Eleven Pieces of Advice for New Writers

I’ve been in the writing sphere for many, many years now.  My first foray was in the dark ages, when figuring out how to get published involved trips to the library and hoping someone could give you advice or point to a book on where to get started (librarians, lovely as they are, didn’t always know, especially in small towns, and so…good luck, teenager). Those were the days of vanity presses as the alternative to the traditional industry.  Even before that, though, I used to boot up an old IMB, the sort with eye-searing green text that took several minutes to go away once you turned it off.  Oh, lordy, in those days, I wrote Street Fighter II stories, not knowing anyone else in the world did the same.  Fan-fiction.  We call that fan-fiction, kid-Noëlle.  And before that, I wrote and illustrated children’s books, despite still being one, and bound them by hand.  Before then, I used to accordion-fold paper and draw stories.  I have such vivid memories of doing that at my grandma’s house, and if I think about it too much, I’ll start to cry because I miss my grandma and want her back.

So I don’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t involved in writing books, or drawing them, as the case may be.  As a result of this lifelong immersion, I’ve learned a few things, and right now, I know several people who’ve decided that this summer will be their summer to start writing books. So I decide to doff my smart-sounding thinking cap, and to share some of what I’ve gleaned over many, many, many…too many years.  In the coming weeks, I’ll also share why fantasy is not a good genre for amateur writers, as well as advice for various genres and for tackling various issues prevalent in writing, even for more advanced writers.

And now I shall don that erudite topper and present to you a listicle that is ostentatiously intellectual in its articulation:


Starting on a writing journey can be both exciting and overwhelming for new writers. The path to becoming skilled and confident is filled with a plethora of challenges and opportunities for growth. Here are eleven pieces of advice to help new writers navigate this journey effectively.


1. Don’t aim to publish your first book.

Many new writers feel immense pressure to get their first book published. However, aiming to publish your initial manuscript (a manuscript is turned into a book, though I shall refer to this a book from here on) might not be the best approach. Instead, consider your first book as a practice exercise. Focus on honing your craft, exploring different styles, and developing your unique voice without the added stress of publication. Writing is a skill that improves with practice, and your early works are stepping stones toward future success. So treat your first book as a way to practice storytelling techniques, character development, and plot structuring. The more you write, the better you will understand your personal strengths and areas that need improvement. Your first book is also an opportunity to learn about your writing process, including how you handle writer’s block, manage your time, and stay motivated. You may also experience the painful truth behind the phrase “kill your darlings.” When you remove the pressure of publication, you allow yourself the freedom to experiment and take creative risks, which can lead to more original and authentic writing.

Plus try to find a writer with several books to their name who doesn’t look back on their first book and cringe hard.  This is normal.  You don’t feed your first ever attempt at baking a cake to guests at a birthday party.


2. Understand genre conventions.

Even if you write fiction or fantasy, you can’t write “anything you want” without considering genre conventions. Each genre has specific expectations that readers bring to the table. For example, a mystery novel should have a compelling puzzle, and a romance should focus on the relationship between the main characters with a happily-ever-after or happy-for-now ending. Ignoring these conventions can break the suspension of disbelief and alienate readers. Understanding and adhering to genre norms will help you create stories that resonate with your target audience. Genre conventions provide a framework that helps readers know what to expect from your story. Meeting these expectations ensures that your readers are satisfied and engaged. While it’s important to bring fresh ideas to your genre, understanding the traditional elements allows you to innovate in ways that are still recognizable and appreciated by your audience. Reading widely within your chosen genre to understand its conventions and identify common themes, tropes, and structures is essential.

Sometimes the story we want to tell doesn’t fit the genre we want to write. That is a time to reflect. Readers do us a favor by picking the genre they want to read, and then giving us their money. We need to give them the story we promise via our chosen genre.  If the story in your heart is a thriller in which your romantic pairing goes their separate ways when you want to write in the most popular genre—romance, then you may have to break your heart and modify the ending. But you could also write this book as a different genre, and tell another story later.  A wonderful thing about being a writer is that we aren’t limited to just one story or just one genre.


3. Learn the rules before breaking them.

It’s often said that rules are meant to be broken, but in writing, you must first understand the rules before you can effectively break them. This includes grammar, punctuation, and the fundamentals of storytelling. Mastering these basics ensures that your writing is clear and comprehensible. Once you have a strong grasp of the rules, then, and only then, can you experiment with breaking them in ways that enhance your story rather than confuse your readers. Good grammar and punctuation are absolutely essential for clear communication. Errors can distract readers and undermine the credibility of your writing. Understanding the fundamentals of plot, character development, and pacing allows you to craft compelling stories. Knowing when and how to deviate from these norms can add depth and originality to your work. But breaking rules effectively requires intentionality. Knowing why you are deviating from a norm and what effect you want to achieve ensures that your creative choices enhance rather than detract from your story.

If you are hand-waving your own grammar errors as stylistic choice, you’re doing your story and yourself a great disservice. Learning the rules is much easier than writing a whole story from first word to ready to send to publish. Numerous tools exist to help you with this, and readers will not care if you struggle with the rules, or are neurodivergent, or dyslexic—they will expect a professional product for their money, and their reviews, should they not get what they pay for, will string. If the rules are a challenge to learn, then please do not try to break them.


4. Remember that no idea is truly original.

Many new writers worry that their ideas are not original enough or fear that someone might steal their concept. However, it’s important to realize that no idea is truly original. Neil Gaiman has been quite open about how a piece for which he won a Hugo was a Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft fanfiction, and how many times have Shakespeare’s and Jane Austen’s stories been retold?  Most stories are built on familiar themes and archetypes, of which there there are just seven. What sets your story apart is your unique execution and perspective. Don’t hesitate to discuss your ideas with others; feedback can be incredibly valuable, and collaboration often leads to stronger narratives. The way you develop characters, build your world, and craft your plot is what makes your story unique. Focus on how you can bring a fresh perspective to familiar themes. Discussing your ideas with others can lead to valuable feedback and new insights. Sharing your concepts helps refine your story and ensures that it resonates with your audience. Engaging with other writers and readers fosters a collaborative environment where you can learn from different viewpoints and experiences.


5. Write regularly and set goals.

Consistency is key to developing your writing skills. Set aside dedicated time each day or week to write, and establish achievable goals to keep yourself motivated. Whether it’s a specific word count or completing a chapter, having clear objectives helps you stay focused and make steady progress. Developing a regular writing habit helps build discipline and ensures that you make continuous progress on your projects. Setting specific, achievable goals gives you something concrete to work towards and provides a sense of accomplishment when you reach them. Regular writing sessions help maintain your momentum and keep you engaged with your story. Consistency prevents long gaps that can make it difficult to reconnect with your work.

The size of the goal doesn’t matter as every goal reached is a step forward.  Write 250 words.  Write for 15 minutes a way.  Spend 15 minutes with a notebook and pen in hand, brainstorming how to tackle a challenge.  Let your family and friends know this plan so they know to leave you in peace for that time. They may even help encourage you to go work on your writing.


6. Read widely and critically.

Reading extensively across different genres and styles is one of the best ways to improve your writing. Pay attention to how authors construct their stories, develop characters, and use language. Take a highlighter and mark phrases and words that strike you as particularly compelling. Reading critically allows you to learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of others’ works and to be aware of those things in your own work. It also exposes you to various techniques and inspires new ideas for your writing. Reading a variety of genres and authors exposes you to different storytelling techniques and perspectives, broadening your understanding of what’s possible in writing, and may help you fine a way to segue the aforementioned thriller-in-your-heart into the romance you want to write. Critically analyzing what you read helps you understand why certain elements work or don’t work, providing valuable lessons that you can apply to your own writing.

Reading widely fuels your creativity and can spark new ideas and approaches for your own stories. There is never any shame in being inspired by another piece or work, or of adopting a method, or of adapting a story element to work in your own writing. I openly admit that Nora Roberts’s Daring to Dream, the first in her Dream trilogy, directly inspired a running theme in every story I tell, and is the reason I always wear a particular choker that is almost a trademark.  A few scenes in this one book have directly inspired a few scenes that will be in the fifth book of my Fillmore trilogy of duologies. Would a reader have the foggiest clue? Not at all, because, as I stated above, the unique execution and perspective is what makes something your own. So read. Read more. Learn what inspires you, and let that guide you.


7. Seek feedback and embrace criticism.

Sharing your work with others and receiving feedback is crucial for growth. Join writing groups, attend workshops, or find beta readers who can provide constructive criticism. While it can be difficult to hear negative feedback, it’s an essential part of the learning process. Embrace criticism as an opportunity to improve and refine your writing. Feedback from others provides an objective perspective on your work, highlighting areas that you may not have noticed. Learn to differentiate between constructive criticism, which aims to help you improve, and unhelpful criticism. Focus on feedback that offers specific, actionable suggestions. Approach feedback with a growth mindset, viewing it as an opportunity to learn and develop your skills rather than a personal attack.

It is important to say that not every piece of feedback given must be applied, and two readers may give opposite feedback. But do listen to their reasons. Perhaps there is middle ground, or perhaps you know where the story is going and they don’t. Regardless, this critical feedback is valuable, and many writers would give our eye-teeth for honest critical input. While it’s wonderful to know what works, it’s just as important to know what isn’t hitting the mark. Fellow writers and beta readers want you to succeed.  End-readers of a published work have fun destroying work in reviews for the upvotes. Embrace the opportunity to improve while you’re in the sandbox of people who are on your side.


8. Develop a thick skin.

The writing journey is filled with rejection and criticism. Developing a thick skin is crucial for long-term success. Rejections from agents or publishers, should you attempt the traditional route, or negative reviews can be disheartening, but they are a normal part of the process. Use them as learning experiences and stay focused on your goals. Persistence and resilience are key qualities for any writer. Understand that rejection is a natural part of the writing journey. Even successful authors face rejections. Even the most amazing books have their detractors. Use rejections and criticisms as opportunities to learn and improve. Analyze the feedback to identify areas for growth. Maintain your passion for writing and keep pushing forward, even in the face of setbacks. Persistence is essential to achieving long-term success in writing.

And remember that a negative review of your book, or a rejection, is not a negative review or rejection of you as a human being, no more than a negative review you might leave on another book is you saying the author is a rotten person.  You separate the book from the writer, and so do other reviewers.  It’s literally nothing personal.


9. Revise and edit thoroughly.

First drafts are never perfect. Believe it or not, the first draft is the easy part. Revision is where the real magic happens. Be prepared to revise and edit your work multiple times. This process involves not just correcting grammatical errors but also reworking sections to improve clarity, coherence, and overall impact. Don’t rush through revisions; taking the time to polish your work is essential for producing high-quality writing. Expect to go through several drafts, each one refining and improving your story. Each revision brings you closer to your best work. Start with major structural changes and story elements before focusing on finer details like grammar and punctuation. There is no sense in refining the details when they may still change. Incorporate feedback from others into your revisions, using their insights to strengthen your story.

Then set it aside for a few months, work on another story, then read it for a final revision and edit.  Think of your first draft as the ingredients for a cake, measured out and lined up in the order in which you’ll put them into the bowl.  The first draft is the ingredients to the story.  Your first revisions and edits are mixing it all together and baking the cake.  Then you set it aside to cool. That short wait of a few months after all your hard work is that moment when you come back to that cooled-off cake to add the finishing touches and give it one final go-over. It’s the icing on your cake, your chance to take a delicious story, and make it beautiful.


10. Don’t presume you will be the exception to the rules.

It’s easy to look at the success stories of outlier authors who have broken conventions and think you might be the exception too. However, remember that authors who get away with not using quotation marks, or whose books are published despite being twice the typical length, are usually already very established or are significantly more skilled than most. Publishers often take chances on these writers due to their name recognition, or by a once-in-a-million stroke of luck. As a new writer, it’s important to follow the established guidelines and conventions of writing. Adhering to these norms increases your chances of being taken seriously by publishers and readers. Once you have established yourself and honed your craft, you can experiment more freely with breaking conventions. For now, focus on mastering the basics and building a strong foundation for your writing career. Understanding that the path to becoming an exception is often paved with years of hard work and adherence to industry standards will keep your expectations realistic and your goals achievable.

But even if you go the self-publishing route, do not expect readers to treat you, an unknown, as someone to make into the exception.  Save your 180k-word book until you’re proven to readers that your work is worth twice the time.  Would you buy a doorstop from someone whose work with which you aren’t familiar?  Chances are you’d wonder why it’s not two books, or how much bloat it contains.

And do not expect to break long-established conventions of genre without pushback just because a rare person got away with it.  Many established writers and popular reviewers already question how on earth Colleen Hoover’s books, with as It Ends With Us and Verity, are categorized as romance despite one being an abuse fantasy ending in a breakup and the other is a thriller in which the female protagonist ends up trapped with a dangerous man. But she managed to sell herself on TikTok well enough that it doesn’t matter where her books are.  If you can be an exception on TikTok or other social media, then you are already an exception.  Otherwise, expect to be held to the same rules as every other writer.


11. Enjoy the process.

Most importantly, writing should be a fulfilling and enjoyable activity, not just a means to an end. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and take pride in your creative efforts. The more you enjoy writing, the more likely you are to continue improving and producing work that you’re proud of. Focus on the joy of storytelling and the satisfaction of bringing your ideas to life. Even successful writers are rarely able to leave their day jobs, and the biggest payoff most writers will ever, ever get is the pride of holding the culmination of their hard work—their finished work.

Writing can be a deeply personal and rewarding process, and finding pleasure in it helps sustain your motivation. Embrace the challenges and triumphs of writing as part of a lifelong journey of learning and creativity. Enjoying the process keeps you engaged and passionate about your work, which is essential for long-term success.

So write for the love of writing before all else.  The rest may or may not come, but if you enjoy the process, then that is its own reward, and it is one that money can’t buy.



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