11 Pieces of Writing Advice For the Stuck Authors
Writing advice is tricky.
Some people know what they’re talking about. Some don’t. Many will give you writing advice based on their experiences, but how can you be sure what worked for them will work for you?
Obviously, there’s no shortage of writing advice either. A lot of the tips you read and hear contradict each other. It’s hard to know who to trust and sometimes the sheer amount of information you have to wade through just leads to confusion and overwhelm.
What is an aspiring writer to do?
My #1 Piece of Writing Advice
Before I go into specific tips, let me leave you with one super-important thought to walk away with.
All the advice in the world isn’t a substitute for work.
See, the best way to deal with contradictory strategies is to…try them. I tried putting together an e-mail course once — didn’t work. I wrote two books — worked. To promote my work, I tried guest posting and publishing on Medium — both worked but to different degrees. I copied other writers styles, stole headlines, and studied the movements of my favorite writers.
After I wrote my first blog post, I was hooked. I never stopped writing after that. Half a decade or so later, I’m a successful writer. None of this would’ve happened, however, if I kept reading blog posts about writing instead of actually writing.
Tips are good. I use them all the time. But, remember, nothing will happen for you until you get off the advice treadmill and start implementing what you’re told.
Do This Immediately
If you haven’t already, sign up for a free account on Medium and start publishing your work there.
If you’re not familiar with Medium here’s how it works. Medium allows anyone to create an account and start publishing their work instantly. You get a profile that people can follow. The more follows you gain over time the better. It takes time to get traction, but once you do, your writing career can really take off.
And the best part? With their partner program, you can get paid for your writing. I talk about the Medium Partner Program in-depth here.
I personally know many people who make a full-time living solely through creating on Medium. I’ve seen dozens of writers get book deals. I’m not the type to brag about my own income, but thanks to Medium, I am happy with my financial status.
Here’s a guide I wrote about how to build a solid platform on Medium.
I love it so much because you can practice your skills, grow your platform, and get paid all at the same time.
Don’t Be Afraid of This
Aspiring writers have a really weird irrational yet at the same time justifiable fear.
The fear of judgment.
You want to put your work out there, but you’re afraid of criticism. Make no mistake about it, criticism and trolling suck. Someone just emailed me the other day telling me to “go crawl into a deep dark hole and never come out.” It doesn’t feel good.
In your case, though, you shouldn’t worry about haters because…you don’t have any.
Nobody knows who you are (yet). That’s the one major benefit of obscurity. You can practice without the attention and pressure that comes with having a platform. Then, once you have one, you’re battle-tested, which you’ll need to be because criticism is an inevitable part of being a writer.
Don’t Write This Way
Using unnecessary words doesn’t make you look smarter. No, I’m not saying you should never use adverbs or words with more than three syllables. Just don’t go out of your way to sound smart. Big words don’t impress people — getting big ideas across in a clear way does.
I get it. You like words. So do I. I’ll throw a two-dollar word in here and there, but I’d rather write crisp and easy to understand prose. Read Hemingway — he writes at a 4th-grade reading level and it’s beautiful.
Some bloggers will tell you that you must not use long sentences, paragraphs, etc. That’s not true. Just don’t go crazy with the jargon.
Be Patient and Impatient at the Same Time
“You overestimate what you can do in a year and underestimate what you can do in ten.”
Jon Morrow, the owner or top-writing blog smart blogger, once said it takes “4 to 6 years” to build a blog that generates real income. I read it and thought to myself, “Sounds good.”
That’s about how long it takes to get traction – 5 years. There’s your answer. Straight up. Keep that fact in the back of your mind and work relentlessly in the present. Fortunately for me, when I started writing I didn’t know you could make real money from it. I wasn’t seeing dollars signs or itching to be successful — I just wanted to write.
And write I did — about 80 blog posts in the span of 18 months for absolutely no money. Building that writing habit helped a ton when it was time to turn my writing into a career. Had I focused too much on the future, I wouldn’t have gotten the traction I needed to have a future.
If you don’t have the benefit of ignorance like I did, but your blinders on and forget about the money and fame for a while. Like Cheryl Strayed told a young writer in her book Tiny Little Things, just “write like a motherfucker” for a while. Be impatient about writing more. Be patient about making a career out of it.
Give Yourself Permission
If you write, you’re a writer. Period. Maybe you’re not a good one yet, but that’s okay.
I hate pretentious writers. I hate gatekeepers and tastemakers. I love people who make things happen. If you’re trying to make it happen, you’re already a winner in my book.
If you need someone’s permission to start taking your writing career seriously. I just gave it to you.
Write a Terrible Book (And Pat Yourself on the Back for it)
There’s a saying, “your first book is for the trash.”
My first book was a nice little experiment, but the writing wasn’t very good and I didn’t make a lot of money for it. If I had to go back in time, I’d write that bad book even sooner. Why? Writing a book gets the monkey off your back.
Some writers want their first book to be a hit and have an unblemished catalog. This can and does happen all the time, but think about the odds. Will that be you?
My favorite writer, James Altucher, wrote more than a dozen failed books. His 17th book — Choose Yourself — sold more than a million copies. Think anybody cares about his old failures now?
Learn the Definition of a “Good Writer”
A good writer is someone who writes the way they want to write while at the same time acknowledging their audience. They find a happy medium.
I prefer to write sharp and tight. My audience seems to like that. I use the style I prefer and I never pander to anyone, but I do recognize the taste of the people I’m talking to.
I don’t stubbornly write shit nobody wants to read. A lot of writers do and they genuinely wonder why they’re failing
A writing career comes at the intersection of what you want to write about and what people want to read. You have to get both right.
Don’t Get an MFA
People who want MFAs — or any credentials for that matter — are trying to play the status game.
“If I get an MFA and find an agent maybe Harper Collins will give me a book deal.”
The larger point here – the gatekeepers are gone. On top of that, they don’t even really know what they’re doing. All traditional publishers do is buy up a bunch of books hoping one out of every 10,000 will be the next Harry Potter.
If you want to get chewed up and spit out by the writing industry, drop 50k on an MFA and go try to get a book deal.
Cure Your “Hemingway Syndrome”
Are you suffering from Hemingway Syndrome? If you have any of the following symptoms, please slap yourself immediately:
- You have no writing experience, but aspire to write the next great American novel
- You’re judgemental of “bloggers” who, in terms of putting words on the page, can write laps around you
- You expect an audience to (through telepathy maybe?) stumble upon your work and bask in your glory. In other words, you refuse to market yourself
I made up my mind a long time ago on this. If I become the best writer I can be and get the most out of my skills I’ll be happy, even if I never hit the NYT list or even traditionally publish at all.
Fast forward, and I’m not Franz Kafka, but I get paid to do what I love every day. And it’s pretty awesome.
You could experience the same joy if you would just get over yourself.
Ask Yourself This Question For the Rest of Your Writing Career
I try to imagine the person on the other side of the page and answer this simple question:
What’s in it for me?
You can’t have a writing career without an audience. And you can’t have an audience if you don’t, at least partially, write for them.
Many aspiring writers just seem to have this mental defect where they can’t stop babbling about themselves and treating their blog as a journal.
Is that you?
Think about it. Why would anyone want to hear your personal ramblings? If you weren’t you and you read those ramblings, would you want to read them or would you click away?
If you really want to write a memoir you need to:
- Get very very good at storytelling
- Have an interesting life
- Learn how to connect your story with the readers’ emotions
I’ve read many biographies. While the stories in them aren’t about other people, you can relate to the stories and have something to take away from them.
If you don’t give readers something to take away and you only focus on yourself, not only are you selfish, but you’ll fail.
Keep Your Emotional Scales Even
That last point was a little confrontational, eh?
Look, being a successful writer or…a successful anything really involves treading the line between self-care and self-reliance. Sometimes you need to give yourself a mental break so you don’t burn out. Sometimes you’re just being lazy. Knowing the difference is key to gaining momentum in your writing career.
I’m just trying to be honest and help you. This is not going to be easy. But it also doesn’t have to be extremely difficult.
Follow these rules of thumb:
- Write more
- Write more
- Write more
You’ll know when you’ve maxed out your capacity. If you’re reading a blog post about writing advice, you definitely haven’t.
Down the road, you will need to take time off here and there. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In the beginning though, I tend to be pretty harsh to the aspiring writer because a lack of action is the #1 problem they have.
So, yeah, for now, maybe you should beat yourself up about your lack of progress a little bit. Not too much, but enough to turn your frustration into fuel for writing more often.