I spent last weekend enjoying DragonCon 2018 in Atlanta. I attended as many of the writing panels as I could manage, including two 15 minute one-on-one mentoring sessions with Jody Lynn Nye and Robert J. Sawyer, which were great.
Here, in no particular order, are the 12 best pieces of writing advice I collected. It was going to be 10, but I thought of a couple more. Check out Twitter (@NAWG and my personal Twitter @CMPalmer) for any new ones I think of.
- Small presses and online only markets are great for building confidence and getting your name out there, but you should make a habit of submitting to the highest paying, most prestigious markets first and working your way downward. You’ll probably garner more rejections, but when you do get a hit, the reward will be worth it.
- Telling your whole story to someone can sap your will to actually write it. You may want to consider just sharing your “elevator pitch” with others until the story is finished. Build anticipation from others as well as yourself.
- Similarly, some writers avoid writing the last scene or last chapter of a work until they’ve finished revising the rest. Write up to the end, go back and revise, and when you’re happy with the whole thing, go ahead and write the last scene/chapter. Once you’ve written the ending, your brain says “You’re done!” and saps your energy for revision.
- Don’t over-read or over-edit. Finish a story, but it aside for a week or two and work on something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes. If you obsessively read through a story, you’ll either not see the errors or (in my case) start overthinking it and hating it.
- When revising and editing, know the difference between “better” and “just different.” Any edits will make your story different, but do they make it better? When you’ve removed and reinserted the same comma five times, it’s time to submit it somewhere and move on.
- When writing novels, remember that most publishers are accepting works that won’t be published for a couple of years. Chasing the current hot trends isn’t always a good idea because that trend may be dead by the time a potential book would be published.
- If you’re not writing what you want to write and the kinds of things you like to read, you’re probably not going to be successful. Writing what you think is “hot” even if you don’t like the style or genre is a bad idea.
- If all you have is non-pro sales, only include them in your cover letter to pro-markets to inform the editors that you can be worked with. Too many people can’t handle editorial input and a pro-editor isn’t going to invest the time to mark up your work if you’re going to be obstinate about making any edits to your precious baby.
- In writing science fiction in particular, if the idea is old enough, you can use it as a standard trope, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your story. In other words, you shouldn’t write a book about discovering a ringworld and exploring it, but your space opera universe might include ringworlds. Science fiction is always “standing on the shoulders of giants” and expanding the vocabulary. You shouldn’t steal, but you can borrow.
- The main difference between writing a short story and a novel is the complexity of the plot. Short stories have one, maybe two, plot points. Novels have to have many more.
- John W. Campbell used to read slush pile manuscripts with a red pen, but usually his only mark was a red line under the point where he stopped reading. Ask your writer’s group and beta readers to put a red line where they would have given up if they weren’t committed to reading through your story. This is pretty hard advice, but I’d love to know. I know I give up on stories even in magazines and “best of” anthologies sometimes.
- With a short story, you’ve got a first line and maybe one or two paragraphs to hook a reader (and an editor is just a reader with way too many stories to read). For a novel, you might stretch that to a few pages. One editor last year said, “Nobody wants to read your story. Particularly the slush pile editor. It’s your job to make it impossible for them not to read your story once they’ve read the first paragraph.”