Advice for Writers

A question I'm often asked is whether I have any advice for aspiring writers. The answer is a resounding "yes." That's one of the reasons I've developed so many workshops for writers. (See the Workshops tab for more information.)

I've also blogged on a number of writing-related subjects and wanted to share those posts with you along with recommendations for my favorite craft books. I hope you'll find this information helpful.

Getting Started

Finding an Agent - Do you need an agent? In many cases, the answer is "yes." But an agent isn't good enough. You need the right agent.

Contracts - Before you sign a contract with an agent or a publisher, there are a number of things you need to know. Here's a quick quiz to get you started.

Conferences - Are you considering attending a writers' conference? If you are, you might want to take this quiz before you spend your time and money on one.

The Basics

Books in a Series - Many publishers are looking for books in a series. Before you decide to write a series, there are some things to consider.

For more information about writing series, you might enjoy this interview Leigh Duncan and I did on Kitty Bucholtz's Write Now! podcast.

Real vs. Fictional Settings - Are you trying to decide whether to set your story in a real or an imaginary location? You might want to consider the challenges of using real locations.

Conflict - One of the most common reasons for a manuscript being rejected is that it has too little conflict. Like many writers, I struggled with adding conflict to my stories until I changed my perspective. How? As I outline in this post, it takes more than a happy ending to make a successful book.

I've included more information about conflict, including some examples, on this Write Now! podcast.

Inspiration - Inspiration comes in many places, including travel.

Maps - What do maps have to do with writing? You might be surprised.

The Fundamentals - Part Two

Grammar - Are you challenged by grammatical rules?If so, you might find this series of posts about basic grammatical mistakes helpful.

Great Beginnings - Have you heard that an editor or reader makes a decision about whether to buy the book within a page or two? It's true, which means that your first page needs to hook the reader. That's why I'm offering some suggestions for how to do that.

Surviving Rejection - No one likes rejection, but there are some coping techniques to make it less painful.

Finishing the Book

Getting to "The End" - If you're like many writers, you start a book filled with enthusiasm, but somewhere along the way, you abandon it. This series of posts provides techniques I've found essential for reaching that oh, so important "The End."

Meeting Deadlines - Whether you're a published author with a contractual deadline or an aspiring author who wants to have an entry ready for a contest, it's critical to know how to meet -- or even beat -- deadlines. How? Here are a few suggestions.

The Writing Life

The Critical Element - What makes the difference between wanting to be a writer and actually finishing the book? You might be surprised by what I consider the critical element.

Finding Your Writing Rhythm - You may not think of "rhythm" in the same sentence as "writing," but I believe it's essential to find your writing rhythm.

Shakespeare and the Writer - What relevance does Shakespeare's advice "to thine own self be true" have for writers? You might be surprised by my thoughts on the subject.

Measuring the Impact - How do you measure the impact of your books? Here are a few suggestions.

Writing Historical Fiction

Is It For You? - Before you decide to write historical fiction, there are a few questions you should answer.

Research - Every writer knows that research is essential, particularly for historical fiction. Did you know there are ways to make it easier?

Tools of the Trade - I've included some specific resources for research in this article I wrote for Historical Novel Society of North America.

Pitfalls - One thing you don't want to do is make common mistakes when writing historical fiction. Try to avoid these. Part Two of this blog discusses other potential problems.

Writing Contemporary Fiction

Do you think writing contemporary fiction is easier than historicals? You might be surprised by the challenges involved in modern-day stories.

Craft Books and General Advice

There are many ways to learn the craft of writing. Reading books is one of them. My two favorite craft books are Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. Swain outlines the basics of writing itself, while Vogler provides guidelines for effective plotting.

While it's not a craft book per se, Rene McMillen's Abandoning the Road to Hollywood provides encouragement for artists of all kinds in addition to clearly outlined steps to help you along your journey as an artist.

I'm frequently asked what specific advice I would give to aspiring writers. There are three parts to this. The first is to read extensively in the genre you want to write. That's the best way to learn what a publisher is buying.

Secondly, join a writer's group. A writer's group provides support, networking and so many other resources to the aspiring writer that I can't over emphasize the importance of joining one.

And lastly, never give up. Rejection is a fact of life. I won't sugarcoat it: rejection hurts. But if you let it defeat you, if you stop sending out your manuscript just because it was rejected, you'll never be published. Believe in your book and in yourself. That's critical.