Twenty minutes of nothing but writing tips from a book editor and publishing manager.
Music licensed from Storyblocks:
“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory
"Shimmy On Over" by Jon Presstone
If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.
Greetings, you dedicated writer. I took a look at your most recent work in progress, and it’s really coming along. Great job.
Today, I have a special episode for you. Every week I provide you with a writing tip or two, and our technical director thought it would be helpful to create a clip show of the writing tips. So, we decided it would be most helpful to you if we did this every 10 episodes. Whether you love it or hate it, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending us a message on Instagram at @writingbreakpodcast.
Of course, we’re still opening the Writing Break cafe for this, so let’s get some refreshments before we begin.
From Episode 1: Top 3 Writing Tips from America's Editor
I have many more tips I'll be sharing with you in future episodes, but these 3 are my absolute top tips. I'll be counting them down because every story needs a little suspense.
Writing tip #3: Trust the writing process.
It takes time to get the words down. It takes time to get them revised. There's nothing that can be done about that. I always say that the second draft separates the writers from the authors. So take whatever time necessary to write the book as it needs to be written and to revise the book as it needs to be revised. And trust that the revision process will make you an author.
Writing tip #2: Trust yourself to get it done.
You’re going to feel all kinds of fear and doubt. That is a part of any creative process, and we can talk about analysis paralysis in future episodes. Regardless of your insecurities and time constraints, you have to trust in yourself. You will get it done.
Writing tip #1: Admit that you love to write.
Allow yourself to have fun. Writing is hard work. It really is. But it is an act of creative expression. As such, it should bring us immense joy. Unfortunately, we're conditioned to complain about creating or working as though our output doesn't count if it wasn't a miserable process. I would love for you to be immune to that and just have fun.
From Episode 2: Killing Your Darlings in New Orleans
Today, we’re overthinking the writing advice known as “Kill Your Darlings.” First, some background.Cornish writer who lived from:
At one point in this text, Sir Arthur discusses how flowery, ornamental writing cannot be considered style. Hear, hear.
Finally, he says this:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
So he’s saying, write it down. Don’t show it to anybody.liam Faulkner, who lived from:
And later still, Stephen King, who, fortunately for us, is still alive and well, wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Great, that’s established. Successful authors are giving you good advice, and you're still not listening to them.
I know you're not heeding this advice because these darlings are still around, skulking into your manuscript and weakening your good sentences, the ones that resonate with the reader and advance the plot.
Now, let's consider Sir Arthur's home office. Perhaps he was a modern man who forwent the fountain pen and worked on a typewriter, the size and weight of which would splinter your IKEA desk.
Given the arduous revision process Sir Arthur had to go through, the amount of time he spent with a manuscript before it went to print was considerable. These days, we have the freedom to move much faster from first draft to final files.
You should be moving through your manuscript at such a rate that you aren't falling in love with your own words to begin with.
So, how can we update Sir Arthur's wise words? Simple: don’t catch feels.
Don't have darlings to begin with. Don't dwell on how lovely a sentence sounds. Dwell on whether it's actually saying anything that your audience needs to read. Using today's technology, there is no reason for us to be sitting around looking lustfully at our words and swelling our egos, not when there's more writing to be done.
From Episode 3: Authors and NFTs
Before this writing break is over, I’d like to remind those of you still doing research in an effort to avoid writing that you can’t edit a blank page. You must get started right away. If you’re feeling fearful that you’re going to start writing and the writing will be bad, I can tell you the following with certainty: the first draft is going to be godawful. So, so bad. Everyone’s first draft is terrible. What’s more terrible is never getting to the second draft.
The worst writing you’ll ever do for this book is going to happen right now, in this first draft. Which means it can and will only get better after that.
When fear and doubt crop up and you start feeling like an impo ster, please remember that in the first draft you are only putting the sand in the sandbox. The second draft is when you will start to build your castle. No one should ever see your first draft, but everyone should know that you are writing. All it takes to be a writer is to call yourself one. What it takes to be a good writer, that’s another story, and absolutely no one starts off writing well, so there’s no need to feel like an imposter.
I always suggest to authors that they should find at least one person who will encourage them throughout their writing career, and you have me now, telling you to write it all out.
From Episode 4: How to Write Better Dialogue
Dialogue is an important part of character development. Look through your text and email messages. Think about how your friends and family communicate. Maybe even record them speaking (with their knowledge, of course).
Everyone’s word choice and speech pattern is unique, and not just a little different but very different. For example, there are certain words and phrases your sibling might overuse that you never use, even though you grew up together. Every one of your friends will react uniquely to happy or sad news.
Yet, as I traverse the land of unpublished manuscripts, I find that characters in a book often sound so similar that if the writer has left out a necessary dialogue tag, I am not sure who is speaking.
Part of the fun for the reader is to get to know your characters, and one way you can facilitate that is through distinct dialogue. While you don’t want to overdo it by making the characters cartoonish or giving them all catchphrases, for the most part, I find that writers are under-doing it.
Even if you manage to give your characters distinct voices, dialogue tags might still be necessary for clarity, and you can check the links in the show notes for an article I wrote about using dialogue tags effectively.
From Episode 5: 3 Habits to Improve Your Writing
I’m listing these 3 habits to improve your writing in no particular order.
1. Read something every day.
If you think you don't have time, try audiobooks, short stories, and poetry. See what I did there?
2. Write something every day.
Even if you're just writing for yourself, daily writing will improve the quality of your writing, which increases your confidence, which, again, improves your writing.
3. Stop comparing yourself to other writers.
You have your own unique voice that deserves to be heard. It is possible—and liberating—to admire others without wanting to be them.
From Episode 6: New and Noteworthy? That’s You!
Book retailers and book publishers have jumped on the BookTok bandwagon and started their own TikTok accounts to sell books. In news articles that sound like they’re surprised, book sellers have said that social media helps sell books. Amazing. People recommending books to other people helps sell books? I mean, who knew?
The good news is that this secret tactic works for self-publishers too, and it’s free! Not counting the cost to your dignity, of course. I know that you didn’t sign up for all of that. You want to write some books and have people read them. But keep in mind that self-publishers of the past yearned for a surefire, free way to gain an interested audience. There is finally a way to gain that audience today, which is through social media. Even publishing houses expect their authors to do a lot of their own social media marketing, so no author who wants to be read is free from this obligation. It is now a part of the job, and the sooner you can get on board, the more books you’ll sell.
There are people out there who would benefit from reading your books, but you can’t change their lives with your magical words if you stay hidden away. Think of social media as a well-lit door that readers have set in your path for you to knock on and whisk them away to their next great adventure.
Self-promotion might feel dirty, but it’s not, or, at least, it’s dirty in a good way. The way planting trees is dirty or, you know, other fun and dirty things. My point is, you don’t have to love marketing, but you do have to market yourself.
From Episode 7: Identifying Your Ideal Reader
Let's talk about writing for your ideal reader.
You write because you have something to say, and writing is the way you choose to say it. Whether you’re aspiring to be a novelist, journalist, or any other type of writer, you’re putting in the hard work first and foremost for yourself. You write because you must—then comes your audience.
The other reason you write is that you know your message is of value to someone else. No piece of work is for everyone, though some aspiring writers want to believe otherwise.
Create a composite ideal reader in your mind. Who is this person, and how will your message improve their life? Keeping this person in your mind as you write will help you create a clear and impactful piece of work that will have maximum benefit to you, your writing career, and your true audience.
From Episode 8: What One Big Five Publisher Says Is Trending in Books
Another listener wanted more clarification about my advice to create an ideal reader in your mind and to focus on them while you write.
In essence, the imagined ideal reader that you are writing for could be a person you know , it could be you at a younger or older age, it could be a few different people intermingling as one reader. How detailed you want to get about this is up to you. You can give the ideal reader a name, a backstory, a chiseled jawline, or it could be an amoeba-like, shape-shifting apparition. Whatever works for you.
From Episode 9: This Writing Tip Could Save Your Career
OK, here goes, and I mean this with every editorial fiber of my being: do not show your unpublished work to non-readers. It doesn’t matter if it’s family or your lifelong friends. If they are not avid readers, don’t show them your unpublished work. Don’t even show it to people who used to read a lot but can’t seem to find the time anymore. Whether you write books, articles, scripts, fiction, nonfiction, whatever, your works-in-progress need actual readers who can remain focused on what they’re reading and imagine things correctly. You need people who have a deep familiarity with books, both classics and new releases. People might be familiar with storytelling because they watch TV or movies, but avid readers are a special breed.
Too many wonderful works get sidelined because of well-meaning non-readers having no idea how to critique literature, or they just regurgitate grammar rules and call it constructive criticism. It can be especially hard to push past rudimentary and unrefined assessments that come from people who care about you. Avoid the whole rickety roller coaster by finding sophisticated beta readers familiar with your genre.
From Episode 10: 4 Dos and Don’t for Working with Beta Readers
Writers are nothing without readers, and beta readers are the most valuable readers of all. Beta readers can help you fill in, trim down, and smooth out your book before you show it to the world. Authors should make the most out of the beta reading process.
As promised, here are 4 dos and don’ts for working with beta readers.
Number 1: Don’t pick a writer to be a beta reader.
I know a lot of you are going to come after me for that one, but hear me out. The writing process changes writers in profound ways, including the way they read. It’s hard for writers to read something without thinking about how they would write it. Therefore, they will make suggestions according to their writing style rather than yours.
For a prime example, see the show notes of this episode for a link to Ernest Hemingway’s letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald about The Great Gatsby. Hemingway critiques Fitzgerald about the way he writes characters and offers him advice that would make Fitzgerald’s characters sound like Hemingway’s characters. He doesn’t say this directly, but anyone familiar with both writers will understand that right away.
Both excellent writers in their own right, Hemingway discusses Fitzgerald’s style as bad writing simply because it differs from his writing style.
Selecting a beta reader who loves your genre but doesn’t write is the best way to go.
Number 2: Do clarify your expectations.
Make it clear to your beta readers that they are to concern themselves with pacing, plot, character arcs, and whatever other developmental concerns you have, but they are not to focus on grammatical errors. Inevitably, beta readers who spend time noting down grammatical errors and typos will run out of steam, and their overall feedback will be weak. Worst of all, because you’re still in the revision process, the manuscript will change so much that their effort will be wasted.
Number 3: Do set a deadline.
Give your beta readers an exact date for getting their feedback to you. That one is straightforward enough, right?
I recommend choosing no more than five beta readers.
I’ve been in publishing long enough to know that not all beta readers will return the feedback on time, and some don’t even get around to it, ever. Life happens, and sometimes your manuscript will have to take a backseat to whatever is happening in a beta reader’s life. (After all, we are all the main characters in our own lives.) If three out of five beta readers give you feedback in a timely manner, you’re right where you want to be.
Too many beta readers might overwhelm you during the revision process, and too few beta readers might leave you with only one person getting feedback to you on time. That’s helpful but not ideal. There will always be things that one person doesn’t like and another person loves, but if three people tell you they dislike the same thing about your manuscript, you’ll know that’s an area that needs fixing.
Number 4: Do provide a beta reader checklist.
Some writers provide beta readers with a list of yes or no questions, which tends to have a higher turnaround rate than free-form feedback. I recommend a hybrid of the two, set in a table format so that they can check yes or no but also have space to add comments if necessary.
Although free-form feedback might seem like the better way , beta readers tend to write a lot in the beginning of free-form questionnaires and taper off as they continue reading.
It’s more likely that you’ll receive better feedback in table format. There’s something about the table format that makes people continue down the page and, most importantly, actually turn in their feedback. (Behavioral psychologists, feel free to chime in here.)
You can scour the internet for a list of questions to ask beta readers, and you can even narrow it down to your genre. Make sure you tweak the questions to fit your manuscript and your particular concerns.
As the author, you’re going to have the final say in what happens to the manuscript. The beta reader provides advice on how to make it better. And the thing about advice is that you ask for it, you listen to it, and you do whatever you want in the end.
I hope you enjoyed this clip show. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled program next week where I’ll catch you up on publishing news and give you even more writing tips. We’ll also continue our international bookstore visits.
If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.
Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.