An overwhelmed new writer recently asked me for advice on writing a book. Since “One word at a time, until you reach the end” wasn’t particularly helpful–though 100% true–I thought a few blog posts on the topic may be helpful.
There are countless resources out there, from craft books to websites to podcasts, but there’s also a ton of bad advice floating around. So, we’ll start there.
- You have to/can’t start with a bang.
- You have to/can’t have a prologue.
- You have to/can’t write in 1st person, 3rd person, present tense, past tense, etc.
- You can not use contractions.
- No incomplete sentences.
- Never use the word “was.”
- Never use the word “that.”
- Never use an adverb.
- Always show, never tell.
- Use unique dialogue tags instead of “said.”
- Write what you know (everyone knows only vampires can write about vampires!).
- Never work on more than one project at a time.
- Query publishers and agents before writing even one sentence of the book; that way you’ll know if there’s interest. (Yeah, no. Don’t do that.)
- You have to have an MFA to get published. (I don’t even know where this idea comes from. The vast majority of writers do not have an MFA. If you want to go to school, go to school. I’m sure MFA programs are useful, but a degree is definitely not a requirement for selling a book–nor is it a guarantee that you’ll ever be traditionally published).
- Self-publishing is easier and you’ll make more money. (Most writers who self-publish make no money at all. Some make a great deal of money–but they put in a ton of time and work (and money up front). It’s not easy).
- Quit your day job; you’re a writer now! (Absolutely don’t quit your job unless you have another source of income first. Publishing is a slow business and it’s rare to make a living from writing alone, especially in the beginning of your career).
- Cold call agents and publishers. (This will never lead to a sale. Ever. Follow the rules like everyone else).
- If you’re writing a novel, you shouldn’t be reading books. (Writers read. The good ones do, anyway).
- Avoid friendships with other writers; they’re your competition! (No. Just…no. There are enough readers to go around).
- Don’t bother editing; that’s the editor’s job. (Good luck selling a book full of lazy errors…).
- You have to pay for an editor before querying agents or publishers. (No, you don’t. Critique partners and beta readers can be a great help when self-editing your book. If you want an editor to review your novel–and you have the money for it–there are certainly good freelance editors willing to do the job. But it’s not a requirement).
- New writers have to pay to have their books published. (Absolutely not true. Steer clear of publishers or agents who require a fee. See Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum and Writer Beware).
The gist? Write the best book you can, do your research, follow the guidelines.
So, help me out, fellow writers! What would you add?