10 Tips for Writing

1. Don’t write linearly: Don’t set out to write something from beginning to end. A story is meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily created that way. If you have an idea for writing the sixth chapter first, then start there. The epilogue can even be the first thing you put down on paper, then work your way back. Scattered chapters will eventually be filled in, and it will force you to look at the story from different angles, which may present different ideas or new approaches. You’d be surprised how well this works when a whole book starts coming together. It’s also great for getting around writer’s block.

GIVEAWAY: J. Kent is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: pipersfancy won). 

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Column by J. Kent Messum, author of 2015 novel HUSK (July 2015, Penguin UK).
HUSK was recently optioned for an international TV show by Warp Films in the
UK. Messum is an author who always bets on the underdog. 
He lives in Toronto
with his wife, dog, and trio of cats. His first novel BAIT won the 2014 Arthur Ellis
Award for ‘Best First Novel.’ Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

2. Have two or more projects on the go: Speaking of writer’s block, having more than one project on the go is never a bad idea. Although focus and dedication are paramount to completing a work, sometimes you inevitably get stuck. It’s good to be able to move on to something else instead of feeling frustrated and stagnant. You don’t have to have a few big projects happening either … maybe you’re penning a novel, but also some short stories and an article or two.

3. Be your own editor: There are days where I have difficulty writing altogether, so I’ll switch to editing my stories rather than trying to create them. Never assume it is someone else’s job to fix your mistakes. Find all the errors first, and deal with them yourself. The more polished and refined your work is, the more favorably it will be received when you’re finally ready to present it.

(Should you mention self-published books when querying an agent?)

4. Ask for (and take lots of) punishment: It is well worth finding yourself a professional writer or editor and asking/paying them to look at your work. Tell them to give you highly critical feedback with no sugarcoating. Let them go so far as to be cruel too, just so you really get the point. There is a lot of rejection and criticism involved in the publishing industry. Getting accustomed to it sooner than later is advantageous. If you want to be serious about your writing, then you’ll need to know everything wrong with your writing. Accepting and understanding the harsh realities of your shortcomings is a most important step to getting better.

5. Disconnect: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, the Internet in general … we know how invasive social media and technology is in our lives these days. We also know that it can be good for promotion, building a brand, and having an online presence. But you know what else social media and technology is really good for? Procrastination, distraction, and countless wasted hours. Being able to unplug for long periods of time is more important than you may think. All those tweets you’ve posted might have added up the word-count of half a novel by now…

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6. Learn what good writing is: Honestly, there’s so much terrific writing out there, but there is also considerably more garbage as well. I’m constantly surprised by how many people don’t know the difference between the good and the bad. Art is subjective, true, but it isn’t that subjective when you remove ignorance and replace it with education. Duke Ellington said it best: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind”. The same applies to writing.

7. Have your own workspace: It’s trendy nowadays to take your laptop to coffee shop or bar and write in public. I even advocate a change of environment/atmosphere when writing feels stifled. But I believe it’s more important to have and maintain your own private workspace, a spot you can call your own with a desk and preferably a door you can close when you need to shut out the world in order to create your own.

(Can your query be longer than one page?)

8. Dedicate to the craft: Serious writing is not something you merely do if or when you can find the time. It’s not just for Sunday afternoons, or the occasional evening, or a few hours a week when you can give it some attention. Make the time, and make lots of it. Tackle the craft daily and dedicate a generous portion of your existence to honing your skills. You’re only going to get out of it what you put into it, and serious writing requires a lot of investment.

9. Time management: When it comes to the hours or days you’ve reserved for writing, make sure you stick to your guns. Consider it sacred. To most other people, your ‘writing time’ is merely ‘flexible time’. They will invariably think that you can cancel, minimize or postpone working when it suits you (or them). Tell these people that your personal work time is not negotiable; much like theirs isn’t at their day jobs. You don’t need a regimented schedule, but you do need to clock in the hours.

10. Remember the Three “P’s”: I’ll admit there’s still a hell of a lot more to say on the topic of writing tips, but what it all comes down to in the end are three things I believe writers need to remember above all else: Patience, Perseverance, and maintaining your sense of Purpose.

GIVEAWAY: J. Kent is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: pipersfancy won). 


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44 thoughts on “10 Tips for Writing

  1. rjsalem

    #5 and #9 are the big ones I had to teach myself. There’s a fantastic app on the iOS store called “Forest” that is basically an anti-distraction tool. It locks your phone and grows a “tree” for a predetermined amount of time, so that you don’t let yourself become distracted by your phone while working. Over time, the trees accumulate and add to a “forest”, allowing you to see how much distraction-free time you’ve put into your work. My productivity doubled once I started using that app. Distractions are productivity killers!


  2. lenzigallagher

    1 and 2 – definitely.

    On 1) I tend to write in chunks as opposed to a straight line – usually whatever strikes me, and at one point, I’ll stop and assemble everything, like a puzzle.

    On 2) I just have to make sure I don’t confuse the characters in multiple projects! Maybe the inspiration for a crossover?

  3. Debbie

    Great info. I’m glad to hear it can be advantageous to “bounce around” in evolving the writing. My ideas are often not chronological. Thoughts midstream can grow way before how we even got to that point. In some ways, it felt “wrong” even though it seemed to work for me. Thank you for giving me the confidence to continue wherever my light bulb turns on.

  4. Earlene

    Even though I say I don’t care where my writing goes, I retain a firm belief that what I have to say, the story I have to tell is worth the telling and the self-publishing. Your list of 10 tips for writing have been ones I’ve put together for myself and I was thrilled to read your detailing each and every one of them. I’ve tried the other side of all your points, the writing linearly (now I never know which writing will go where until I’m closer to the end product), the having two projects going at the same time (I’ve got three series going and two extra short stories and with consistent notes and tracking, I can dip into any one of them when I am stuck on something else, and they get finished). Disconnecting has been the most recent and important action I’ve taken. The games have come off the iphone and I am putting my author’s official platform forming on hold til I get this last draft done of my second novel. You are right on. Glad I found this blog entry. Thanks so much. E

  5. marklove

    Some excellent points here. I have always followed the first tip about not writing linearly. Time management is probably the most challenging of all, because life has a tendency to get in the way. Thanks!

  6. writer62

    I especially liked the tip about disconnecting. This is not one you normally see in a list of writing tips. Currently, the only social media sites I’m using are Fb and my blog. I had been on Twitter, but stopped using it. Social Media sites are supposed to be beneficial and, while I found Twitter interesting and fun, it was a colossal waste of time. Most likely, I’ll get back on it when my next book comes out; but for now, I’m glad to be free.
    #6 tip tickled me. Based on the bolded print, my first thought was writing skills. His explanation was not that at all. I think my first book was “the other kind.” I designed “Dana’s Dilemma” as a quick read. I like those kind of books–an interesting story with fun, enjoyable characters.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll follow Kent’s advice with #8 & 9. I need to get to writing. I have to edit my first chapter and email it to James Patterson for his writing class that I’m taking. I will definitely keep in mind #6, making sure my writing is exceptional–not just good. I’m so curious to see if his red marks will cover all my writing!

  7. jenniferswick

    The final word of the post, “purpose”, to me, is most important. When I’m in touch with my purpose for writing, I’m resourceful and can most effectively break through the challenges and barriers. Thanks much!

  8. J.K. Wyatt

    Thank for these tips I actually did not think about doing some of the suggested tips. This really helped alot. Thank you for taking time out for your busy schedule to post these tips.

  9. karaseg

    Thanks for the tips. I tend to procrastinate by editing my own work, over and over until I run out of time for the actual writing 🙁 Then I go to bed and all kinds of ideas pop into my head. I’ve tried to counter that by having a notepad by my bed -sometimes that works.
    I do #1 a lot though. Sometimes my inspiration for a later scene helps shape earlier ones that I can then go back and write. (Sometime I have to drop the later scenes that I’ve written because they don’t end up fitting the story line.) But it always helps to keep writing, rather than staring at the same last few lines you’ve written over and over.

  10. mocando

    Love these. A lot of common sense and a lot of validation. Now I just need to put the last few to use. Life is SO complicated. Good luck with your writing everyone!

  11. pipersfancy

    Thank you! I focus mainly on poetry, although, I have a novel underway that feels a lot like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Your tips give me hope that (perhaps) I’m not too far off the mark with my writing… I’d like to add one more tip that I’ve learned. Even when no one seems to appreciate your work, KEEP WRITING anyway! (I suppose that really goes along with tip #4.) I’ve experienced lots of criticism and rejection, but the odd piece that finds its way through to publication definitely makes the pain worthwhile!

  12. Amylynn714

    Learn what good writing is. That’s one of my favorite ones. Develop good taste. Other great writers say the same thing, and they also say to read a lot. That’s how you learn what good writing is. And is not. AND it gives us permission to read EVERYTHING!

  13. bessieo

    I liked all of these, but I find #1 the most freeing and #2 the most forgiving. I knew I could skip around in writing my stories, but it sort of felt like cheating, so I was glad for the different perspective. And the idea of working on more than one project at a time made me feel like I was half-heartedly writing each one. Your tip made me feel like I had permission and that good can come from it 🙂

  14. LD

    When i first read tip number 1, I felt so much more confident in what I have been doing. I have been working on a novel for years and I already have the ending without all the meat in the middle. But I must say I’m not one to go and work in a coffee shop. I need to be behind a closed door without any interruption. I find myself to be in the zone and once I’m interrupted, it’s hard to return writing.

  15. rncarst

    There is another advantage to having multiple projects in progress. Should you find one of them a hopeless mess, you can abandon it (it does happen) and will have something else to move on to. Also, I found having a poem in progress on your desk you can go to when stuck helps to change pace and clear the mind.
    All your tips are spot on. Thanks for sharing.

  16. jlbodell

    You’re right on with #6. As a new writer trying to create a platform and reading to glean as much info as possible, I come across some of that garbage. And then, before you know it, I’m committing #5. Just curious. Is a project considered a “project” if it’s still in your head?

  17. Kelly1417

    This is great advice. One and four are definitely the best pieces of advice for me. I get so caught up in feeling the need to slog through a section just because that’s the next part of the story, even when I’d rather skip ahead a chapter or two. And being able to take criticism without taking it personally has always been a challenge for me, but ultimately it’ll make a world of a difference in the quality of my work.

  18. Gena

    So many great tips! I have a personal issue with the first one, though. I constantly write out of order, but then I can’t find a good way to connect them. There are times when they all connect fine and times when I just can’t make it work. I find that working in some sort of linear way helps me make the most sense of what I’m doing and has the ability to inspire me to push through the first draft sludge to get to the chapters I really want to write. I have been known to write in two directions, front to back and back to front at the same time to get a clear view of where I am and where I’m going, but that’s as close to non-linear as I get these days. It’s all really a personal preference I’m sure, but all very good tips for writers to try.

  19. anemoneflynn

    Those are great points, but I have to say that 8 and 9 are not always easy to do if you value your family relationships. When I’m stuck between a rock and hard place, sometimes I have to remember that there is life after the toddler and I will have time to write after the kidlet is a bit older. Having finished a novel draft of 80k+ words before she came along, I know I’m capable of the work!

  20. Meryem46

    Excellent tips! I especially like that you included the major distraction that is the internet – disconnecting from it & from the world during content creation phases can make a world of a difference.

  21. jschuler1010

    This provides good tips on how to write. I do not agree with every single one of them, such as disconnecting (I find it a good way to find inspiration and muse.) Overall though; I love this article, because it reminds one of the little things they forget about to form good writing.

  22. dclucas

    This was so helpful. I have received the “write in a linear way” advice more than once and that is not how my brain works when I write. What a relief! This means so much. It was just what I needed to hear at just the right time.

  23. jessiejohnson

    My favorite is number two. Knowing that there is nothing wrong with having two different novels from two different genres going at the same time actually helps especially when you feel bogged down in one and feel stuck you can go to another and this gives you a chance to come back and look at the issue of the previous novel with a fresh view and see something you missed or if you need to do research then at least you are still writing and not feel guilty because you feel like you wasted a lot of time that could have been spent writing. Thanks for this great advice.

  24. lsteadly

    Thanks for the great tips, especially #1. I am currently working on the first draft of my novel and am finding it hard to pull the last quarter together. The first three quarters I wrote in chapter order but now I am finding it hard to stick to that process. I find that working on poetry helps keep my word play sharp so that when I do come back to the book I don’t feel so blocked. And now I don’t feel as if I am doing things wrong while I play around with the ending before actually writing to it!

  25. susancfoster

    Great article! I really liked the one about not writing linearly. I believe that’s been hanging me up–if I write scenes as I think of them and worry about putting them together later it might help.

    1. smleonetti

      You are so right about having two projects going at the same time…I just finished one big one and although I have several things in my “future projects” file I really wish I had one already started just to get me focused! (Or at least at my desk!)

  26. aprilgc

    I’ve been giving some of this advice – particularly #1 – to young writers. I’ve shared this link with them. Maybe the words will garner more respect coming from “an expert” than from “Mom”.
    Thanks for the information (and the vindication).

  27. Homerunlover

    I’ve read plenty of books about writing and publishing but you’ve summed up all of those volumes in a single post. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great ideas in those books. Your advice, though, was put so succinctly and without a bunch of BS in between. Now I need to take some of your suggestions and put them into action. Thank you!

  28. L. Henderson

    Great tips, thanks. I never get tired of being reminded of the things I already know, and inspired by the things I don’t to put my butt in a seat and write!


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