A few weeks back, I posted 13 storytelling tips I have learned while writing my first novel. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means–I’ll save that label for when I get published and sell billions of copies–but, expert or no, I’ve learned some things.
This post continues the journey I started in that post, but I’ll focus on tips for you as an author this time. What follows are seven tips that all authors should keep in mind while writing their stories.
1. Don’t break the bubble
One of the first rules I learned while writing my novel is to never break the fictive bubble. Don’t do anything that forces the reader to stop and say, “Hey, that doesn’t make sense!” As you write, you need to keep the reader immersed in the story you are telling.
This rule covers many of the rules already mentioned in the earlier post, as so many things can break that bubble: bad dialogue, jumping to conclusions, or breaking writing rules without a purpose or story-telling reason. The less you require the reader to analyze the story while reading, the more they stay immersed in it.
2. The first draft is crap
No one writes a perfect first draft. Few even write a good one. One of the things that has helped me most as a writer trying to tackle the daunting task of writing a full-length novel is realizing that it doesn’t matter what I write–it’s going to suck. My job isn’t to write an incredible novel; it’s to write a novel and then edit it to be incredible. That seems far easier to achieve.
3. There is only one Steven King
No matter how hard you work, there will always be authors better than you. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You’ll always come up short in one way or another.
But guess what? You’re better at some things than many other authors–even mainstream published authors. We all have our talents and quirks that make us who we are. Stop trying to be someone or something you’re not, and just be you.
4. Success doesn’t happen overnight
Authors who are an overnight success spent months and years writing their first novels. In fact, many of them have several novels, and some twist of fate suddenly shot them into the limelight. The path to full-time writing is long and hard, and like almost everything, very few people reach the pinnacle of achievement. But many are very successful in the “lower” tiers.
It may take years for you to be an overnight success. The important thing isn’t how quickly you get there but the foundation you build to achieve it.
5. Be willing to listen to criticism
If you only surround yourself with yes-readers, you’ll never learn how you can improve. As much as we love positive feedback, we have to embrace constructive criticism, especially while seeking beta-reader feedback. Not all criticism is valid, but it should all be taken into consideration and its merits evaluated. Even the most accomplished writers don’t know everything. Don’t be so attached to your story that you’re not willing to listen to critique.
6. There are a hundred ways to do the same thing
No one has a monopoly on the “right” way to tell a story. Don’t look to mimic the writing styles or story ideas of those who have succeeded before you. Instead, find ways to be a unique voice in a competitive space. And when it comes to criticism, disregard it when necessary. Too often, that comes from a place of “you can’t do that.” Well, guess what, it’s your story, so yeah, you can do that!
7. You can’t cut corners until you’re a name brand
I admit it; I still read John Grisham. He hasn’t had a thrilling book in years, but he is still a solid storyteller. Do I wish he would go back to writing page-turners? Yep. But over the years, he’s gotten comfortable telling less complex stories.
Until you’re an established author, you have to be exceptional. No corner-cutting, no lazy writing, only proving to be the best you can be. After you’ve made your first millions, well, the rules are different at that point. Not that that’s an excuse to be mediocre, but they can get away with it.
There’s always more to know
Many books can and have been written about how to be a better author. These tips are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I suggest you consider these suggestions, advise you to heed this advice, and instruct you to follow these instructions.
Yeah, I’m done.