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.
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.
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.
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?