After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me.
1. Learn to spell.
If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.
Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.
2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.
Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.
Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.
3. Read more novels and watch more movies.
That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.
Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.
Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.
4. Get critiqued.
A good cry can be nice, sometimes.
Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).
5. Critique others.
Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.
Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.
On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.
6. Go out drinking.
Why? ‘Cause it’s what the cool kids do.
Also, the more you socialize, the better you’ll be at writing social situations into your stories. You don’t necessarily have to drink, but if you interact with people and see places, it can help a lot with authenticity and feasibility.
Traveling to places you intend to use as settings would also be advisable.
7. Get into fights.
Again, it’s what the cool kids do. You want to be cool, don’t you?
Knowing how to fight and understanding combat allows you to write more convincing combat scenes. However, if you’re an MMA expert, don’t overdo it with technical jargon that alienates readers who aren’t familiar with it.
I’ve seen both extremes of this problem: fight scenes that make so little sense, the author might as well have said, “they fought, and this guy somehow won”; and fight scenes that list so much technical crap, detailing so many movements, that the reader just stops paying attention.
Really, this advice on drinking and fighting boils down to advocating proper research. Research!
8. Check out writers’ groups and conferences.
Meeting other writers and people in the publishing industry can help in a lot of ways. Maybe you’ll meet an agent who wants to represent you (highly unlikely, but possible), or an editor who understands you and your work and can help to improve it. Other writers can be potential critique partners and beta readers and, if they succeed before you do, they might be able to publicly praise your work to give you some valuable exposure.
On top of that, writers’ conferences provide workshops that may be craft-related, and a handful of writers’ groups do so as well.
9. Play video games.
It’s one of the greatest ways to procrastinate.
Video games offer a broad range of interactive storytelling (which some people may dismiss and claim isn’t “art”), much of which can be learned from and improved upon. Even if you aren’t writing for a video game, it may be beneficial to be familiar with games to be able to stick references into your work (’cause gamers also read books and watch TV, and they might enjoy some allusions to their favorite space marine).
Non-advice note: I firmly believe that the video game industry deserves better writing, and that development studios should invest more into their writing budget (and hire me—bam!—Shameless Self-Promotion Achievement). Though I have noticed that storytelling has been improving in video games, I still don’t think it’s enough.
10. Stop dismissing your writing as a hobby.
This is too often an excuse to fail.
Personal Story Time: Most of my life, I half-assed just about everything I did. In retrospect, it was mostly due to a fear of failure. Treating everything like it didn’t matter wasn’t just an excuse to fail, but practically a guarantee of lackluster results. I didn’t develop any meaningful discipline until I realized I needed some to get through law school. Even then, my level of discipline was rather pathetic until the bar exam made it necessary for me to really buckle down. After the bar, I transferred my new-found discipline to my writing. It’s not a coincidence that I finally finished a manuscript around that time.
So, yeah—most of my income comes from being a lawyer, but writing isn’t just a hobby for me. It’s my other career, and I’m working hard to advance both my careers.
In my humble-ish opinion, treating writing as a career is the only way you’ll come anywhere close to your true potential.