7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tia Nevitt

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Tia Nevitt) 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.


Guest columnist Tia Nevitt has a book review blog
at Debuts & Reviews, and her reviews appear at
Fantasy Literature. She is a published freelancer
now working on novels. 

1. Write another novel.
Once you’ve finished that first novel, spend some well-deserved time celebrating, but then take an honest look at it. Is it really good enough? Don’t do what I did. I spent years trying to make my first novel good enough. When I finally thought it was ready, I sent it to a single agent, who rejected it, after which I stopped trying. Deep down, I knew my writing wasn’t ready. Find readers for critiques. Don’t go to family and friends. They’ll tell you what you want to hear, which is never satisfying, or even helpful.

2. Cut with impunity. Often, you have to write a lot of words just to figure out which words you need to keep. And this isn’t a bad thing—it’s necessary. Want proof? Go grab a DVD of your favorite movie and select the Deleted Scenes from the Bonus Features section. Listen to the director describe the scene. He’ll say something like, “We realized we just didn’t need it.” Writers need to do the same thing. You had to write it, but it doesn’t have to stay in the story. Be grateful you didn’t spend six figures filming that scene. Just cut it out and paste it into a “Deleted Scene” folder in case you need it later.

3. When you think it’s final, print it out. Yes, I know. It seems like such a waste of paper. But you really need to see it on the printed page. It is so easy to gloss over problems on a computer screen. It will astonish you how many problems you will see, especially when you also . . .

4. Read it aloud. Yes, the whole thing. Armed with a red pen—or some other color that stands out—take that printout you created above, put it on a clipboard, and read the entire novel out loud. Even if you’re all alone. You engage different areas of the brain when you read aloud, and you will hear problems you didn’t see when you read it on the computer.

5. Writer’s block is a warning. When I get writer’s block, I try to rethink the scene I’m writing. I ask: Am I heading in the right direction here? Often, the answer is no. My muse is warning me that something is wrong. At this point, I often set it aside and work on another project. Usually I can come back to it with a fresh approach or renewed enthusiasm—and the answer to my problem.

6. Probe character motivations. If you have to convince yourself that your character’s motivations make sense, they probably won’t make sense to a reader. I’m brutal about this, both as a reviewer and as a beta reader. Your characters need good reasons for doing what they do. Don’t have them do stupid things just to make the plot work, unless you’re going for humor. Your readers will want to tear pages out in frustration.

7. After you write the ending, rethink the beginning. We all spend a lot of time thinking about that perfect opening. But leave that for later. Just get it started, get going, and get to the end. Odds are, you’ll end up with plot threads that you’ll have to weave back into the beginning anyway. Once the entire story is down, it’s easier to figure out the point where the actual story begins. One of my agented critique partners ended up trashing her opening and rewriting it, and that was the novel that got her an agent.


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8 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tia Nevitt

  1. Katie Lovett

    This is all good advice. Three and four are two especially important ones which people don’t do a lot of the time. It’s amazing how many things you can see when you print the ms and read it out loud that you never notice reading it silently from the screen.

  2. Tia Nevitt

    My next door neighbor turned out to be an excellent critiquer. My best friend? Not so much. She never seemed to get that I wanted to hear what she thought. My husband’s pretty good, too. Those are the only people in my personal life who have read my stuff.

  3. Deborah Blake

    Great job! I agree with all of these, with only a tiny exception–some of us are lucky enough to have friends and family who are not only good writers, but good critiquers as well (brutal, in other words). If you have folks like that, you might as well take advantage of them! But I agree, it is also good to get non-biased input as well.


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