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 collected over the years. I figure that if some bit of advice helped my writing, it’ll probably help others’ writing 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 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.
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?
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 over 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) [aff links]. 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.
- Stephen King quote: Goodreads