7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Douglas Brunt

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Douglas Brunt, author of the novel GHOSTS OF MANHATTAN) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Douglas 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. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).




Douglas Brunt is the author of the debut novel, GHOSTS OF MANHATTAN,
(Oct 2012, Touchstone), of which Kirkus said: ““With his noir-ish debut novel,
former broker Brunt delves not just into the mechanics of the financial crash,
but also the mindset that created the explosive state of affairs…. A smart shot
at the absurdity of Wall Street and the long fall that brought us all down.” 
Until 2011, Douglas was CEO of Authentium, Inc., an Internet security
company. He now writes full time. A Philadelphia native, he lives in New
York with his wife, FOX News Anchor Megyn Kelly (photo credit), and
their 2 kids. Find Douglas on Twitter or Facebook.


1. Don’t write more than 3 hours at a time. I write three hours in the morning, 9am – 12pm.  Other people are best late at night.  I try to go to the same place when I write, but that doesn’t matter much.  I’ve done lots of writing on planes and in cars, hotels.  The important thing is to write when your brain is at its best.  Work edits or do outside reading with the rest of the day.

(What a James Cameron movie can teach writers about how to start a story strong.)

Don’t worry about a daily word quota.  Stephen King has said he likes to get 2000 words each day.  That’s a mistake for most people.  Good for discipline but bad for a well written novel.  Three hours of creating is taxing on any brain and you should stop there.  Some days you may stop without any words at all.  It’s much easier to write new stuff the next day than to go through painful deletions of a day’s worth of crap you already wrote.

2. Try it again — without the adverbs (and never used “padded” as a verb)

Adverbs lead to overwriting.  Try taking them out and reading your prose again to see how it sounds.  Simple and less words are more powerful.

Also, I can’t stand the word ‘padded’ used as a verb.  It shows up in almost every spy novel now to tell us how someone walks undetected.  It stops me from reading more.

3. Don’t imitate anyone else’s writing style (except for the “no adverb” thing).

Don’t copy another writer’s style because that is not authentic and that’s how it will sound.  You develop your style over your whole life and through countless influences.  Don’t impose something artificial.  Style matters, but the real force of writing is ideas, not style.  And a writing style isn’t something you can just change like clothes anyway.  We’d all sound like Hemingway if that were the case.  Only Hemingway sounds like Hemingway so don’t try it.  Sound authentic instead.

I love reading Milan Kundera.  I read in English.  He writes in French and Czech.  I can’t comment much about his writing style because I’m reading the translator.  It’s his ideas I love to read.  Don’t worry too much about style.  Focus on your ideas and let your style be natural.

4. Find trusted readers and discuss.

Your spouse, a sibling, a friend need to read your drafts.  They have to be people unafraid to tell you what sucks.  For early feedback, that’s more important than professional editorial skill.  Most people know what sucks.

(How to Deal With Writing Critiques.)

5. Research.

Spend more time working before you write page one.  Then the story, at least parts of it, will feel as though it is writing itself.  Offer to take people to lunch or dinner to interview them.  People in power don’t say ‘No’ to two types: students and fiction writers.  They want to help us.  You can write off the meals as a business expense.

(How to Research a Novel.)

6. Keep the Story Moving.

I mean this in the physical sense, too.  I sometimes fall into dialogue and observations that are inert, the characters never leave their chairs.  Along with advancing the story, readers want to go places and see things.  They want to feel varied pacing and some urgency now and then.  Think of Tom Cruise sprinting (as my agent once advised), which he has done in every movie he’s ever made.

This isn’t high-literary advice.  It’s something basic.  Don’t bore the reader.

7. Get thick skin.

You get criticism from agents, publishers, family, friends and reviewers on Amazon.  Some is meant to help, some not.  Use what you can for good and ignore the rest, which is easier said than done.  I still read reviews on Amazon and get bothered by them.  I like all the fours and fives.  I’ve decided that after those, I prefer the ones.  I’m certain my book is not worth one star out of five, so I must have connected with those people in some way and that’s better than indifference.

GIVEAWAY: Douglas 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. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


The 90 Days to Your Novel 2-Pack is an inspiring
kit that will be your push, your deadline, and your
spark to finally, in three short months, nail that
first draft of your novel. The two items are
bundled together in our shop for a discount.



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16 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Douglas Brunt

  1. coachjim1024

    After quickly reading your 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far article, I plan on writing even more carefully to ensure I am correctly applying adverbs to my postings. I know it will not be easily accomplished but I am eagerly looking forward to the day I can loudly declare “I am a significantly better writer!”

  2. bitterbeer

    I just started trying to write my first novel. As I move forward I will keep in mind getting close friends to look over what I have written and then try and have thick enough skin to take the criticism as it comes. Thanks for the great article.

  3. donnachubb

    Great advice. I got quite a lesson from my editor when I published my book. Much you have already shared, especially the adverbs. One thing my editor emphasised was to avoid cliche’s at all cost. I didn’t realize I wrote with so many until I actually looked for them. Another thing he cautioned was to avoid exclamation points. Once again, I didn’t realize how many I used until I looked for them. And then there’s the … hated by all editors.

  4. vrundell

    Just wondering, can animals ‘pad’ around? Because that’s the only case I’d choose pad as a verb.
    Thanks for the advice. It’s hard to open one’s writing to criticism, but you’re right–everyone knows what sucks, to some degree. Better to find out sooner than later!
    Best of luck.

  5. DanielJayBerg

    I’m glad I’m not the only one bothered by characters padding here and there!

    Thanks for the comments about ideas vs. style. I hope to keep this in mind . . .

  6. simeon

    Great insight. I’ll admit it – in my novel, which is basically done, I use the word “padded”! You made me ashamed of it! But I hear your point – it kind of sticks out when I see the word elsewhere (which is probably why it stuck in my head and I decided to use it). I’ll have to take another look at my use of it…

    Good luck!

  7. beckalajo

    Thanks for your insights.
    I found #6 (Keep The Story Moving) is something that I need to be more aware of. My current project has my characters moving often and in different ways but as the writer, I need to make sure that is apparent to my reader.

  8. writernicholas

    I would have to disagree with you on your first point — I write best when I have all day to devote to it. Mind you, I have the scenes well planned ahead of time, which means that I’m not fishing for ideas as I go along. I stop for meal breaks, but just long enough to eat comfortably, not long enough to get distracted or out of “the zone.” It works pretty well for me (I wrote 6,000 words today, all which I’m pretty happy with), but it might not work for everyone.

  9. Andre

    I’m guilty of being wordy, so the no adverbs bit is a good reminder. I may just print it out and post it on the wall in front of my desk. The other important part about finding those trusted readers is that they’ll go beyond telling you what sucks and become some of your greatest assets of productivity. They’ll be the ones to constantly ask “how’s your novel coming?” or say “hurry up and finish because I want to know what happens next!”. Those little pushes (call it writer’s guilt) are what keep me going when I get stuck or feel like throwing the whole thing into the recycle bin.


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