So you want to be an author? The truth is, most people in the world have dreamed of being an author as some point in their lives. But writing seems to be one area where the doers set themselves apart from the dreamers. Think you have the next great book? The best thing you can do is quit dreaming and write it!
Read on for the ten best writing tips for aspiring authors.
10 Best Writing Tips for Aspiring Authors
1. You Can’t Edit a Blank Page
The number one problem of new writers is thinking that everything you write has to be perfect. There is nothing more wrong or more detrimental to your writing than this thought. Instead, focus solely on getting your first draft done, no matter how terrible it is. At times you will have to force yourself to write even when you think every single word is absolutely the worst thing ever written.
Force yourself to write anyway.
If you don’t finish that first draft, you will never be a writer. Make it a game with yourself to see how terrible your first draft really can be. By the time you go back through it to edit, you will laugh at the terrible passages you have written, but you’ll also be able to fix them. Get that first draft finished because you can’t edit a blank page.
2. Show, Don’t Tell
This is such a common tip that most writers start mumbling it in their sleep. But just because you understand what the words mean, doesn’t mean you can easily apply it to your writing. For the uninitiated, show, don’t tell means to demonstrate feelings and motivations, rather than stating them.
A “Telling” Example
Karen didn’t like to be alone.
A “Showing” Example
Karen groaned when her brother said he couldn’t make it to dinner. She frowned at the empty chair in front of her while a single tear fell down her cheek.
This tip is crucial to good writing, but it’s also one of the hardest to truly understand. Do your best to think of how your character would react to feelings instead of just stating the feelings. This tip applies to more than just feelings too, though. One of the very best things you can do to learn more about “show, don’t tell” is by following the next tip below.
3. Read A Lot of Books
Reading is fun, it’s good for your brain, and it will make you a better writer. Reading for pleasure is great, but if you want to improve your writing, it’s important to read with a critical eye. This doesn’t mean that you find flaws with every book you read. Rather, it means that you analyze and understand the different elements in each book you read.
Look at the structure of the plot. How vigorously did the book apply a perfect plot structure. Sometimes an imperfect structure still makes for an excellent book. If there is an imperfect structure, why did it work? If it didn’t work, consider why?
Also look at character arcs and if you felt an emotional connection to the characters while reading. Consider what made you relate to the characters and why.
Look at how the author shows things instead of telling. The more you analyze the books that you read, the more you will understand how other authors apply story elements. When you understand those elements at a deeper level, you will become a better writer.
4. Go People Watching
People are fascinating and surprisingly unique. Creating memorable characters requires bringing out those unique characteristics. Imagine that you are creating a caricature rather than a realistic portrait in the minds of your readers. When you say a character has brown hair and brown eyes, you are simply saying they look like millions, if not billions of other people on the planet.
But if you say a character has brown hair that goes past her waist and brown eyes with a smattering of matching freckles underneath them, you suddenly have a character with a specific look that readers can imagine.
A great way to determine unique characteristics for characters is by people watching. Go in a public area with lots of people around. Focus on one person at a time and consider what you very first notice about a person. Is it their gait? A birthmark? A piece of clothing they are wearing or how they fiddle with the fabric?
Use these characteristics to make your characters dynamic and memorable.
5. Learn the Basic Structure of Plot
Plot structure is a topic so vast, it deserves its own website to be covered fully. K.M Weiland has some fantastic articles on plot structure that are very helpful for all aspiring writers. Here is a very basic overview of plot structure.
Most books that we read today have a three act structure.
- Introduce the characters, world, and conflict
- Even though it’s just an introduction, there should still be plenty of action in the first act
- This typically takes up the first 25% of the book
- The plot thickens
- The main character(s) face adversity in relation to the ultimate goal
- Around the middle of the book, a change occurs where the main character stops reacting to things and starts acting instead
- This act typically takes up the middle 50% of the book
- The climax and conclusion
- The conflict of the book comes to a head and eventually everything resolves
- The resolution does not necessarily mean there is a happy ending. Rather, it means that all areas of the conflict come to an end and the character knows where he or she is going from there
6. Find the Right Environment
For most people, good writing requires the right environment. This could mean complete silence in a closed office with no internet connection. Or this could mean typing away at a local cafe while sipping your favorite beverage.
Try out different writing environments and see what works best for you. Some people love to have music playing while they are writing. Others like it quiet. Some people feel that turning off the internet is essential and others find no distraction in the internet. The most important thing is to find out how you write best and keep going to that environment.
7. Read it Out Loud
Reading your words out loud is one of the best things you can do to find errors. It helps you notice little typos, but it also makes strange sentences stand out more. Another great thing that reading out loud can do, is help you spot sentences that are cheesy or unrealistic. If you can’t read it out loud without shaking your head, then you know that particular passage needs some work.
Another helpful trick is to have someone you trust read your work to you. That way you can see how they emphasize certain words or phrases and you can decide if you need to write it differently to make other words more important. This is also a great way to notice typos or missing words.
8. Make the Problems Worse
A common problem all writers face (not just the beginners!) is having a boring second act. It’s easy to make the beginning fascinating and the end exciting, but sometimes it’s hard to make the middle engaging.
One trick that will help a slogging second act is to make each problem worse than the one before. If your character stumbles in one chapter, have him fall in the next. And in the next, have him fall into a pit. Then have him fall in a deeper pit with no way out. In this example, the “pit” and “falling” should be considered metaphors, but it helps to illustrate the point.
Don’t forget that your character should not always overcome each problem. Sometimes he should fail. It’s good to have a mix between victories and failures throughout the second act.
9. Use Strong Verbs
Find ways to demonstrate the meaning of a sentence in as few words as possible. Rather than saying, “She walked quickly to the table,” write, “She skipped to the table.”
Find adverbs and/or -ly words. Most of the time you can replace -ly words with a stronger verb. Use a good thesaurus to help you find words with the exact meaning that you are looking for.
10. Never Lose the Joy
Writing should be fun. If you find yourself hating the process of writing, there is probably something you can do to fix it. Do you hate writing any scene with a certain character? Maybe that character is too unlikable. Can you change things up to make the character more fun or more interesting?
Do you feel like a character’s motivation isn’t clear enough? Maybe it’s because you don’t understand the motivation well enough yourself. Can you change it up to make it stronger?
If you aren’t having fun while you write, then there’s probably an issue with your plot or characters. This can seem discouraging, but it’s quite liberating. Since you’re the author, if there is a problem, you have the power to fix it! Try to figure out why you aren’t enjoying the process and start making changes to fix that. This will make your book more fun to write and also more fun to read.
Have a manuscript you’d like to publish? Check out our submissions page. We have a strong preference for science fiction and fantasy, but we do publish other genres as well.