16 Dos and Don'ts for Aspiring Writers

June 26, 2014
Writing advice is everywhere you look these days, from blogs to YouTube to 140 characters on Twitter. And a lot of it deals with story structure and plot elements and how to create memorable characters. But that’s not what this post is about.
Rather than focus on plot or character or style, these 16 Dos and Don’ts focus more on the practice of writing, how to develop good habits, and how to help shut out some of the inevitable distractions. Because trust me, there are always distractions…

DO write every day. Ideally at the same time. Preferably without distraction. Half an hour. An hour. Fifteen minutes. Whatever works with your schedule. Just pick a time and develop a habit and stick with it.

DON'T worry about your word count, especially when you first start out. If you don’t write much of anything and just sit there and stare at your computer, it’s okay. The practice is what matters. Eventually the words will come.

DO some writing exercises if you can’t think of anything to write. Pick a scene and write the same scene from different points of view: first person, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient. Or pick a scene and write it in different tenses. Anything to help stimulate your mind and challenge you to write something you might not be comfortable doing.

DON'T pay attention to how much other people are writing. It doesn’t matter if all of your writer friends on Twitter are pumping out 2000, 3000, or 4000 words a day. Just focus on what you can control and don’t compare yourself to others. After all, it’s about quality, not quantity.

DO carry a journal with you in your purse or backpack. Yes, that’s right. I said a journal. An actual book of blank pages that you write in with something that’s called a pen. It helps you to keep in touch with the physical process of writing. And it’s easier to write an idea down in a notebook than waiting to fire up your laptop.

DON'T check your Facebook profile or your Twitter account or your e-mail during your dedicated writing time. Staying disconnected from the Internet will allow you to stay connected to your writing.

DO read as much as you can. Novels, short stories, magazines. Read humor, romance, horror, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, memoir, poetry. Don’t get stuck reading the same thing over and over, even if it’s what you’re writing. A well-rounded reader is a well-rounded writer.

DON'T expect that you can learn how to write by reading a bunch of books on how to write. The best way to learn how to write is to write.

DO pay attention to song lyrics and movies and appreciate why you like them. It’s all writing, even if it’s in a different form. A writer can find inspiration in all sorts of places that aren’t the printed word.

DON'T pay attention to what other people say you should be writing.

DO write something that speaks to you. Something that makes you laugh or cry or get chills down your spine. Something that resonates with you. Because if it doesn’t resonate with you, chances are it’s not going to resonate with anyone else.

DON'T try to get it absolutely perfect the first time. That's what rewrites are for. If you spend all of your time rewriting your first chapter, you'll never get the second chapter written. Or the third.

DO get feedback from a writers group or a couple of trusted friends or colleagues. Family members are okay, too, but only if they're going to give you an honest critique. Criticism is only helpful if it's constructive.

DON'T try to please everyone who gives you feedback. Writing is subjective and everyone is going to have their own reaction to what you've written. Use the suggestions that help to improve the story you want to tell and throw the rest of them out.

DO realize that once you send your novel out into the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to everyone who reads it and not everyone is going to like it. Accept that fact and deal with it and learn how to not take everything personally.

DON'T forget that you’re supposed to be writing every day.

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