100 Writing & Publishing Tips from the 2018 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

The 2018 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference was a roaring success. Literary agents, veteran and debut authors, editors, publishers and more shared their greatest writing tips on improving your craft, getting published, and building your writing career.

In case you didn’t make it, or you didn’t manage to catch a session you were dying to attend, we’ve selected 100 of the greatest writing tips, quotes and publishing snippets—and even narrowing it down to 100 was a serious challenge!—from the speakers who graced us with their knowledge and experiences. Please share any of these that resonate with you with the hashtag #WDC18 on Twitter and Instagram. (Extra special thanks to Lucas Horn, Jack A. Ori, Bob Eckstein and Porter Anderson for helping document the conference in real time on social media!)


Wish you had been there? Don’t miss these two upcoming Writer’s Digest events:

indieLAB

indieLAB is an interactive gathering for entrepreneurial authors, freelance writers and independent publishers seeking to develop a publishing strategy, build a platform, grow an audience and get paid for their work. Join us in Cincinnati September 29–30, 2018.

Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference

Writer’s Digest returns to the West Coast with many of publishing’s most respected and knowledgeable writers, agents, and editors to guide you through the process of writing, editing, and publishing your novel. Hone your craft, refine your characters, explore the future of publishing, and get the tools you need to advance your career as a successful novelist. Join us in Pasadena October 26–28, 2018.


And without further ado, let’s get to learning! Note: The following tips include some that have been paraphrased. Those are listed without quotations.

100 Writing Tips from Authors, Agents and Editors at the 2018 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

Motivational & Inspirational Quotes for Writers

“Everyone told me I would spend a lot of time writing, but no one told me how much time I’d spend learning.” – Cassandra Clare

“Write without restraint. It’s important to not censor yourself. People will censor the sh*t out of you… and there’s more truth in fiction than there is in nonfiction. You have to be committed to that truth.” – Walter Mosley

“The way the author’s imagination merges with the real world makes the reader see it in a different light. … What are you drawn to again and again? What seems to have a deeper meaning, in life as well as in fiction?” – Jeff Vandermeer

“Everyone’s first pages are awful. Just hold your nose and write. Today’s sh*t is tomorrow’s compost.” – Hallie Ephron

“One of the most crucial pieces of advice I give to authors is to care less. … The problem is, if you think about any one thing very hard, it gets difficult. … Writers put too much of themselves into that first book.” – Chuck Wendig

“We will never become that perfect idea [of a writer]. … The writer we imagine ourselves is somewhat less wonderful than the author that we can become.” – Walter Mosley

“A writer’s imagination can enter into any world and recall a variety of emotional experiences. –William Kenower

“Do the things you love as much as you can, as long as you can. Respect your imagination, respect the idea of a writing life, and make it your own.” – Jeff Vandermeer

“Every time a novel is read, it’s a different book.” – Walter Mosley

“Storytelling is forever an act of disrupting the status quo.” – Chuck Wendig

“If you approach your novel with confidence and humility, it might even teach you something.” – Walter Mosley

“Rage against mediocrity.” – Steven James

“A writer’s imagination can enter into any world and recall a variety of emotional experiences.” – William Kenower

72 of the Best Quotes About Writing

Writing Process Tips

“Never get up from your computer until you’ve made a note about what you want to write next. That way you can slide right back in.” – Jane K. Cleland

You should aspire to write every day, but you have to give yourself permission to not write if it isn’t productive or sustainable for you sometimes. Not writing every day doesn’t mean you don’t have passion. – Jeff Somers

“Treat your writing like a relationship and not a job.” – Jessica Strawser

“Don’t let research be an excuse for not writing, but do use it to enrich your work.” – Chris Stollar

“Outlining is done through the conscious mind. Your conscious mind is not designed for creativity. It’s designed for order. It’s the navigator. All the great writing happens in the subconscious mind—the unfiltered child.” – Jacob Krueger

“Write in 10-minute increments: Write a paragraph, revise and write another. Then you have a page.” – Jane K. Cleland

“The challenge is keeping the balance between writing and knowing that your writing will be read (and critiqued) by others.” – William Kenower

Writing Tips on Craft & Writing Better

“The description of sensations and emotions should as often as possible be based in the physicality of the person experiencing these sensations and emotions. Because we all experience things differently. … The novel is more experiential than it is informational. Most of what [readers] discover is through the filters of what’s shown.” – Walter Mosley

“We must navigate a multiplatform world. Story worlds need to be resonant, expansive, engaging, aspirational and unique.” – Jeff Gomez

“Suspense is ‘I’m afraid to look away,’ while horror is ‘I’m afraid to look.'” – Steven James

“Allow yourself more flexibility than ‘Write what you know’—instead, write what you want to know.” – Jeff Somers

“The purpose of your novel is to show by intention how deeply you can go into your mind.” –Walter Mosley

“A thing is seen best against its odds. If you’re marketing a book about possibility, you have to show how things are impossible first.” – William Kenower

“Know more about your world than you reveal to your characters.” – Ann Vandermeer

“Comedy is truth that no one has noticed yet.” – Steven James

When writing in third person POV:

  • Stick to third person limited—meaning you’re in their head.
  • Only use one POV per scene.
  • Try to limit yourself to five POV’s per book.
  • Your main protagonist should be the main POV character.

Note: You can break the rules but BE READY and know what you’re doing!

– Paula Munier

[When doing research for fiction,] start by identifying subject matter experts and do your best to get an interview w with them—it’s a fun way to research and get real info. (And make sure you introduce yourself honestly. It can take courage and self-confidence, but it makes sure everything is above board.) – Chris Stollar

 

Character Development Tips

“You want your characters to be learning, and struggling, and growing.” – Jordan Rosenfeld

“Have your character make tough choices they would rather ignore. We don’t know a character’s true personality until the sh*t hits the fan.” – Whitney Davis

“You risk undermining reader engagement by killing off a point of view character in the first chapter.” – Steven James

“In memoir, you are the hero and the narrator. You must demonstrate how you have changed throughout the story, much like a fictional character arc.” – Rachael Herron

“If you find yourself creating extra characters, ask yourself why? Are you filling in issues for other characters? Or is the new character accomplishing something?” – Jeff Somers

“Add conflict between allies too, not just with antagonist. Happy characters with happy lives are boring.” – Jordan Rosenfeld

“Characters poop plot. The say and do things to fix their problems and, in turn, excrete plot.” – Chuck Wendig

“Ground emotional experiences in your character’s body—for example, sensory experiences—when character is afraid.” – Jordan Rosenfeld

“Why do we like stories? Why do we care about stories? … Characters are why we come to a story and stay in a story. … You give every character a problem. The best thing you can do with that problem is make it totally relatable.” – Chuck Wendig


Online Course – Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters


 

Storytelling, Plot & Pacing

“Think of external conflict as a DRAGON (seen, heard, felt) and internal conflict as a DEMON (worry, doubt, fear). Incorporate both in your manuscript, especially in the middle to liven up the pacing.”  – Whitney Davis

“Keeping narrative time—understanding a reader’s perception of time in a story—is vital when working with multiple points of view.” – Steven James

“The writer creates herself by telling us a story about someone else.” – Walter Mosley

 

“Does [the plot] force your character to choose or leave something behind? If your protagonist can easily go back to the life they lived before it isn’t strong enough.” – Jordan Rosenfeld

Consider ending chapters with forward movement—a discovery, a decision or a revelation—instead of relying on a cliffhanger that de-escalates when the scene resumes. – Steven James

“Flashbacks immediately put the story in reverse. Watch that you don’t overdo it.” – Paula Munier

Theresa “Soni” Guzman Stokes from Historical Writers cited advice for when you get stuck from George R.R. Martin: “Throw in another dragon.” That is, toss in something unexpected and see what it does to your story.

“Story is what happens. Plot is the structure of revelation.” – Walter Mosley

“On page 280, I’m bored. So I burn someone’s condo down.” – Jane K. Cleland

The Anatomy of Plot Twists using TRDs (twist, reversal, dangerous moment):

  • Take an incident in unexpected direction
  • Take it in the opposite direction
  • Add a tense or dangerous moment

– Jane K. Cleland

“If readers can think of a believable way that things can get worse and they don’t, they will be disappointed.” – Steven James

“You are the maze maker. The character wants a straight hallway, it’s a writer’s job to set up the walls. … When the protagonist’s problems and the other characters’ problems overlap in the maze, that’s conflict.” – Chuck Wendig

Revision & Editing Tips

Six cycles of revision:

  • 1st draft: Get the story down on the page
  • 2nd draft: Deep dive—review for story idea, structure, character, narrative thrust
  • 3rd draft: Revise for continuity
  • 4th draft: Revise for voice
  • 5th draft: Revise for language
  • 6th draft: Revise for grammar, spelling, and punctuation

– Paula Munier

How do you know what you’re reading is any good?

  1. Strong characters
  2. Fascinating plot
  3. Compelling conflict

– Ann Vandermeer

Working with Editors & Designers

“Sometimes, an editor notices an issue, but they won’t be able to tell you how to fix it. Sometimes, you’re going to have to disagree with your editor, but that’s OK. However, don’t waste your time on editors who are rejecting your writing.” – Anne Vandermeer

“When working with a designer:

  1. Send them examples of designs in your genre & images you like, but
  2. Let them do their work, and
  3. Expect to go through several rounds of edits. Don’t settle on a design you don’t like: you’re the publisher.”

– Chris Stollar

“When you’re self publishing, you need an objective editor. Do not pay your mom, do not pay your friends. Work with someone who is reputable and known.” – Chris Stollar

“Every time I receive a submission, I treat it like a first date. I give it the benefit of the doubt. I want to connect. And it all has to do with the character.” – Ann VanderMeer

Tips for Querying & Pitching Your Work

“I want to know if there’s something awesome about you that’s relevant about you.” Are you a scifi author who worked for NASA? Include that in your pitch. – Chantelle Aimée

“When pitching, don’t say there’s nothing out there like it. Embrace your comp titles. Know where you go on the shelf.” – Paula Munier

 

“A pass can be demoralizing, but that just means that wasn’t the right agent for you. Just keep kissing more frogs.” – Jeanne V. Bowerman

“If you can’t figure out what your character needs, it’s not a problem with the query, it’s a problem with the plot. … Getting plot on the page is the single biggest problem I see in query letters. What does your protagonist want, and what’s keeping her from getting what she wants?” – Janet Reid

“Don’t pitch or follow up with agents on social media unless they’re specifically looking for Twitter pitches (like #dvpit, etc).” – Tiffany D. Jackson

“If you disagree with your agent’s feedback, explain why you disagree and ask them to explain their rationale. Sometimes it will come down to sales or experience that you may not have.” – Jeff Somers

“Start your query with your protagonist’s name and what they want. Do that and you’ll be a cut above the rest.” – Janet Reid

Writing Community & Collaboration Advice

“People join writing organizations for community, survival and security, affiliation, leadership, achievement.” – Theresa “Soni” Guzman Stokes from the Historical Writers trade association

“Be a great collaborator if you are working with a designer. Knowing what you want helps you determine whether you like the design you get and work with the designer to achieve a shared objective.” – Carol Van Den Hende

“Find your community. We all want each other to succeed because it raises the profession up.” –  Christina Frey from the Editorial Freelancers Association

“Many writers belong to multiple organizations based on their individual needs and goals. Different organizations offer different benefits, tangible and intangible. Do your research.”  –Christina Frey from the Editorial Freelancers Association

Exploring Different Writing Markets & Forms

SHORT AND FLASH FICTION

 

“Short stories have to have a beginning, middle and end. A flash piece is about this moment right now, and is left on a resonant tone. … Flash fiction is an urgent message and not a throw away. It doesn’t have a story arc, it’s a meaningful moment… about emotion, movement, and resonance (a mic-drop moment).” – Windy Lynn Harris

“If you’re writing a novel, try writing a 100-word version to get at essence of story and you may be able to sell as microfiction.” – Windy Lynn Harris

Know your word counts:

  • Microfiction = 100 words or less
  • Flash = 100–1,000 words
  • Short = 1.000–20,000 words

– Windy Lynn Harris

PERSONAL ESSAYS

“The first step to marketing personal essay is to be honest with yourself. Make sure there is an internal story no matter how much you like the external story you are telling.” – Windy Lynn Harris

FREELANCE ARTICLES & COPYWRITING

“There are over 7,000 magazines in print in the US alone. Check out niche publications for writing opportunities.” – Kerrie Flanagan

“Organizations and marketing agencies are good sources for freelance copywriters. Also consider online networks but be careful of offers for super cheap work—make sure you are accepting offers where you are paid what you are worth.” – E.J. Wenstrom

“Hands-on exposure will bring you the maximum amount of detail, if you feel that you’re up to it.” – Lisa Gardner, via Chris Stollar

Freelance copywriting is the self-publishing of the business world. You are responsible for all aspects of your business. Consider this when deciding if this is for you. – E.J. Wenstrom

SCREENWRITING

“Go easy on ‘stage directions.’ Your screenplay is just the canvas, though it’s your story. The show’s team is going to create the work. This is part of what makes it so different from novel writing.” – Jeanne V. Bowerman

“Draft One is the ‘me’ draft. Dismiss the audience. Only care about you and your character. Is this something that makes you believe in it? Am I allowing character to make choices? Do NOT let your conscious mind in. Let go of all fear.” – Joseph Krueger

“A screenplay is a canvas for others to paint on. Let go of control. Directors, actors, costume designers, cinematographers and more will ‘touch’ your story. Let them. Collaboration brings out details you never imagined were there. Success in screenwriting hinges on building relationships and leaving your ego behind.” – Jeanne V. Bowerman

COMICS

“Find an artist via social media—particularly Instagram and DeviantArt. That artist is your co-creator; be prepared to share all rights.” – Joseph P. Illidge

“Assume your first comic will be self-published. Counter ‘No one knows who you are, you have no following’ with an original voice and idea.” – Alex De Campi

When breaking into comics, develop your own series bible. Start a webcomic—create one to two pages per week and develop a complete first issue before launching. – Joseph P. Illidge

“The comics industry needs new voices. If comics are to remain on the cutting edge, they have to reflect societal changes.”– Joseph P. Illidge

If a comics editor believes in your work and they become an advocate, that’s the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. It takes time to develop. “Editors want people who can tell amazing stories, deliver on schedule, are willing to do rewrites.” – Joseph P. Illidge

“Comics is a visual medium. Learning that visual language (cinematography) is critical. It’s the artists’ responsibility to determine the layouts, etc, but the writer has to understand that language when writing the script.” – Joseph P. Illidge

Writing Career, Platform & Business Tips

“Once you’ve done 2-3 interviews, put a media page on your website and link to the podcast episodes, guest posts, and interviews you’ve done.”  – Gabriela Pereira and Marielle Orff

“The more perspectives you can have of book culture and the book business, the more perspectives you’ll have of your writing career.” – Jeff Vandermeer

“You chose a subjective profession. If you want a right and wrong, stop and leave and be an accountant. But you’re never going to get a fan letter about doing a great tax return.” – Chantelle Aimée

 

“There’s the creative aspect of writing and the business aspect of writing. If your first book does well, be prepared for a series [especially as a sci-fi or fantasy author].” – Jenn Brissett

“Goals and plans in life are the most helpful to the most wildly eclectic among us. This kind of approach also takes away the distress of decision-making. ‘Do I veer off toward Z or stay focused on A?'” – Jeff Vandermeer

“Short story publication is a great way to build platform esp if you want to sell novel later.” –Windy Lynn Harris

When pitching podcasters to get [interviewed] on their show, cite recent interviews (to demonstrate that you know the show), explain what makes you different, and discuss what you’d like to talk about. – Gabriela Pereira and Marielle Orff

Navigating the Publishing Industry

“Librarians have become the new advocates of graphic novels. They’ve embraced them as a gateway to get younger readers into reading.” – Joseph P. Illidge

“Transmedia is not storytelling by committee. It is the process of conveying story through the artful and well planned use of multiple-media platforms.” – Jeff Gomez

 

“Publishers are scouting webcomics with audiences & unique stories to publish as graphic novels.” – Joseph P. Illidge

“Editors at [publishing] houses want you to write from your heart, not from the trends. Write what you love.” – Ann VanderMeer

And finally: “Writing advice is bullsh*t… but on the other hand, bullsh*t fertilizes.” – Chuck Wendig


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