This article was originally published in the Rocky Mountain Writer in March 2011
On Writing Well: A To Do List by Tina Ann Forkner
1) Slow down. Too many writers write too fast. When I first got published I put a lot of pressure on myself to write faster, but faster is not better. This time around, I’m slowing down. As my agent recently told me, it is better to take your time and make it great.
2) Don’t write for publication. Writing only so you can get published is a trap for bad writing, even if you already have a few books under your belt. Write because you love to write and do it to tell the story of your heart. Your motives will show in your writing, so let it be your passion and not your desire to get published.
3) Go beyond the spell checker. This one is so basic that even published authors make mistakes. Have a trusted friend look over your writing for spelling and grammar errors before entering a contest, querying an agent, or pitching it at a writing conference.
4) Always listen to your mom. Do seek the affirmation of your mom, dad, aunt, sister, best friend or anyone who is going to love you no matter how well you write. Let her/him read your work. Consider their advice and let yourself believe them when they say you deserve a Pulitzer prize in fiction even if they don’t really know what that is.
5) Never listen to your mom. Whatever you do, don’t listen to your mom. I know this is the opposite of what I just told you, so after you listen then take a minute to not listen. People who love you unconditionally might not tell you that your manuscript is riddled with errors, that your main character’s name keeps changing or that your ending falls flat. Get a second opinion from a good, but not best, friend or a real writer friend who can identify areas of your story that could be improved upon. This would be a good time to join a writer’s critique group.
6) Do it 6 days a week. Write almost every single day to create a writing habit. Sticking to a writing schedule is the only way your novel will ever get written. Be sure to give yourself one day of rest. For me, I honor the Sabbath. I used to write on Sundays, but now I do my best to spend that time with my family because it refreshes my writing and refocuses me on what is important in life (and it’s more than just writing books).
7) You are what you read, so read better books. There are so many books to read. Some of them are good and some are really, really bad. Don’t just read a book because it has a big glossy sign at the bookstore checkout area. Read books that sound good to you and that compel you to turn the page. Read a new genre. Read something that challenges you. Read books by writers who are better than you. Your own writing will be better for it.
8 ) Get out of the box. Just because you wrote one type of story doesn’t mean you can’t write something different or better the next time. Try to best yourself on each novel. If you are already published there will be a temptation to let yourself be put in a box where all of your stories become the same, only with new characters, each time. Don’t let the quest for book contracts saddle you with expectations that keep you from becoming a better writer.
9) Go out on a limb. Do not censor yourself. Write the crazy plot that you haven’t told a soul about. Sometimes the story that you long to write, but think would never go over, will be your breakout novel. Even if it’s not, you’ll be glad you wrote it and you will learn a ton about writing and about yourself along the way.
10) If writing is getting difficult, it’s a good sign. I am writing something right now that I have loved every minute of, but the story has been a lot more difficult to write than my previous novels. I could quit and delete the whole story, or I could follow the advice of a fellow novelist who told me that it’s a good sign when writing gets difficult. If writing used to be easy and now it’s hard, you might just be feeling some growing pains. Keep writing.
Tina Ann Forkner wrote the first column for RMFW’s The Writing Life back when she received her very first book contract. She is now the author of two published novels, Ruby Among Us and Rose House, from Waterbrook Press/Random House. Her writing life as a published author has been an adventure in which most things haven’t changed all that much.
Find out more about Tina and her books at her website and two blogs, Random Ramblings and It is What It Is.