary so wildly, you’ll get a better picture if you look at averages within categories. From the various stats I’ve seen, a beginning, low-end, or one-off (one or two books only) author makes $4k to $10k a year–before taxes, before agent commissions, and before the costs of doing business. Experienced, well-established midlist authors who write a book only once every year or two seem to fall into the $20k to $40k a year range–again, before taxes, agent commissions, and the costs of doing business. For prolific authors who publish several books a year, and who have been publishing for 15 years or more, the gross income is closer to $60k to $100k. The most popular authors working regularly in media fiction (Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens, etc.) seem to earn in a higher range from $80k to $250k a year–note that I said the most popular. The authors who blow the curve — the Big Five — are, of course, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steele. YA author J.K. Rowling doesn’t count. She’s richer than the queen. (This list is slightly outdated. I would add Stephenie Meyer in here.)

“Remember that most authors do not make writing a career, but a sideline.”

http://www.tarakharper.com/faq_auth.htm#money

So write because you love it. Oh…and don’t quit your day job. At least not yet. ;)

Writing Tip #9: Don’t give up.

Perseverance has to be at the top on the list of author ‘must-haves.’ Persevere through bad drafts, bad reviews, empty in-boxes, writer’s block, and everything else that falls in your path. “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” And rewritten. And rewritten. And then pitched and pitched and pitched. I don’t mean pitched in the garbage, because hopefully great books aren’t thrown away. That would be a cryin’ shame! I mean pitched to publishers, to agents, to editors or just friends.

Decide what your goal is, whether it’s writing or getting published—or both—then keep working towards it. Knowing where you want to be in a few years can change what you do today.

So if you want to write, love to write, or think you possibly might even love it, just try and don’t give up. You’ll get there.

I’m always looking for the next best book to read. Yours could be it!

 

 

Writing Tip #10: Writing is one of the most exciting, fulfilling things I’ve done.

It didn’t take long to realize how fun it can be to create and manipulate people. Heehee, that sounds so devilishly evil, but when you’re an author, it’s considered okay—even expected—to manipulate people and situations. If they bug you, kill them off. If you hate their hair color, change it. Or make them bald. Or make them fly. Whatever! You get to decorate rooms, throw parties, and try out hobbies you’ll never in a million years try out in real life. You even get to be the bad guy! How cool is that?

I remember doing some online research one day about how and where to get street drugs in Montana and I thought to myself, “If someone were to walk up to my computer right now, this could look pretty bad. Let’s hope the government isn’t spying on me.” Writing is such a blast!

So that’s my list. I’m sure in another year I’ll have ten more things. For now I hope it helps.

Tell me: What things do you still wonder about writing? Or if  you’re already an author, what things would you add to this list?
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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

6 thoughts on “My Top Ten Writing Tips”

  1. This list is perfect! I can't pick a favorite tip, lol. They are all just spot on.And I was a crazy person before I started writing, so everyone I knew didn't think I'd gone insane when I started 'writing out loud'.And whenever I see the phrase 'never give up' I always think about Galaxy Quest, lol.Never give up, never surrender!

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  2. I wish I had some writer friends to read my stuff! All of my friends are non writers, and they never get around to looking at anything :/And yeah, I think there are misconceptions about how much money a writer makes. Sure, if you're JK Rowling you're set for life, but most of us aren't. That's okay with me, I just want to share my books and have people read them and (hopefully!) enjoy them.

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  3. @Cassie, I'm telling you, Shannon Hale is onto something there. :) And I've never seen (heard of) Galaxy Quest. Does that make me old? Is that something I should look into?@Writing Hour, see if you can find a writing group in your area. Or keep asking friends. Hopefully you can find a writing buddy. And I feel the same about writing for the sake of sharing. Good luck!

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  4. Lol, no Galaxy Quest was a movie that came out in like the mid 00's or something like that. Stars Tim Allen and Alan Rickman. It's hilarious!!!And something you should definitely look into. :)

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