General Writing Advice

1. Write because you enjoy writing. Writing takes a certain amount of passion, whether as a hobby or a profession. If you don’t enjoy the act itself, your style may suffer.

2. Don’t plagiarize.

3. Write in a conversational tone. It keeps things interesting, as though you were speaking to a friend. How?

4. Read your work out loud.

5. Write for one person. Think of someone you’re close to, someone you admire, or someone whose opinion you value. Write for them.

6. Know your audience. Who will read your writing? Who do you want to read your writing?

7. Be your reader. See your work through your reader’s eyes. How would a reader view what you’ve written? What would be their first impression? Would your target audience understand and appreciate it?

8. Have a schedule, don’t be late. Whether it’s a certain time of day, a certain day of the week, or just a particular word count or page quota, create a schedule to help yourself remain motivated.

9. Have goals and benchmarks. While similar to maintaining a schedule, having goals, both short-term and long-term, allows you to see the road ahead. A certain number of articles or stories written, or a number of submissions made, will give you a target to shoot for and allow you to gauge your progress.

10. Emulate, but do not imitate. Who are your favorite authors, journalists, fellow writers? Know what has worked for them, but do not imitate them. Reach for the same heights, but don’t blindly follow in their footsteps. Make your own.

11. Write what you know, but understand that you know more than you think. Take the feelings of past experiences and apply them to your writing. If all you’ve ever done was live in a cave, you’re not limited to only writing about living in caves; you can write about isolation and darkness and an infinite number of things. Take what you know — your past experiences, your emotions, your life — and apply it to what you don’t.

12. Just write. Stop reading lists and wasting time. Get off Tumblr or Facebook or that weird writing forum you sometimes visit. The more time you spend reading about writing, the less time you spend actually writing.

The Technical Stuff

13. Use paragraphs effectively. Break lines of thought into separate paragraphs — it’s all about organizing your ideas and improving readability.

14. Limit the use of adverbs and adjectives. So, that fantastically ominous robot monkey with the gray, shiny arm can easily pick up the white, fluffy marshmallows and slowly put them into his hairy mouth. Stop using so many adjectives and adverbs.

15. Vary your sentences. Varying the length and style of your sentences will help the natural flow of your writing.

16. Stay positive. People don’t like negative things. The same goes for negative statements.

17. Use the active voice, but don’t forget the passive. The active voice is strong, but the passive voice still has its uses.

18. He said, she said. Dialogue attributions should be kept simple, so avoid putting adverbs after them. “He said happily” ruins the integrity of what should be a simple statement. If you mean for your character to be happy, make that obvious in either what he says, his actions, or in the context of the conversation. Avoid synonyms for the word said.

19. Make good use of transitions. Having good transitions in place maintains clarity and pacing. They link thoughts and make the progression of those thoughts seem natural.

20. Punctuate.

21. Know the rules so you can effectively break them. You have to know the technical aspects of writing. You have to know the rules. But know them so you can break them and use them to your advantage.

22. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Don’t worry about the technical aspects of writing while working on a first draft. Save that for your following drafts.

The Method

23. Avoid clichés. Nothing kills writing like a good cliché.

24. “Omit needless words.”

25. Be consistent. Don’t change your writing style halfway through your project. Your reader will have a particular expectation when they begin reading; don’t make them feel uncomfortable by switching gears for no reason.

26. Know that “the first draft of anything is always shit.” Don’t worry about the quality of your writing until you’ve begun revision. Otherwise, you’re just hindering yourself and blocking the natural writing process.

27. Pace yourself. Don’t burn yourself out, and try to make sure the pacing of your writing is remains natural.

28. Have a clear thesis. Know what you’re writing about, and then:

29. Get to the point. Don’t waste your readers’ time with frivolities. See #24.

30. Know your purpose, have a reason, and understand what you’re writing. Know why you’re writing. As Ernest Hemingway once said, clear, concise writing comes from the writer who knows what he’s writing about.

31. Show, don’t tell (unless you need to). If you tell your readers everything, you’re missing an opportunity to capture their imaginations. Show them how things are. Don’t hold their hands. Besides, what’s more fun? Having an awesome story told to you, or experiencing it yourself?

32. Stay interesting, be addictive. You want your readers to do more than just casually enjoy your story; you want them to need to read your story.

33. Know how it ends (if you can). It’s always good to know where you’re going. It’s not always possible, but it helps.

34. Be controversial. Make people angry. Question their beliefs. Say something unexpected. But don’t be controversial just for the sake of being controversial. Have a genuine goal (shining a light on an important but ignored issue, for example).

35. Make a statement. Be bold. Stand behind your writing and be ready to champion your thoughts.

36. Kill your darlings. Not everything you like about your writing is necessary, and not everything you like should stay.

37. Revise, but not immediately. After you finish your first draft, leave it. Don’t start revising right away. Give yourself time to forget, then return to edit.

Life

38. Read. Read everything. Never stop reading.

39. Ignore the people closest to you. They’ll only tell you what you want to hear.

40. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t listen to every piece of advice spit out at you. Try your best to avoid fads or trends, unless you intend to capitalize on them temporarily. Be strange, be different.

41. Take chances. Try something new. Be innovative. Ignore the consequences and the fear of criticism.

42. Experience the other side. Do something different. Do something you don’t like. Make yourself uncomfortable.

43. Don’t burn yourself out. If you find yourself hurting for ideas, walk away for a while. A stale writer produces stale writing.

44. Take a class. Learn something new.

45. Never stop learning. The more you know, the more you’ll have to share, and the more knowledge you’ll have to pull from when you need inspiration.

46. Avoid the circles. While critiques are a great way to see what’s wrong with your writing, and workshops will help you improve your craft, they are wholly unnecessary. How can you even trust the writing advice of your “colleagues” when all they’re doing is writing fan-fiction about vampires? Most won’t agree with this, but…

47. Get over yourself. Know that you’re probably not going to be the greatest writer in the universe, that your crappy poems are probably only going to be published in that one writing chatroom you hang out in at three in the morning, and that no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone trying to tear you down. Stop worrying about it and move on.

48. Outdo yourself. Try to improve on your past work. Strive to become better. If somebody points out a mistake and you agree, fix it and learn from it.

49. Be curious. When you were a kid, you didn’t inhibit yourself with the rules or restrictions placed upon you. You kept going. You were curious, and you should still be curious.

50. Ask “What if?” What if the sky was made of Jell-O? What if my turtle built a jet pack overnight, escaped from the aquarium, robbed a bank and now I’m being arrested as an accomplice? Always ask “What if?”

51. Don’t hesitate. There’s no reason not to write. Just do it.