Madeline Dyer’s 100 Pieces of Advice for Writers (or How To Write a Book)

As I love lists and I love reading articles about writing, I thought I’d compile my own list of 100 pieces of writing advice. So, here are my top pieces of advice for writers, based on my own experiences of being a traditionally-published author.

Note: As with all lists, not every piece of advice here will apply to every single person. The idea is that you can take the pieces of advice that are applicable to you. Of course, everyone has their own method of writing, and what works for one person might not work for another. So, following my advice won’t necessarily make you a bestseller overnight (though that would be nice!), but I hope it inspires you to pick up your pen and keep going in the very long game that is writing.

Madeline Dyer’s 100 Pieces of Advice for Writers (or How To Write a Book) 

  1. Read widely, and read outside your genre.
  2. Draw up some kind of writing routine and stick to it. Ideally, I suggest writing every day, but if this isn’t practical, then write on as many days as you can.
  3. Treat your writing as a job. When it is time to write, go and do it–don’t put it off!
  4. And don’t feel guilty for writing.
  5. Work out which environments work best for you and your writing. This could be a quiet room with a window open, or a buzzing coffee shop. Each writer is different; some can only write in one specific place, others can write anywhere. But if you know that you do your most productive writing at home, then make sure that at least one of your writing sessions a week is at home–if not more.
  6. When writing your first draft, don’t worry about how you’ll publish your book/whether you want to self-publish it or approach publishers. Trust me, there’s time to figure all that out later.
  7. Concentrate on actually finishing your first draft. It’s tempting to start editing, or rewrite the beginning of your manuscript when you’re only halfway through your plan/outline/word count goal… but don’t do it!
  8. If you think of editorial changes as you’re drafting, note them down in a notebook under ‘Things to sort out later’, but keep writing.
  9. Set yourself manageable word count goals for each day. I aim for 2,000-4,000 words most days when I’m drafting, but if I’m having a bad day, I might only set myself a goal of 500 words.
  10. And sometimes I need to warm up for my writing. This might be a short exercise, a quick free-write based on a photo in a newspaper or a word game. Anything to get the juices flowing before I go into my actual writing.
  11. Don’t worry if you’re slow at writing. Even if you just get 100 words down each day, in a year’s time you’ll have 34,000 words–and in three years’ time you’ll have a 100,000+ novel. (Besides, ‘being slow at writing’ is objective anyway–some authors take years to write a book! And there is no rush.)
  12. Be kind to yourself. On the days that you don’t meet your writing word count goal, don’t beat yourself up.
  13. Keep a record of the days you write. Mark them off on a calendar using fancy pens or stickers. You may find that this motivates you to do even more writing!
  14. Find out which method of writing works best for you. If you’re a planner, then make sure you’ve got an outline ready for your writing session so that you know exactly which part you’ll be writing during your hour or two. This really helps to make your time productive. If you’re a pantster, then write freely–if that’s what suits you–and don’t force yourself to stick to a plan.
  15. If you’re getting bored with what you’re writing, you can’t expect readers to enjoy it. So if you’re losing interest, it’s definitely time to shake things up. Or read a good book and allow yourself time to refuel.
  16. Don’t overwork yourself. You don’t want to burn out.
  17. And for that reason, give yourself days off if you need them. For me, when I have writer’s block, it’s often because I’ve tired myself out with my drafting and my brain needs time to recuperate. (But sometimes, I just need a day away from writing. And that’s okay too.)
  18. If you’ve got writer’s block, then don’t feel bad. Try writing something completely unrelated to your manuscript–something fun, something that doesn’t matter.
  19. Experiment with different writing methods–sometimes this is just what you need to do to beat writer’s block.
  20. Question what you’ve already written, especially if you’ve now got writer’s block. Maybe something in your manuscript isn’t working? Has a character’s motivation changed? Has the antagonist revealed too much information all at once?
  21. Make sure you know all your characters.
  22. And that you know all your characters really well.
  23. Each character should want something really badly.
  24. If you don’t know your characters, interview them.
  25. Characters should drive the plot, not the other way around. And the plot is also pretty important. It has to fit the characters, but it also has to contain energy. Plot twists are great, but they should be caused by a character’s action.
  26. And each character should have at least one flaw.
  27. Characters should also each have their own voice and dialogue pattern. Listen to conversations around you and note the ways in which different people speak, and where they stress their words.
  28. Your antagonist should also be the hero in their own story. You need to understand your antagonist just as much as you understand your protagonist.
  29. You should also know your world pretty well. This is easier if your book is a contemporary, but if you write speculative fiction, then chances are that you’ll have to spend loads of time on your worldbuilding.
  30. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you before you start writing. Often, I make myself feel inspired by writing–and if I waited until inspiration came to me, I probably wouldn’t get any writing done.
  31. Keep a lot of notebooks, and note down anything that comes to you as you’re writing. This could be plot twists, character descriptions, or background info. But write it all down–you’ll thank yourself later.
  32. Colour-code your notebooks by project. Trust me, when you’re going through 40+ notebooks trying to find the ones that correlate with Project X, you’ll be grateful if you’ve used some sort of organisation system.
  33. Also make sure that you know where all your notebooks are.
  34. Equally, that you know where all your writing craft books are–and books for research. You never know when you may need one.
  35. After you’ve finished the first draft, put that manuscript away for at least a month. When you come back to it, you’ll view it with fresh eyes and your editing will be better.
  36. All first drafts are rubbish. My first drafts are awful.
  37. But bad first drafts are okay. Our job is now to rewrite them and edit them.
  38. When beginning to self-edit a manuscript, read through the whole thing from start to finish before you do anything.
  39. Make a list of things that don’t work, preferably in a notebook just for editing.
  40. If you’re worried about the structure of your manuscript, then plot out the structures of some other books. Read up on the different structures. I recommend Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT (a book on screenwriting, though the content also applies to novel manuscripts) to help with this.
  41. Tackle the big changes first, like characters (should you cut that one? Add another?) and plot changes. Maybe you need to develop a sub-plot, or have a character choose a different choice and create a whole new set of problems.
  42. Then tackle the smaller changes.
  43. Find some good beta-readers and critique partners. Some writers may want to employ a freelance editor at this stage (and if you’re self-publishing then definitely employ an editor before your book is released).
  44. Family members and friends do not (usually) make good beta-readers or critique partners. You need people who can be honest and ruthless (if need be).
  45. Listen to what your beta-readers and critique partners say.
  46. But you don’t have to make all the changes that they want. Sure, if one thing comes up over and over again, then it probably needs changing. But remember, these comments are often just one person’s opinion, and they may not ‘get’ the manuscript. And often people identify problems, but not how to fix them–that’s what you decide.
  47. It’s still your manuscript.
  48. And you’ll likely need to take each manuscript you write through multiple rounds of revisions and edits. For my debut novel, Untamed, I had fifteen drafts written (and each draft was substantially different) before it was ready to query.
  49. Most of writing is actually rewriting and making your manuscript the best it can be.
  50. It’s okay to hate rewriting.
  51. It’s even okay to wish you’d never started it.
  52. But you’ll keep going because you’re a writer and writing is part of you.
  53. Also, if you hadn’t figured it out by now: writing is hard. It’s difficult. And you’re allowed to feel that it is difficult, and that your work sucks (even when it doesn’t).
  54. Writing a book can also take a long, long time.
  55. Label all your drafts in a way that’s easy for you to understand. There’s nothing worse than opening ten different documents trying to find a specific draft, and then getting confused about which ones you’ve checked/which draft you’re even looking for.
  56. And never delete anything. If you want to delete something from your manuscript, either cut and paste to a new document, or use track-changes and save it as a new document before you approve changes (so you’ve got the old one showing the changes).
  57. Back up your work!
  58. And when you’ve completely finished your manuscript–finally–give yourself a reward. Finishing a book is, after all, a huge achievement. Many people start writing a book, but only a fraction of them finish it.
  59. Before you send out queries to agents/editors, proofread all your work for grammar and spelling errors. Also proofread your query letters and synopses. (And send out your query letters to writer friends for feedback–you want these to be the best they can be as they’re a reflection of your manuscript and you, as a writer.)
  60. And get used to waiting… and waiting a lot… being a writer is all about playing the waiting game.
  61. Don’t be put off by rejections. You’ll get loads. Everyone does. Untamed received soooo many rejections before I heard from four publisher who all wanted it.
  62. Rarely does someone’s very first manuscript get them a book deal. Untamed was the fourth manuscript I wrote.
  63. But writing my first three manuscripts wasn’t a waste of time–they shaped me, and allowed me to become the writer who could write a book that publishers did want.
  64. And when you get a contract offer, celebrate!
  65. If you haven’t got an agent, then get a legal expert to look over any contract that you’re offered. Don’t sign away your rights before you know which rights you’re signing away.
  66. And never pay a publisher! Legitimate traditional publishers never charge you (in any capacity) to publish your work–money flows to you, always. Publishers should pay for all expenses themselves. If they say you’ve got to pay, they’re probably a scam.
  67. Just as you should never sign with a publisher until you’ve had the contract looked at by an expert, you should never sign with a publisher before you’ve researched them thoroughly.
  68. Also, if you can, talk to other authors who are already with the publisher. Find out what their experiences have been like–both the good and the bad.
  69. If you’re unagented and dealing with publishers yourself, then I advise against trying to play one publisher off against another.
  70. Getting a book deal is just the first part! You’ve still got loads more work ahead–mainly: more editing… and editing… and editing… but this will you editing alongside an in-house editor employed by your publisher.
  71. But you can also drum up some excitement about your book during the time before your book’s release day. And you should do this. People need to know about your book, and it’s one of your jobs to make sure that they do (but don’t be spammy or aggressive!)
  72. Leading up to when your book releases (and after!) you’ll have to do some marketing or promotion. Whether this is through in-person interviews or online articles, you’ll most likely be doing something. So find something that you’re comfortable doing–and that you enjoy doing.
  73. Also, find out what your publisher will be doing to promote your book so you can cover more bases.
  74. Organise a cover reveal. And, if you’re traditionally published, you likely might not get much input into your cover design–this depends on the publisher. But share your cover around.
  75. If you have swag or promotional materials, see if you can run some giveaways.
  76. Giveaways on Goodreads are also a great way to get the word out about your upcoming release.
  77. Interacting with readers is important, both before and after your book releases. A lot of readers like to personally ask their favourite authors questions, so make sure there’s at least one platform that this can be done on for you.
  78. But don’t be spammy! Engage as a person–not just as an author who wants to sell books. Share things about your everyday life.
  79. Social media–yes, it works and it helps you connect with fans. I mainly use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  80. Organise a twitter chat near your book’s birthday. These are really fun too, plus you’ll meet new readers–and potential fans!
  81. Make sure you have a website–and ideally, it should be set up before your first book is out.
  82. Also, a newsletter is a great tool, but I recommend sending out no more than 12 a year. And if you can offer your subscribers something as an incentive for signing up–great!
  83. When your book releases, make sure your website has clear information on where/when readers can purchase your book.
  84. And congratulate yourself on the day of your book’s release. It’s a big moment. But you can celebrate it however you wish to. Some like to have parties, others like to have quiet days. Still, it’s a special day–so do what you want to.
  85. And remember, some people won’t get that having a book published is kind of a big deal. Nor will they realise just how much hard work has gone into your book from start to finish.
  86. But other people will appreciate it, so don’t worry.
  87. In writing a book you’re encouraging a dialogue between your book and readers. Each person will take away something different from your book–and that’s okay. And that’s also your job.
  88. Don’t read your reviews. Sure, it’s great to get them–but reading them zaps away a lot of time, and I can guarantee you that if you get a bad review you’ll take it to heart a lot more than you do all your good reviews put together.
  89. Don’t get hung up on sales. And this means, try not to check your Amazon ranking everyday. I fell into this trap when Untamed released, and I became obsessed. I also got no writing done (see next point).
  90. I’m a firm believer that nothing sells your last book like your next book; so writing your next manuscript really is the best thing you can do, in my opinion. If a reader likes your book, they’ll probably look for more books you’ve written.
  91. But writing a second manuscript for a publisher can be daunting, especially when you feel under pressure to produce something just as good as your first, and that readers will love just as much–if not more. But don’t worry–you can do it. And you will.
  92. And don’t be harsh on yourself when working on your second book. Constantly, when I was working on Fragmented, I was comparing it to Untamed–and I thought book two was awful. But the problem was I was being way too harsh on myself and comparing a first draft to a published book which wasn’t fair at all! Especially given that all first drafts are, in general, bad–or at least they are for me.
  93. Make sure that you’re still following your writing routine, and producing new material. After all, you are a writer. You should be writing.
  94. But as writing can be pretty lonely occupation, get out there and meet other writers! There are many online groups about and many towns have writers’ groups. Find others who write and meet up with them, or chat online.
  95. And librarians! Make friends with your local librarians and establish your name there–trust me, it can come in handy!
  96. Support your fellow writers! Has one of them got a book releasing soon? Blog about it on your website, and review it. Spread the word. And if they have a release party, be sure to go to it if you can.
  97. Don’t be mean to other writers–I mean, this one’s a given.
  98. But also don’t compare yourself to other writers. There’ll always be people with more books out than you.
  99. But, most importantly, enjoy your writing. Enjoy being a writer. Writing is part of you, and you should be doing it because you love it.
  100. And, believe in yourself. You can do it.

 


Me (and Bluebell)!

Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal. She can frequently be found exploring wild places, and at least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged.


 

Have you got any more pieces of advice? Let me know in the comments below

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