Advice to new writers

One of the most popular interview questions asks for advice for new or young writers. I always answer with the same thing: Read. Write. Critique.

Read.

This is a simple concept that is very time-consuming. It’s important, though. You need discover new books to love, new thoughts to fill your creativity well, and new ways of looking at the world.

If you don’t read but you want to be a writer, how will you know what’s already out there? How will you form educated opinions on literature? How can you possibly build a stone wall if you don’t go out and get the skills, tools, and materials you need?

One of the most important jobs of any writer is to read. If you don’t love reading, how can you expect anyone to love reading your stories?

So, what should you read?

Books in your genre. Books outside your genre. Award-winners. Bestsellers. Books everyone raves about. Books you see sitting on bookstore shelves that you’ve never heard of before. Books friends recommend. Books friends hate. Books with fancy covers. Books with meh covers. Books movies were based on. Books you loved when you were younger. Books you hated when you were younger.

Read everything.

Write.

This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who want to write a book, but haven’t gotten around to doing it.

The honest truth is that in order to become a better writer, one needs to write. Maybe not every day. Maybe not even every week, if you’re a binge writer. But the only way books get written is if someone sits down and writes them. Or dictates. Or whatever.

I know writers who are lucky enough to write full time. Others who write during the commute to a full-time job. Others who write before or after the kids get up/go to bed. Who needs sleep, anyway? I know 100-words-a-day writers, 1,000-words-a-day writers, and 10,000-words-a-day writers. No matter how many words they write a day, or how they fit in their writing time, they get their books written.

You can’t revise a blank page. You can’t sell a book that doesn’t exist. (Unless a. you’re a published writer with a track record for finishing books, or b. you’re a celebrity, in which case you can get a ghostwriter.)

The thing that all successful writers have in common? They write.

Critique.

It can be difficult to think critically about your own work. Writers get emotionally tangled up with their stories and revision is hard. So what do you do?

For me, I joined the Online Writing Workshop. I put my work up for critique, which was useful, but what really helped was critiquing others’ writing. I learned to spot what techniques I did and didn’t like. I learned the necessity of a clear sentence. I learned about character motivation and goals and consistency. I read others’ critiques of stories and chapters I’d also critiqued, in order to figure out what they were spotting that I hadn’t. And whether or not I agreed with them.

The reason I learned so much from critiquing others’ work was because, even if I loved the story, it wasn’t mine. I could objectively see what needed work. Like maybe the whole middle portion of the story was unnecessary or out of order. When I made note of that for the author, I wasn’t thinking about how much work I had to do to fix it. (You know how laziness sometimes determines how much revision we do? Yeah.) Because I didn’t have to fix it.

Doing critiques for others gave me the tools to look critically at my own work and made me a better writer.

So that’s mine. What is your advice to new writers?

  

13 Responses to Advice to new writers

  1. Sooz Nov 9 2012 at 9:33 am #

    “Doing critiques for others gave me the tools to look critically at my own work and made me a better writer.” –> This is so, so, SO true. I mean, I did all sorts of online workshops and read so many books on craft, but NOTHING taught me as much as critiquing other people’s work and then having my own work critiqued.

    Great post.

    Oh, and this: “You can’t revise a blank page. You can’t sell a book that doesn’t exist.” Also BRILLIANT. And true, true, true.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Nov 9 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Thanks, Sooz!

      Yes, crit partnerships, critiquing strangers, seeing what people think of your work — it’s so, so useful!

  2. Kateri Ransom Nov 9 2012 at 9:56 am #

    I know it’s cliche…but have fun. When I was much younger I’d spend hours writing stuff that ultimately I’d re-read and decide was truly of no use. But those hours were not for waste because I so thoroughly enjoyed them. Actually, I now find myself striving for that “happy place” all the time when I write. So I guess it’s a good thing I found it in the first place! Thanks for this peice of advise! It also makes for great motivation I think.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Nov 9 2012 at 10:33 am #

      Oh yes, that’s an important one! If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

  3. kklein1686 Nov 9 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when aspiring writer’s say they don’t read. I once had a boss who said she didn’t read because it messed with the purity of her voice or some such nonsense.

    Thanks for reaffirming my belief that writers should also be readers. 🙂

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Nov 9 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      Oh yes, that bugs me, too! Reading is SO important for writers!

  4. Edith Nov 9 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Great post, especially the piece on critiquing!

  5. Alexa (Loves Books) Nov 10 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I love this post! The three things you’ve highlighted are so simple, but putting them into practice can change a wannabe/newbie writer’s life.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Nov 10 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Yes, they ARE simple! But they can be lots of fun, too!

  6. Loie Nov 10 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Aw, very good post 🙂 It’s probably something I needed to hear right about now. Am doing ok in my word count for Nanowrimo, but not feeling the greatest about the quality of writing. But then I thought about it and started to get excited because hey – hopefully by the end of the month, I’ll have my first DRAFT! And that’s exciting because it can get better through revision and research.

    I agree too about critiques and reading others work. I just joined Ya Lit Chat and am looking forward to posting the first five pages of my MS once I feel like I’ve done everything I can on this end.

    Best,
    Loie xo

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Nov 11 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Yes! Sometimes, getting through the first draft is the best thing you can do for yourself. Knowing that you CAN finish a book is hugely important!

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