Writing Tips from an Unpublished Writer

Title says it all. If it helps, I started writing almost twenty years ago.

Yeah, that doesn’t help.

We won’t talk about the numerous commitment and confidence issues preventing me from querying agents. Instead, I’d like to mention something else: I give good advice. This talent doesn’t usually work on my own life, but I’ve helped countless others over the years. I’m like those psychics who can’t predict lottery numbers. If I wanted to take out more student loans, or listen to people talk about their problems all day long, I could easily be a therapist. I’d rather be an unpublished writer.

Anyway, you clicked on this post for the potentially-helpful advice that you might remember five minutes from now. F-Y-I, this is all from trial and error. If I went to college for writing or joined groups, maybe I would have learned this sooner or drawn different conclusions. All I know is that they’ve helped me…not get published. You’ve been warned.

  1. Write. I know, every advice article tells you this, but it’s for a reason. You won’t get better unless you write a whole lot of crap first. Thousands and thousands of words of pure, glorious crap. Oh sure, some of it might be grammatically correct, and your mom-teacher-friend-random person online might think you’re a natural. I’ve been there. Keep going. There is no conclusion to this point because the process doesn’t end. Your writing style has a life of its own. The way you write will develop five, ten, fifteen years from now. It’s an incremental change that results from individual decisions. You’ll get what I mean the first time you notice sentence length, or how often you use adverbs.
  2. Read. It took me a long time to get this. Logically you’d think writing and reading are inseparable, but sometimes, they drift apart. You get so wrapped up in producing that you forget how important it is to consume. Picking up a paperback, losing yourself in the story for hours, not stopping until the next chapter break…all of it reminds you why you write. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter what you read. Read an interesting book/article/comic/etc., and you’ll want to write.
  3. Have a reason. This is another one that eluded me for years. A key element missing from my writing was emotion, and I could never figure out why. Why did all my original stories fall flat? Why was it so much easier to write fanfiction? I  couldn’t tell you my exact light-bulb moment, but in the last few years it finally clicked. The way I created stories needed adjustment. Characters and plot are important, but I should spend an equal amount of time on the message, the purpose. Why do I want to write this story? What do I want to tell readers? A story doesn’t have to be preachy, but it should have a theme. It will help when you lose interest in the middle and don’t know where to go next. This brings up my next point…
  4. Write however you want. I prefer to start at the beginning, but you don’t have to. Are there scenes you can’t wait to write? Write them first. For one novel (the only draft I actually finished), I skipped ahead to a collection of scenes between two of the main characters, which ended up in the middle of the story. That reminds me…
  5. Not everything will be usable. I’ve abandoned countless stories, written dozens of pages no one else will ever read. It’s okay. Sometimes you need to write scenes to get them out of your system.
  6. Shake up your routine. If you haven’t worked on your Super Important Manuscript in weeks, work on something else for a while. The novel that’s going to make you famous will be there when you’re ready for it. Sometimes, the new project you start becomes Super Important too. On the other hand…
  7. Don’t give in to “Writer’s Block.” Raise your right hand and say it with me: “Writer’s Block is an excuse. I could write if I really, really wanted to.” If it’s a schedule thing, make time. Wake up earlier or go to bed later. If it’s a story thing, ask yourself why. Are you dreading the next scene? Write another one (see Tip #4). Is the next scene necessary? Should you write it from a different POV? Turn the story around in your mind until something works. If you don’t have a story, then…
  8. Brainstorm. This is different for everyone, but it works best for me when I branch off from a topic (see Tip #3). Other pieces fall into place after that. What plot would best relate to this topic? What characters would this plot have? Eventually you zoom in on a main character.

 

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8 thoughts on “Writing Tips from an Unpublished Writer

  1. Pingback: The Sweet Spot | Dear Journal, 2016 Edition

    • Thanks for commenting! I’ve found it’s a continuous learning process. Whenever you’re writing, you’re also learning.

      Fun fact – I clicked on your blog and saw your post about Scribophile. It actually startled me because less than a half hour ago I was thinking about joining a critique group (because I have issues with regular classes). Taking this as a sign to join up, thanks! By the way, your critique in the same post is the kind of detailed feedback I would love to receive.

      Like

  2. Pingback: When All the Simplistic Writing Advice Makes Sense | Dear Journal, 2016 Edition

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