As a published author, I’m often asked to give advice about the art and craft of writing. When I make guest appearances or do interviews, one of the questions I hear frequently is “What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring author?” I’m also an active participant in the Lovestory romance group at the Internet Writing Workshop, offering critiques on romances from all genres.
I’ve been writing for many years — fiction, non-fiction, and poetry — and over those years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Mistakes, of course, can be useful if we’re willing to look at the problems and learn from what we’ve done wrong.
I’ve learned, too, from authors and editors, from writing instructors, classes, workshops, textbooks, and of course, from readers.
Whenever I hear questions about giving advice to aspiring authors, I can draw upon a great deal of personal experience. The challenge in the question is choosing only one bit of advice. There are so many things I wish I’d known when I first began seriously writing for publication.
Today, I’m gathering up a collection of what I consider the most important lessons I’ve learned about writing, not only about the writing process itself, but about the industry, and about what it means to be a writer today. I’m presenting my thoughts in no specific order.
As I point out when doing critiques, what you’re reading here is opinion. Maybe you’ll find some of my remarks helpful, or maybe not. Please take what is useful and toss the rest in the trash.
MY ADVICE TO ASPIRING ROMANCE AUTHORS
- Learn the fundamentals of the language. Words are your tools. Knowing how to use them correctly is essential. A carpenter can’t build a house without knowing how to hammer a nail. As an author you need to know how to use words correctly, how to construct a sentence, how to punctuate. Grammar is important. So is spelling. If your skills are weak, check out resources that are available to help. You’ll find websites devoted to grammar. You can also check out books from your local library or attend classes. Don’t shrug it off and say “Oh, I’ll just have an editor fix it for me.” If you want to be a writer — and get paid for writing — you have to first master basic language skills.
- Write what is meaningful to you. If, like me, you love historical romances, don’t jump headlong into writing erotic paranormals just because somebody says they’re selling. Don’t push yourself to write what’s “popular”. The romance world is huge. There’s room for every kind of story, from the innocence of young love to scorching hot erotica. Write what you enjoy reading. Create characters you’d like to spend time with. Write with your heart.
- Don’t expect to be an overnight success, and don’t set unrealistic expectations. Whether you self-publish your novels or have your stories accepted by a publisher, you’ll still need to build a readership. It takes time. It takes effort, too. Writers often complain that “I want to write, not promote.” Many of us feel that way, but the simple truth is, the market is saturated. Thousands of books are being published each week. If you want your book to be noticed, purchased, and read, you’ll have to work hard to make it happen. Even then, there are no guarantees of success. Always remember that old adage about loving what you do. If you don’t love writing, if you’re not willing to invest long hours for little return, if you don’t have patience and persistence, you won’t make it as a writer today. Blunt? Yes. True? Yes.
- Support your fellow authors. Join writers’ groups. Get to know other authors, especially those who write in the same genre as you. Promote their stories with the same enthusiasm you would your own. When your work is ready to publish, they’ll be glad to help get the word out about your writing. Other authors can help you find potential publishers, answer questions about the business, and introduce you to prospective readers.
- Write the best book you can. This goes along somewhat with #1 — learning how to use the language. It goes far beyond the basics of grammar and spelling, however. Learn the techniques for writing good fiction. Read up on characterization, plotting, story structure. Ask other writers to recommend books they’ve found helpful. Check out every book your library has on how to improve your writing. Practice. Practice. Practice. Always keep learning.
- Read. This is a simple one. The more you read, the better your writing will be. Read books from the genre in which you’re writing, but also read outside your genre. Expose yourself to classic literature. Read poetry. Read essays.
- Make your characters miserable. Happy characters are boring characters. Put your hero and heroine into difficult situations. Challenge them. Force them to make painful decisions. When things are all “hunky-dory” for fictional characters, readers have no reason to turn the page. It’s when things go wrong that readers are hanging on to every word, eager to see how the characters will overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they face.
- Don’t forget to set the stage. Too many times a scene devolves into little more than “talking heads”, one line of dialogue following another. While the exchange might be interesting, it’s not enough to draw a reader in. Readers need to see what’s going on and where it’s happening. Good scenes include information on when and where the events are taking place, the locations and movements of the characters involved, the lighting, the temperature, and a wealth of other sensory details.
- Understand POV. That’s Point of View. You can also call it character perspective. Most traditional romance novels use the 3rd person limited point of view with scenes written from both the male and female perspective. That doesn’t mean you can’t use another POV, but if you do, be sure you’re using it correctly. Above all, avoid “head-hopping”. Don’t say “famous authors do it all the time.” No, they don’t. They may use multiple points of view. They may change points of view in the middle of a scene. They know how to do it without disrupting the flow of the story.
- Stop trying to sound like a writer. Sometimes the simplest way is the best way. Strive for clarity above all else. A reader can’t enjoy your story if she can’t understand your meaning. Stop trying so hard to be unique and concentrate instead on communicating your thoughts. That’s what telling a good story is really all about.
So, there you have it. Ten tips for aspiring writers, culled from my personal experiences as a reader, a “critter”, and a romance author.
Are these the top ten tips of all-time? Probably not. If you asked me tomorrow for ten tips, you might get ten totally different ones. I do hope you might find something of value in these tips. I hope, too, that you’ll share a few writing tips of your own.
WHAT’S THE BEST WRITING ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN?