Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell

show don't tell

Show don’t tell — what does that mean?

The first time I heard the advice “show, don’t tell,” I was young and it confused me.

Show what? Isn’t writing all about telling a story?

At the time, I shrugged it off as some kind of mysterious double-talk, but the phrase kept popping up: show, don’t tell.

It rolled off my teachers’ tongues. I spotted it in books and articles on the craft of writing. A couple of times, it appeared in red on my papers with an arrow pointing to a specific sentence or paragraph. Then I took a poetry class and had a big aha moment where show, don’t tell became abundantly clear. Read More

Writing Tips: Do It Anyway

writing tips do it anyway

Writing is hard; do it anyway.


From a distance, writing looks like one of the easiest jobs in the world. You get to set your own hours. You’re not tied to a place of employment. And you spend your days making up stories.

However, writing is anything but easy. It can be thrilling, exhilarating, daunting, and exhausting. Sure, sometimes it’s easy. But sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes you think you’re not cut out for it. Sometimes you want to give up.

But you do it anyway. Read More

Talent Isn’t Everything


How far will talent take you?

Every writer hopes for talent, but what is talent, exactly?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary offers several definitions:

  • a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude.
  • general intelligence or mental power: ability
  • the natural endowments of a person

Talent gives people an edge or a head start. With talent, you can learn faster and perform better. Success isn’t guaranteed, but it’s within reach.

In writing, we see a variety of talents. Some authors are natural storytellers. Others have a way with words. Some are fast learners who quickly pick up new writing skills without a lot of effort. Some are simply good at organizing and communicating their thoughts, ideas, or knowledge in writing.

However, I’ve never encountered a writer who was born with the ability to whip out a brilliant piece of writing without years of learning, practice, or dedication.

Some aspects of writing simply must be learned.

Read More

How to Defeat Writer’s Block

writers block

Let’s diagnose and defeat writer’s block!

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”

However, I have come to believe that in most cases, writer’s block is a symptom, not a condition.

Before we can cure writer’s block, we have to diagnose it.

Writer’s block is almost always presented as some mysterious disease. A writer sits down to work and nothing happens. The ideas are gone. The words don’t come. It must be writer’s block!

At times, writers certainly lose their inspiration or face challenges that prevent them from working. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call this writer’s block. What I am saying is that in my experience, there’s usually some underlying cause, and it’s often something that’s easily remedied. Instead of blaming our inability to work on a vague condition, we can figure out what’s really preventing us from writing and fix the real problem. Read More

Interviews with Authors Are Packed with Writing Wisdom

interviews with authors

Get writing wisdom from interviews with authors.

You don’t have to search far to find creative writing tips. There are tons of books, websites, and magazines that will let you in on the secrets of creativity and good, strong writing.

But if you want the inside scoop on what it takes to be a successful author, wouldn’t it be best to get it straight from the source–from a published author, an agent, or the editor of a major publication or publishing house?

These experts can share proven techniques that will help us improve our writing, get our work in front of an audience, and build a readership. Read More

How to Prioritize Your Writing Ideas

prioritize writing ideas

Prioritize your writing ideas.

There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.

Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite magazine? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on.

Other days, we just can’t find any inspiration. Read More

A Few, Good Writing Tips to Keep You on Your Toes

good writing tips

A few good writing tips to keep you on your toes.

Have you ever gotten stuck in a writing project, and just when your frustration reached its peak, you heard some bit of sage advice that helped you see how to move forward?

There aren’t many writing problems that a few good writing tips can’t solve. Whether you need to develop your voice or use fewer clichés, quick tips can contain exactly the wisdom you need.

I keep a file of quotes by authors so I can refer to their expertise when I need it. I also have several books, notebooks, and other documents filled with writing tips and techniques, and I like to review these every so often to see what I need to bring into my own work. In many cases, these tips are just quick reminders of all the lessons I’ve learned before.

A Collection of Good Writing Tips

As we develop our writing skills, we learn tons of concepts. From grammar to storytelling techniques, literary devices to poetry forms, there is so much to learn that one can become overwhelmed. A good list of writing tips summarizes complex lessons into digestible pieces of advice that keep you on your toes lest you forget or neglect the guidelines for good writing.

Here are some of my favorite tips and reminders:

  • Find your best writing tools and spaces. Are you more creative when you wield a pen? Do you get more writing done at your computer? Does your imagination run wild at night or do you get your best work done in the morning hours? Would you rather curl up on the couch with your project or sit straight and alert at a desk?
  • Hold yourself accountable. When was the last time you actually wrote anything? Do you keep track? Do days go by before you realize you haven’t written a word or do months go by? Find a system to keep yourself writing regularly.
  • Embrace and develop your voice, the unique way you string words and sentences together.
  • Are you a writer or a storyteller? Writers know how to use their most important tools (grammar and language). Storytellers spin tales. You can be one or the other, or you can be both.
  • Follow your heart. Don’t write for the market or for your friends and family. Figure out what ignites your passion, and then figure out how to translate that into a story, poem, or essay.
  • Set some goals. In a decade or two, you can fill boxes with notebooks and journals or cram your hard drive with documents, but to what purpose? What do you want to accomplish with your writing?
  • Seek out your heroes. Which poems and stories move you? Whom do you admire? Which writers do you want to emulate? They are your mentors.
  • Read like a fiend.
  • Mix and mingle with other writers. They are your best support system.
  • Make writing a priority. If you didn’t write anything today, review the day and figure out what you could have skipped in order to make time for writing.
  • Mix your media. Good stories and poems are hiding everywhere. Writers often look to other writers for inspiration, but you can glean inspiration from musicians, filmmakers, painters, and other artists too. The Internet is jam-packed with sources of inspiration: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Google image search are all good places to start.
  • Stop trying to be original and just be yourself.
  • Critique other writers’ work, but don’t judge other writers. Embrace critiques and reviews when someone takes the time to issue feedback on your writing.
  • Support the literary community. What kind of writer doesn’t buy books, leave positive reviews of stories they love, or share and promote their fellow writers’ best work?
  • Put it out there. Many writers struggle just to put their words in front of an audience. Start by sharing with trusted friends. Then take a workshop. Join a writers’ group. Start submitting your work to literary journals. Finally, give the world your book.
  • Read what you want to write. If you want to write with great skill, then read writers who are skilled. Read in the genres and forms that you aspire to.
  • But read beyond your genre and past your skill level. Don’t limit yourself.
  • Be an active user of the dictionary and thesaurus. Become a fact checker. Use research and trusted resources to make sure your work is credible and accurate.
  • Get to know your audience. There’s a difference between writing for the market and identifying your audience and writing for them.

Do little bits of writerly advice ever help you over a hurdle? Do you have any good writing tips to share? Are you stuck in your own writing slump? What has pulled you out of a slump in the past? Share your writing tips and experiences by leaving a comment.

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

Good Grammar and Bad Manners: How to Handle Writing Mistakes in Public

writing mistakes in public

Writing mistakes in public.

I’m a writer, but before I’m a writer, I’m a human being. And as a human being, sometimes I make mistakes.

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes — some big, some small. Today I want to talk about what happens when we, as writers, make a mistake in our work: a typo, an incorrectly structured sentence, or a misspelling.

When writers make mistakes like these, it can be embarrassing. Occasionally when I’m going through old posts here at Writing Forward, I’ll come across some typo or mistake and I’ll fix it.

I do everything I can to ensure that this happens as rarely as possible; I proofread everything I write from my blog posts to my comments, tweets, and e-mails. But sometimes mistakes slip past. Read More

The Only Two Writing Tips You’ll Ever Need: Read and Write

writing tips read and write

Read and write!

I love collecting writing tips. You never know when you’re going to stumble across a golden nugget of wisdom that will make your writing richer and more vibrant. One of the reasons I started this website was so that I could share the many valuable tips that I’ve acquired over the years. I figure that if some bit of advice helped my writing, it’ll probably help other people’s as well.

But writing tips are funny things. What works for me might not work for you. Maybe you’re naturally inclined to show rather than tell whereas I need someone to say, “show, don’t tell.” Or maybe you only write nonfiction and have no use for tips on creating believable characters or riveting plots. Maybe you only write far-out, abstract poetry and could care less about good grammar.

We writers are a varied bunch with different needs, goals, and standards. But we all do have one thing in common: we write.

And because we all write, there are a couple of writing tips that apply to each and every one of us. In fact, I’d argue that there are just two things that every writer absolutely must do in order to succeed.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Stephen King’s statement is one of my favorite quotes on writing. It should be repeated often and expressed in as many ways as possible.

Writers Must Read

Writing begins with reading. It is through reading that we learn how to tell stories, how to choose words and craft sentences. The books we read will inform and inspire the books we’ll write, and there’s a lot we can learn from the authors who have gone before us. How can we write if we don’t read?

If you’re not well read, it will show in your writing. More than once, I’ve reviewed written work and asked the author, “Do you read much?” Almost always, the answer is exactly what I guessed. If the writing flows effortlessly, the writer reads a lot. If the writing is jagged, confusing, and amateurish, then the writer is not a big reader.

Can you imagine a musician who never listens to music? A film director who doesn’t watch movies? These are the arts. You’re in it because you love it, with fierce passion. You’re going to need that passion if you want to get anywhere, and you’re going to have to be immersed in the art to which you aspire. For writers, that means reading. Lots and lots of reading.

And if you read voraciously, you’ll reap the benefits:

  • You’ll naturally grow your vocabulary and pick up better language skills.
  • You’ll learn new information or be entertained by books, articles, and stories.
  • You’ll be able to speak intelligently about literature and writing.
  • You’ll observe a cacophony of styles and your own voice will emerge.
  • Your grammar, spelling, and punctuation will improve drastically, especially if you have high reading standards.

There are many more writerly perks that come from reading. Can you think of any to add?

Writers Write

It goes without saying, yet it has to be said again and again: If you want to be a writer, you must write. But how much must you write?

According to neurologist, Daniel Levitin, to become a true master at anything, one must put in 10,000 hours:

“In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years… No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.“ – Daniel Levitin

Allow me to repeat the time it takes: 10,000 hours — three hours per day (or 20 hours per week) for ten years. That’s to become a master writer. Maybe you just want to be a published writer. In either case, you’re going to have to do a whole lot of writing. Take a few minutes today to think about how many hours you’ve spent writing (or reading, or both). A few hundred? A few thousand? Maybe you’re halfway there. Maybe you’ve passed the finish line and just need to start putting your work out there.

There’s no point sitting around daydreaming about becoming a writer, thinking someday I’ll write that novel. Someday is here. Someday was yesterday. It’s today. And it’s tomorrow. Someday is right now. So start writing — today and every day.

Learn from the Masters

Stephen King is an accomplished writer. He has sold an estimated 300-350 million copies of his novels and short stories. Many of his works have been adapted for film and television, including Carrie, Cujo, The Green Mile, and “The Body,” (which was made into the popular film Stand By Me). Mr. King has won numerous awards and received much critical acclaim. The sheer volume of his output is astounding. His success is vast, perhaps unparalleled. In fact, he’s one of the most successful writers of all time — if not the most successful.

Stephen King is exactly the kind of writer from whom the rest of us need to learn. Not just because he’s published (and published a lot), but also because his fans adore him, Hollywood loves him (writers make big bucks when they sell film rights), and of course, there are all those awards and all that acclaim. But most importantly, Stephen King succeeded in doing what the rest of us writers strive to do — he makes a living as a writer.

Guess what writing tips Stephen King offers the rest of us? (Hint: watch the video below to find out).

Other Writing Tips

Like I said, I collect writing tips. I have a whole bunch of them clanking around inside my head. Some have been vital; others I could have done without. I will keep collecting these tips and sharing them with you, but none of them will be as powerful as read and write.

So keep taking notes. Look for new ways to get inspired, fresh approaches to language and story. Jot down all your favorite writing tips and tricks in your journal. Use the ones that feel right and make your writing better.

But if you don’t do anything else, keep reading and writing.

Do you read every day? How often do you write? What other writing tips have been useful to you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.


Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

10 Tips for Writing a Book

tips for writing a book

Tips for writing a book.

Writing a book is a big deal. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you want to do it right, which means creating something that people will find entertaining or useful and then polishing, marketing, and promoting it.

It all begins with an idea — a concept. It might start with a few characters or an intriguing plot you’ve dreamed up. It might start with an audience you want to write for or a topic you want to explore.

Many writers start writing as soon as an idea strikes. This approach works for some people, but for most of us, it’s a road to nowhere. If we attempt to write a book every time we get a good idea, we constantly leave previous ideas half-finished. If we don’t stop to think about whether the idea is viable, we may get in over our heads or write a book that’s unpublishable or unsalable due to market saturation or lack of interest.

Tips for Writing a Book

There is no right or wrong way to write a book. Ultimately, each author has to figure out how to tackle the project, and what works for one writer might not work for another. But there are some simple techniques and strategies that many authors have found useful, and there are steps involved that are essential if you intend to bring your book to a reading audience.

These tips for writing a book are designed to help you think about your project before you commit to it and to outline some key tasks that must be tackled in the process of writing a book from concept to publication.

1. Start with a Concept
You might have ten great ideas every day or just one brilliant idea in a decade. The trick is knowing which writing ideas to develop. Before fully committing to a book-length project, make sure it’s the right one for you, something you’re passionate about and can spend months or years cultivating.
2. Identify Your Audience
There’s a difference between knowing your audience and writing for a market. If you love Star Trek, maybe you should write science-fiction novels; it would be logical to assume that your audience will consist of Star Trek fans, and since you are a Star Trek fan, you’ll automatically understand your audience. But don’t look at the best-seller list, determine that paranormal romance is all the rage, and set out to write a book in the genre just because you think it’s hot right now. There’s a strong likelihood that by the time you finish your book, the fad will have passed and everyone will be reading historical war stories. Write what you love, and know your genre.
3. Test Your Ideas with an Outline
An outline can be as simple as a few key bullet points or so elaborate that it spans dozens of pages. Many writers don’t use outlines at all. Outlines are like road maps; they provide you with a sense of direction, a route you can use as you draft your book. You have to decide if you work better with outlining or discovery writing. Try both and find what fits.
4. Decide How to Publish
You might wait until after you finish your book before deciding how to publish (self-publishing or traditional publishing), but there are benefits to giving it consideration beforehand. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you may be able to get a book deal (and an advance) before you start writing if you go with traditional publishing. If you’re writing a novel and plan to self-publish, you might want to learn about the self-publishing process while you’re writing your book.
5. Draft Your Book
While it’s true that you’re ultimately writing for an audience, most writers agree that as you write your first draft, you should actually write it for yourself. Look at this way: you too are a reader. If you write a book that you’d love to read, others will love to read it too.
6. Think About Marketing
If you write a book, people will read it, but only if you tell them about it first. Marketing is all about making sure people are aware of your book. This is when you find your audience. All authors have to engage in marketing. If you have the resources, your involvement may mean hiring a PR agency to handle the bulk of the marketing for you. But most of today’s authors find that they have to spend more time marketing than writing.
Bonus marketing tip: you can start building a marketing platform long before you finish your book (maybe even before you start writing it).
7. Revisions: Edit and Proofread
Don’t send your first draft to anyone. That includes beta readers, agents, and editors. Don’t even show it to your mom. You might need to rewrite entire chapters. You might need to rearrange relationships in a novel or lop off some of your favorite scenes. Your job is to produce the best book possible. So take the time to make changes that improve your work before you let anyone else lay eyes on it.
8. Engage Beta Readers and Apply Feedback
Once you’ve got a book that you think is ready for readers, send it out to some trusted friends. The best beta readers are well read. Try to find readers who are familiar with your genre. Get people with exquisite grammar skills. Invite their feedback. Ask them how you can make your book even better. Then weigh their suggestions and implement the ones that will improve your book.
9. Polish Your Final Draft
Once your manuscript is in good order, go through and give it a final polish. Nobody likes to read a book peppered with typos. There is an audience that won’t even notice your typos, but you’re not doing them any favors by delivering a faulty product. If you self-publish, then you’ll want to bring in a professional editor during the polishing stages.
10. Publish and Sell
Writing a book is only the first half of your first mission as an author. Once you get it written, you have to get it published. And then you have to sell it. Do some research on traditional and self-publishing. Look into marketing strategies for authors. Prepare for the ride, because it will be a wild one.

Think of these tips for writing a book as general guidelines. Take what you need or what you think will be useful for your particular project.

Got any additional tips for writing a book? Share your insights and experiences with writing a book-length manuscript by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection