Sixty second writing tips: five things writers should always do

I found a post the other day listing fifteen things writers should never do. Sensible enough – especially the rule about not begrudging others’ success.

1195430130203966891liftarn_Writing_My_Master_s_Words_svg_medIn response I thought I’d come up with my own list of five things that I think writers should always do:

1. Write every day. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes.

2. Planning is important. I know there’s a debate over ‘seat-of-the-pants’ streams of consciousness versus planning. But trust me, in today’s market, it’s planning.

3. Put what you write in the proverbial drawer for a month after you think it’s finished. Then go back and finish it.

4. Accept that all writers think their own work sucks.

5. Always keep trying. No matter how glum things seem to be, keep at it. If one strategy doesn’t work, switch to another.

In the end, of course, it’s all about what works best for you. Do these work for you? Do you have favourite writing ‘do’s’?

Copyright (c) Matthew Wright 2013


26 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: five things writers should always do

  1. These are good tips, especially if you’re talking about more formal writing like long fiction, short stories, etc. Would you say it even extends to blogging?

    Also, when you say planning, what does that mean to you?

    1. It’s whatever works best for you – for me, I’d apply these rules to all writing. And blogging counts, definitely. Apropos planning – check out some of the earlier posts in my ‘Write It Now’ series, I’ve gone into exactly what it is from my perspective, and there’s more to come on that one.

  2. I don’t write everyday. I would like to, but the day job drains me. If I do start, I generally am good for that session. I definitely like to leave my drafts for a prolonged period to let the story develop. My stories seem to work better that way.

    1. It’s amazing how much can come out of the “do nothing” technique – to me, coming back to something with fresh eyes is an absolutely fundamental part of the process.

  3. Be careful with #4 depending on who you’re talking to. I don’t know how things are in New Zealand, but here in the U.S. the problem is more often that people think their work is much more wonderful than it actually is. Self-critique is a dying art, it seems.

    1. It’s also true in New Zealand. On my experience the reason authors think their own writing is great is because they don’t have the knowledge of the art to understand what they’re doing wrong – ‘unconscious incompetence’. All the great writers – including Hemingway – were self-deprecatory, and the reason was that they were competent enough to know what constituted good; and they knew that their own work didn’t meet the concept they had in their minds. Words are always an imperfect tool for doing that. The greatest tool a writer can have is the notion that their writing sucks, because that forces them to keep pushing the edges. It is an endless learning curve.

  4. Your closing statement is most important for me – do what works for you. There are so many writing sites and writing courses out there and each one says, “You must…” and that’s simply not so. No two writers have the same process. The only rules are the ones about grammar, style and structure. The rest are more guidelines.

    1. Quite true. I think the secret is tailoring the application of what has to be done to individual approaches. It’s something not usually taught, and I recall tripping over the ‘you must’ issue both at school and subsequently at university, where the approach required – starting with the close-focus details without explaining the over-arching concepts that organised them – was the exact inverse of the way I actually learned and understood things.

  5. When I was only writing short stories, I didn’t set much stock by planning/outlining. But now, with novel-length writing, I’ve realized that outlining properly is essential. Great tips!

  6. Another excellent post. Thank you. I like your list and you certainly make me feel better about perceiving my own writing as dragon poop. With each passing day I grow increasingly weary of the “pantser” versus “planner” debate, which I view as waged between the extremes while the rest of us sit comfortably in-between. I know I do some of both. I plan so that I don’t run headlong to nowhere and have to scrap work on a regular basis. At the same time, my planning isn’t so rigid that I’ll turn my back on inspiration.

    1. There is nothing wrong with viewing your own writing as dragon poop (though this brings up all sorts of mental images…:-)). That view, to me, is the essential element to improving as a writer – those who are complacent and think their stuff is good usually don’t improve. And writing is an endless learning curve.

      I agree about pantsing vs planning – I think there’s a balance between planning, and the free-form creativity – it isn’t ‘either-or’, it’s ‘both’, and the trick is being able to make that happen. I think the balance will vary between writers – I think there are some clear ways forward which we defy at our peril, but lots of flexibility within that, and we all have to do what’s comfortable for us.

  7. This might not be true of everyone, but I find I’m more productive when I’m actively reading a lot either online or fiction. Some people have told me that they find outside reading distracting for creative writing, but I often find it helpful.

    1. Reading can often prompt ideas, teach style and all good thing for writers. Though I’d be wary that their words didn’t get too stuck in your mind! This actually happened to a New Zealand novellist a few years back – a very prominent one who ended up on the front page of the main literary magazine for plagiarism. What’d happened, I think, is that he’d been reading some other material, the words were floating around in his mind, and when he came out to write – there they were, but he hadn’t realised they weren’t his.

      1. That’s a nightmare situation! What’s difficult about that though is this concept of having ‘original thoughts’ – because can anything we write be totally ours? Surely, to some extent, everything is floating around from something we thought or read a long time ago?

        1. In many ways it is, but I think we can also create new and original ideas without reference to other things. Some of the best material, I think, is an infusion of both – take Tolkien, for instance, whose influences in Nordic mythology are clear…but who created something very different, new and original from that springboard.

  8. I see you don’t have comments on your about page. Just wanted to say thanks for the follow. And it’s quite intimidating to have someone whose blog I enjoy immensely suddenly following me 😉

    1. And thank YOU for the follow too. Your blog’s thoroughly enjoyable to read and got me thinking – and more Dr Who please! I think we’re obviously both huge fans! The last season just finished here a few weeks back with the setups for the Xmas special – for which, of course, I can’t wait (but will have to).

  9. Terrific list! I’m going to print it out and pin it up over my desk. Every item is something I “know” but it’s good to have a tangible “reminder” when the doubt monster stops by for a chat. 😉

    1. Thank you. Yeah…I admit it’s easy for me to write ‘do this’, but I know from doing it myself that various writing principles are neither automatic nor easy…and I have to keep reminding myself to do them.

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