Okay, the first thing to say is that every writer is different. What works for one person doesn’t work for the next one. But there are things that work more often than others. That still doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you. So here’s a list of suggestions for writers I’ve met recently:
- Just Write. We all have to start somewhere, and the more you write, the better you’ll get. Usually. (Almost all the time). I wrote a few un-brilliant books before I started reading self-help “How To Sell Your Books” or “How To Be a Better Writer” books. My favorite is still Jack Bickham’s SCENE AND STRUCTURE. My second favorite’s Dwight Swain. I loved Stephen King’s book because…well, it sounded like Stephen King. I liked Elizabeth George’s book on writing for the same reason. I bought Donald Maas’s book on how to be a bestseller and agree with him. High stakes and emotional impact bring more readers. I’m glad I waited to read those books, though, and just wrote what I wanted for a while. I was all the better for it. Because if I hadn’t been struggling with how to organize a book, how to show not tell, how to balance everything etc., those books wouldn’t have resonated enough with me.
2. It’s easier if you know your genre. I stuck to the advice, Write What You Know. But not the way you think. I wrote mysteries because I READ a lot of mysteries. I’d read so many of them, I knew the structure, the rhythm, what was out there, what was selling at the moment. And I got wonderful rejection notes back from editors, telling me they liked my writing, they liked the story, but they couldn’t buy it. Because the market was glutted.
3. If you’re beating your head against a wall–STOP IT. And this is a VERY personal piece of advice. But I can tell you this from personal experience, not everything is about how well you write. If a market takes off, and every publisher wants one horror/cozy/thriller/sci-fi for their list, and you’re the next author who sends one in, your odds are good. If you’re the 50th author, good luck to you! You probably won’t sell. The market is GLUTTED. Every slot every editor has for that market is full. Try writing something else. Your odds will be better.
4. You can write more than one thing. Yes, your first love might be cat mysteries like Lillian Jackson Braun’s where Whiskers and Stripes talk to each other and figure out how to help their human. They’re fun. But if you write a good one that doesn’t sell (even though you get good feedback on it), and the next one doesn’t sell, and the one after that, maybe it’s time to change things up. Try to write something out of your comfort zone. And yes, you can. Just study it and know what works.
5. Advice is a wonderful thing. I still love to read writing blogs about what other writers do and what works for them, but not all of what they say is right for you. I have a fellow writer who’s a friend who takes EVERY piece of feedback or advice seriously. NOT a good idea. Every person likes different things. I could read the best noir anyone ever wrote and not like it. It’s not my thing if it’s too dark. I’m not a true P.I. fan either. So if I read a manuscript, my advice might actually make the story WORSE, not better. Feedback is just that. One person’s opinion. It took me a while to find critique partners who worked for me. The first time I gave my manuscript to someone, there was so much red ink, it looked like my manuscript had bled to death and died. I was ready to shoot my keyboard and give up UNTIL I realized that my critique partner wanted me to write exactly like she did. I loved her writing, but I’m not her. That’s not what feedback is for. It’s to make YOUR writing and voice shine. All feedback does is offer ideas about what worked and what didn’t work–for that person–in your manuscript. I mark what I liked and what I didn’t like so much, and know that the author might not pay any attention to me. And that’s the way it should be. BUT, if you show it to a few people, and they all have the same problem, then you might want to take a serious look at their comments and think about them. But even then, you have to do what’s right for you.
6. When I first started writing, people kept telling me to “just write the whole thing, whatever comes to you, and then go back to edit it. and do rewrites.” That does not work for me. I’m a lazy person by nature. Looking at a manuscript full of mistakes was too overwhelming. Once I started to edit as I go, my writing improved dramatically.
7. Don’t curl up and die when you get too many rejections. First, a rejection just means that an agent or editor can’t sell what you sent him. For many reasons. He might have sold three cozies in the last month and has hit up all the editors he knows that buy those. He hates children’s books and won’t like yours no matter how good it is. Your style of writing just doesn’t click with him. He’s waiting for a sci-fi novel about a paranoid android and your android’s too perky and self-confident. Writing and reading is SUBJECTIVE. Editors look for books that fill slots. When they get an urban fantasy, they want a book that follows the rules for the genre, but then add a new twist to it. Break the rules at your own peril. Ilona Andrews has written many blogs with great writing advice. She got more rejections than people would think when she started out. Here’s her blog on writing: https://www.ilona-andrews.com/category/writing/articles/
8. My last bit of advice is personal, because it’s what works for me. And I’m thinking about people who are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. Plan ahead. I’m a plotter. I write a brief paragraph for every chapter in my book to know what I want it to accomplish. I often end up with 40 -45 plot points. And those notes save me a LOT of time. I still let my characters go off track and surprise me AS LONG AS they keep to the basic plot points and don’t change them. NONE of my writing friends outline like I do, and they ALL write great books. But they all have some idea where each book is going before they start it. It saves them a lot of rewriting.. M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner writes down four twists that will move her plots forward. As long as she hits those goalposts, she knows she’s on the right track. Her characters motivate her more than a plot does, so, like Mae Clair, she’s more of a plantser. https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2021/09/27/its-time-to-start-planning-for-november-nanowrimo/. Find what works for you, but know, pantsers usually have a lot of rewrites.
9. Trust yourself. Find what works for you and try it. If it doesn’t work, try something else. And have fun writing!