My Top 5 Pieces of Writing Advice

In my last post, I wrote about why I feel it’s best to take writing advice with a grain of salt. Through my experience writing short stories and my YA fantasy novel, Fire and Flight, I’ve come to learn which pieces of advice work best for me, and I hope you’ll give something on this list a try (who knows, maybe one of these will work for you too)! Without further ado, here’s my list of the top five pieces of writing advice in my experience:

5. Pressure…I mean: the writer life…

“Write every day,” “read works in your genre, read every day,” “write, write, WRITE!”

These are things I see often while scrolling through social media and reading other resources for writers, but let’s face it: we can’t just live and breathe the “writer life.” We all have different circumstances or things going on that make it difficult to write everyday or read consistently, but that doesn’t make us any less of a writer.

The important thing is to keep a routine. If you work all week, maybe take an hour or two every weekend, or maybe even an hour or two throughout the week, to write, or to at least think about your writing. A routine can be difficult to keep, and if you break it, that’s okay too. Creativity is a guilt-free profession because it has to be or else you’ll be too stressed or too in your own head to create anything at all. Find a way to incorporate your writing into your lifestyle and remember to be flexible!

If you’re at the gym, spend your cardio plotting what happens next in your story. When you’re lying down to go to bed, internally draft your next scene, or think about how you want to revise a scene you’ve been struggling with. Play it like a movie in your head, script it even—over and over againuntil you get the chance to write it down. Don’t worry about forgetting it, because if you do, that just means you get to rewrite it. Forgetting what you were going to write isn’t the end of the world, because it might just come back to you when you least expect it.

The most important thing, not just as a writer but also in life, is to forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over not being able to write or read every day. Rather make it a point to do it when you can and as often as you can. Your writing is a part of you and goes everywhere you go, even on vacation, to the beach, or on your own back porch. Paper and pen travel, and so can your smart device, whether it’s your phone or a laptop. It’s your life and your writing, so it should fit into your schedule however you feel comfortable incorporating it.

4. Reread your work between drafts and TAKE NOTES!

I cannot tell you how many times my own notes have saved me because I don’t use a “traditional” form of outlining. As it turns out, I’m a “pantser,” so my outline tends to be the first draft I ever get on paper for my WIP. This draft then becomes the springboard for all other versions of that writing project. But in order to go from draft one to draft two, I have to reread the whole thing and take notes along the way. Reading through your story (or essay), gives you an idea of what direction you need to take in the next draft. These notes can be corrections, ideas you had to improve something when you sit down to revise, or just general notes for yourself like the color of a minor character’s eyes so you can keep that consistent if they make other appearances.

Drafting is a transformative process in which you take that rough piece of coal and turn it into a sparkling diamond. That’s where the notes come in handy. I, like a lot of other writers, like to scribble revisions and edit right in the document, but when it comes to notes on the plot or key character details, I like to put those in a notebook or separate piece of paper. The notes you make serve as reminders for the ideas bouncing around in your head and help guide you through the next draft, making that lump of coal much easier to turn into a diamond.

There’s also nothing stopping you from making “reader notes” for your own comedic relief when you go back to edit it. And speaking of editing…

3. Transforming Draft 1 into Draft 2: A Side-By-Side Revision

This is probably my least favorite bit of advice, but it’s also the most crucial to my writing process. There are a lot of tips and tricks about editing and revising floating around the internet and writing books, but the one I’ve found to be the most valuable is to take your draft one, make a copy of it and rewrite the whole thing based on your notes, feedback yo’ve received from beta readers/editors/your mom; and create your draft two. The best way to distinguish between your revisions and the original document is turn on tracked changes or use a different color font. You could also retype the entire document, though that’s pretty time consuming, so I highly recommend using tracked changes/suggesting mode depending on your word processor.

I’ve noticed that this method allows you to not only expand key details or add some things you noticed may have been missing in draft one, but it also gives you the freedom to edit fearlessly without confusing your documents and revision notes. This is timely, but more than worth it—just don’t forget to stretch every so often!

2. Know when to put down the pen.

We’ve all heard this before, well that and ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ As someone who wrote the first draft of a YA fantasy novel in a year and then spent the next three editing it, I’ve been asked countless times, “So… are you finished yet?”, “Are you nitpicking now?”, “When can I read your story?” None of those questions ever really bothered me,and in fact, they encouraged me to make my writing the best it could possibly be, though the overwhelming interest and inquisition can be daunting at times if you let the pressure get to you.

The best bit of wisdom I can give you to help combat that sort of pressure, is that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ I’m sure you’re wondering how this plays into writing, and I’m getting there. If you keep nitpicking and revising your writing, you’re always going to find something to change or fret over. The best thing you can do to learn when it’s time to put the pen down is ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I accomplish the goals of my narrative?
  • Does my writing flow? Are there any details that derail the plot or create cringe-worthy tension as a reader (ie: the sort of tension that isn’t a result of the plot but rather unnecessary details)?
  • Am I happy with what I’ve created?

By all means, fix the typos, zap unnecessary details, fix any tension that shouldn’t be there until there aren’t any “mistakes” left. But don’t nitpick. Take your time and iron out all the details, writing isn’t a race (I know, I know, sometimes we have a deadline to work with, but even then, you have to take your time), and remember: you’re the author.

1. Write freely, write passionately.

This is something you’ll probably get sick of hearing from me, but I believe it to be absolutely true. Trying to write with a set of rules in mind only stifles creativity, and let’s face it: writing is supposed to be fun. Writing is a creative expression that should be free and full of fervor. If you don’t believe in the words you’re writing, then your audience will have a hard time believing them too. Don’t be afraid of the ink, of the pen, of the keyboard. At the end of the day, you’re the author. Whether you’re writing a YA fantasy novel like me or a scholarly article, you have to remember who’s the boss (and that boss is you).