Ten Things That Taught Us To Be Better Writers

Hi, All! Stephanie here with my buddy, and fellow Pub-Crawler, Stacey Lee, with a post that we hope has a little something for everyone, regardless of which stage you’re at with your writing career.

  1. Watching Television Pilots. This is one of my favorite things to do in the fall.   Television pilots are similar to first chapters; they need to establish characters, tone, setting, time, and place, and most of all, they need to hook viewers. Analyzing how they do this is a great way to sharpen your craft. Favorite pilots include Alias, Lost, Chuck, Revenge, and the Blacklist (which has an amazing hook near the end).
  1. Saying Goodbye to Old Manuscripts. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment. It’s also a very time and soul-consuming task, so we understand how hard it is to trunk manuscripts, especially those that come close to landing agents, or getting sold. But sometimes old manuscripts can be like old relationships, it’s not always possible to make room for the ones unless you’ve let go of the old ones first.
  1. Judging Writing Contests. Not only is this a great way to give back to other writers, judging contests will sharpen your skills as a writer. It’s one thing to read blog posts by agents or other writers about what does or doesn’t work in manuscripts or query letters, but it’s a different thing to see it when going through contest slush piles. After reading hundreds of Pitch Wars entries as mentors, we saw first hand the importance of a strong first line, the danger of a weak first line, why it really is a bad idea to start with a character waking up, and just how powerful good comp titles can be. Not to mention contests are an excellent way to meet fellow writers (see number 9 for more on this one).
  2. Attending the Big Sur Children’s Writer’s Workshop. For California writers this workshop almost feels like a rite of passage. Held twice a year by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the Big Sur Children’s Writer’s Workshop is known for not only its gorgeous location, but for its intense and honest workshops. If you’re a writer who has not yet found an agent, we highly suggest this workshop because it’s a great way to find out from professionals just where you’re going wrong with your writing—it’s also an excellent place to meet other writers.
  1. Attend Bookish Events. This can be conferences, book signing, panels, festivals, or other things we’ve never heard of, as long as they involve books and people. If you read our conference post  last month you probably you know why we think conferences are so valuable, but they are not the only events we recommend. For example, if you are a debut author, attend as many launch parties and book signings as you can—not only is this an excellent way to support authors, but once the time comes to launch your book, you’ll have lots of ideas for what makes a great launch. And there is always something to be learned by hearing other authors speak about their work.
  1. Entering Contests. There are a ton of free contests that not only can help you improve your writing, but can be useful when it comes to querying. Stacey submitted the manuscript for UNDER A PAINTED SKY for a critique at her regional SCBWI conference, and not only did the amazing editor Sara Sargent provide valuable feedback, Arthur Levine chose it to receive the conference award. She’s certain that her mentioning this award in her query letter helped it stand out.
  1. Finding a Critique Partner. We can say with 100% certainty that our critique partners have improved our writing and we’re not just saying that because we are critique partners. A good CP can help you identify and strengthen your writing weak spots, help you brainstorm, and take you out for pearl milk teas when you need them. And on the flip side, when you critique another’s work, it improves your own writing in much the same way that spotting spinach in someone’s teeth makes you check your own teeth.
  1. Join SCBWI. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an invaluable source of support for the kid lit community. In addition to amazing conferences and classes, they offer grants, awards, mentorships, and they foster connections with industry professionals. We encourage you to become a member, and to become active with your local regional chapter.
  1. Make Friends with Other Writers. The more supported you feel as a writer, the happier writer you will be, and the more productive you will become. Engaging with other writers not only helps you keep abreast of what’s happening in the publishing industry, it can lead you to discover critique partners, writing contests, agents, and more.
  1. Good books inspire. A good read reminds us of why we do what we do, and pushes us to do better.

Now we’d love to hear from you! This list could go on and on and we’d love to know what items you would like to add to it.


2 Responses to Ten Things That Taught Us To Be Better Writers

  1. Marc Vun Kannon May 23 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    Fanfiction. The characters already exist, so you have to conform, a little, to someone else’s vision. I found it faster to write, as well, since most of the heavy lifting had been done for me, and there’s a lot of feedback from the readers almost immediately, telling you what did or did not work for them.

  2. Aimee May 23 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    I sincerely credit the Lyttle Lytton Contest with teaching me a lot about writing (http://adamcadre.ac/lyttle.html). It’s like the Buwler-Lytton Contest where you write the worst opening lines to bad novels, but the sentences are shorter and (in my opinion) much, much funnier. Besides being hilarious, I’ve learned a lot about some of the subtler kinds of badness in writing–i.e. overblown metaphors, the fine line between pathos and cornball, irony that isn’t really irony, etc from the archives.

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