13 Practical Fiction Writing Tips

A while back a friend of mine asked me for some advice on writing fiction.  I have a degree in creative writing, so I’ve done a lot of writing as well as reading a ton of books on the subject.

Most books on writing will give you a lot of floaty advice about “finding the story on the page” or give you a lot a definitions of writing terms like “theme” or “tone.”  While these are good ideas, they were never very helpful to me.

After all the writing I’ve done, here is some practical advice for someone who is trying to be a writer.  A lot of this is from personal experience, some of this is from books I’ve read.  I’ll try to site the person I’ve got some of this off of when it’s not mine.

  • Get a dry-erase board or a wall calendar.  When you write, mark and “X” for that day.  After three days, you’ll have a chain.  Your job is not to break the chain. –Jerry Seinfeld
  • Once you are done writing for the day, stop in the middle of a sentence.  On the next day, it will force you to get back into the head-space you left.-Some book on writing I can’t remember.
  • You should write notes in a system that you trust.  You may not feel like they count as “real writing,” but you wouldn’t let an architect build you a house without a plan, why should you expect that from an artist.
  • Get a library card.  The rate that you should be reading should necessitate this or you’ll go broke.  If you don’t read enough to get to this point, stop writing until you are.
  • Every time you use “this,” “that,” “just,” or “well” God cries.  Remove them from your drafts whenever you can.
  • Never revise until you have finished a draft.  If you go back and fix what you wrote the day before, you will never get to what you need to work on today.
  • Your second draft is your first draft minus ten percent. –Steven King
  • Every character in every scene must want something.  I don’t care if it’s to get out of the room.  If they don’t want something, they aren’t characters.
  • Once you have finished a draft, put it away for a at least a few weeks before working on it again.  It’s the only way to look at it in the cold light of day. –Steven King
  • Leave out the part everyone skips.  Nobody skips dialogue. –Elmore Leonard
  • Make a list of all the words you like.  This can be for any reason.  Words are the only things we have.  Collect the good ones.
  • Start or become part of a writer’s group. Talking about writing is great and having someone to look over your stuff is even better.  Also, make sure there is always lots of food at the meetings or the group will fall apart.
  • Metaphors and theme are fine, but if you don’t have a well plotted story, you’re just preaching.  Plot is story.

The best part about writing is finding all the little tricks that work.  These are the ones that work for me.  Feel free to share yours.

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