5 Tips for Writing Well

Advice from Authors and Word Masters

Welcome to 2019! This is YOUR year of writing, whether you’re just starting out or you have ten books already under your belt. To inspire—and educate—writers in the New Year, we’ve compiled a list of writing advice from famous authors, editors, and wordsmiths. 

1. Reading Comes First…Writing Comes Second

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” —Stephen King

If there is one thing all editors and writing coaches can agree on, it’s if you don’t read, you can’t write. Storytelling may be an innate art for some, but learning the ins and outs of true authorship requires learning a craft. It’s an apprenticeship made up of writing classes, critique partners, and—above all—reading other works. You will always learn something about writing by reading a new book. 

2. Sometimes, You Must Fly by the Seat of Your Pants

“The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.” —E.B. White

The writing community often splits into two factions: plotters (who map out their story ahead of time) and pantsers (who just wing it!). Even the best plotters find themselves driving a runaway train from time to time, and my advice is to embrace the spontaneity. You won’t always have a clear picture of where your story is going, and a spur-of-the-moment idea could get you back on track…even if you’re headed in a new direction.

3. Don’t Aim for Perfection

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” —Anne Lamott

First drafts were never meant to be perfect. The same goes for second and third drafts. Many would-be authors are stymied by the need their writing perfect on the first pass, and they never make it past the first chapter. Allow yourself to write—to get that entire draft complete, even if it messy and daunting and terrible—and then go back to polish.

4. Avoid Flesh-Eaters in Your Writing

“Flesh-eaters are unnecessary words, pompous phrases, and prepositional parasites that eat space and reduce the muscularity of your writing. … Flesh-Eater: At this point in time. Preferred: Now. Flesh-Easter: An adequate number of. Preferred: Enough.” —Harold Evans

I love the term “flesh-eaters!” How great, and how gross. (Evans also warns against “zombies,” or “nouns that have devoured a verb: implementation, assessment, authorization…”) Both flesh-eaters and zombies distract the reader from your message and bog down your poetry or prose. It’s not always easy to be concise, but it is worth the effort to make each word and each sentence count.

5. Write for Your Reader

“Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round, too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read. It doesn’t give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader.” —Maya Angelou

I don’t mean you should write what you think will be popular—what’s in vogue now will be out of style by the time you finish your manuscript. I mean that you should write with the reader in mind, that their experience comes first. The best way to know if you have succeeded is to have many, many beta readers on your project. Listen to their critiques and apply their changes to help your work become “easy reading."

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Image: vecteezy.com

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Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at www.editorsays.com.