You are here

General advice for new writers

First, you may enjoy listening to my podcast. Writing Excuses is a quick-paced podcast about writing and how to produce sf/fantasy stories. You can listen through your browser or use a function that downloads podcasts, like itunes. It's a weekly podcast and the website has an archive of all previous podcasts as well. They are labeled by topic so it should be easy to browse through them and find the most useful topic for you.  

I teach a creative writing class at Brigham Young University and one year a student of mine recorded my lectures and put them online at Write About Dragons. Another year they were recorded and posted on Youtube. Those might be helpful for you as well.

These links and others can also be found on my website’s Writing Advice page.

Anything else?

To be a successful writer you need at least the following four things:

  1. Persistence. 
  2. Revision. 
  3. Characters with distinct viewpoints.
  4. Use of concrete detail.

Beyond that, read. Read a lot. Read a lot in the genre you want to be published in. If you want to write short stories, read short stories. If you want to write novels, read novels. Read in the genre, but also read widely. But nothing is more frustrating that someone who says I want to publish fantasy novels, and has never read any. Find out what other people are doing that’s exciting. And try and add something to it. 

The other thing is to just write. Know that you don’t have to be perfect when you start. Nobody sits down and expects to be able to play the piano the first time, but a lot of writers it seems get frustrated when they try to write their first book, that it’s not capturing the vision in their head. Don’ be afraid to be bad at it long enough to get good at it. Just sit down and start writing. Turn off your internal editor. Understand that your first book just isn’t going to be very good, and that’s just fine. Practice writing it, because that’s how you’ll learn to write. Do it consistently. Set a time every day or every week you write. Consistently keep that time or goal. Work on your books. Don’t let yourself write a first chapter, throw it away, and write another one, throw it away, and write another one. Force yourself to finish.

My next advice is to keep on writing, If you enjoy it, you should just do it; the more you write the better you get. I wrote more than a dozen novels before I had ELANTRIS published. It took me eight years to get published, but when I finally was, it blew my mind.

It will happen to you too if you keep at it.

Please Sir, may I have some more?

  1. Learn to turn off your internal editor. You can always rewrite later. When you start into writing, the most important thing I think is to learn that you don't start off perfect. Let yourself make mistakes, and don't worry. Just keep writing and practicing.
  2. Don't try to write too many viewpoints at first. Remember, even Robert Jordan started small when it came to viewpoints. The first book focuses on Rand mostly, and only adds Perrin and Nynaeve as viewpoints later after the group splits up.
  3. Remember to pick a single, solid conflict to be your over-arching story conflict. You can have sub-plots, but you should be able to explain the main conflict for your story in a couple of sentences.
  4. Try to blend familiar ideas with those that are original. In other words, don't try to do everything new--but also don't just retread old ground. The best stories have identifiable characters facing identifiable conflicts, but in different ways and different places.
  5. Focus on CONCRETE details. Don't just describe how things look--add in occasional scents, sounds, and textures. Mix this in with action, dialogue, and motion in the story--don't just stop for a page and describe the town. Instead have your characters enter town, then talk about the scent of the muddy road, the sounds of the screaming inkeeper's wife, the feel of the chill spring wind.  Mix this in with the character's thoughts, emotions, and problems. That will make the story feel alive while still progressing.
  6. Learn the market. If you want to publish, check out the book Writer's Market and start learning which publishers publish which books. Look in books by those publishers and see if you can find out which specific editor edited them, so that you can begin to learn who does what. You can often find the editor's name in the acknowledgments.
  7. Finally, don't give up! It can take time to learn to write. Don't feel bad if your first book doesn't turn out like you want it--and even if it does, realize it may take years to get it published. Once you finish a book, the best thing to do is to research publishers, find one that you think is right, then send that book off. After that, start writing another one! It can take months for editors to get back to you, and most books get rejected a number of times before getting picked up.