Writing Tips

On this page, you’ll find writing tips to help you gain confidence and defeat procrastination. These writing tips should spark ideas for how you can gain the skills you need to succeed as an author. They’re also designed to help you make the most of your writing time.

MOOC online classes

MOOCs are online classes designed for a worldwide audience. They’re free or cheap, and there’s always financial aid.

#1.—Go Back to School

But wait! Won’t that cost money? Absolutely not. Try a MOOC. A “MOOC” is a Massive Open Online Course that delivers free content, via the internet, to an audience of unlimited size. You don’t need a high school or college diploma. You won’t receive a degree, but you will get a certificate of completion if you stick with it.

The three non-profits that offer these classes are FutureLearn.comCoursera.com, and edX.com. On these sites you will find many course offerings that can help you write children’s books, mysteries, crime fiction, memoirs, or nonfiction books.

These courses are FREE or cheap ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. This is the fastest way to learn the basic elements of the writing craft. It will save you hours of beating your head against the wall and wondering why readers aren’t responding to what you’ve written. For more information, read my complete blog post at www.maryleemacdonaldauthor.com/online-writing-classes-enroll-free/.

#2:—Buy a Writing Notebook

Write down 10 to 15 observations every day: birds, bits of conversation overheard while eavesdropping, or descriptions of people on a bus. This is not a diary. It’s not about you or your feelings. Make the journal about what you see in the world around you. Don’t use the excuse that “I never leave the house” or “nothing interesting ever happens in my life.” Get off your duff and go to the park. Ride a bus. Eavesdrop in coffee shops. Go to a concert. Life is happening. Your writing will be richer if you get active in the world.

#3—Use a Kitchen Timer

Defeat the demons of procrastination. Set a kitchen time or stopwatch for 15 minutes. Writing longhand, let you pen or pencil move down the page, and do not stop until the timer buzzes. If you’re on a roll, keep going. That’s the whole point.

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#4—Jump start your writing flow with prompts.

Generate your own prompts at Writing Prompts – Language is a Virus or First Line Generator. If you’ve never used a prompt, you’ll be surprised at how they help you find stories you never would have written any other what. Start writing with the prompt, and then let the movement of the words carry you along. You’re not under any obligation to finish these prompts and turn them into stories. Play and have fun, and learn the joy of writing.

#5—Play the “What If” Game

Join Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, two gifted writing teachers, and play the What If? game. Their book, which is full of writing prompts used in university fiction classes, will expand your horizons. If you’re a night owl, read Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany. This is another book to help you limber up. Many writers begin their writing sessions by doing one writing prompt and writing for 15 minutes. Sometimes these turn into stories, but often they remain fragments. When you work conscientiously from writing prompts, you’ll find that you’re subconsciously educating yourself about the craft of fiction.

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#6—Form a Writing Group

Learn how to establish a group that will be a safe place for writers to show their work. Read the books Coffee and Ink or Writing Alone, Writing Together. It’s scary showing your work to other people, and you should read one of the above books to understand what a group can provide and what it can’t. Finding the right group can make all the difference. You’re in the writing biz for the long haul, and your fellow authors will be rooting for you to succeed.

#7—Visit a Bookstore

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Which sections in the bookstore call to you? Where would your book fit? Pull out five books and make notes on the length, structure, and point of view. Write down agents’ names while you’re at it. Look at the covers and begin thinking about a cover for your work-in-progress. Most important, know that you will see your book on this very same shelf or that you will release a dynamite, self-published work that will occupy an identifiable niche in an online bookstore.

Writing is a creative endeavor. That’s why we do it. But, at the end of the day, what we create is a product, and even in the early stages, we must understand what kind of product it is. If it’s an apple, it belongs in the apple bin. If it’s an orange, then it belongs with the oranges. Readers often gravitate to one kind of book. Some only read mysteries. Others enjoy women’s fiction. Begin to get familiar with what readers in these various genres are going to expect.

#8—Experiment with Fan Fiction

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The best way to learn to write is to imitate other writers. Join a “fan fiction” group at www.fanfiction.net/. Be Hailey Wood, above, or one of the many authors who get book contracts why imitating the writing styles and using the characters of the authors they love.

#9—Learn From Other Writers

The days of solitary writers working alone in a garret are gone! If you can’t find a local writing group–and that’s the case for many who live in rural locations, join an online writing community. Here are a few:

Scribophile: www.scribophile.com/

Absolute Write Water Cooler: www.absolutewrite.com/

BookRix: www.bookrix.com/community/groups.html

Critique Circle: www.critiquecircle.com/Default.asp

Underlined: www.getunderlined.com/create/

Hatrack River Writers’ Workshop: www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi

NaNoWriMo: www.nanowrimo.org/

The Next Big Writer: www.thenextbigwriter.com/

The Reddit Writers’ Group: www.reddit.com/r/write/bso

#10—Amazon’s Best Kept Secret

Most writers know that Amazon makes it easy to create an e-book or print book. All you have to do is upload a Microsoft Word file. But did you know that Amazon has assembled a power-packed team to give you publishing advice? Go to Amazon Author Insights and learn from some of the most successful indie authors. www.amazonauthorinsights.com/

#11—Find Writing Time

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Use Outlook or Google calendar program to schedule your writing time. Look for wasted time: a lunch hour or ride on commuter rail. Scott Turow penned his books on the train. You can, too. The key to writing productively is to make an unbreakable date with yourself. Do not wait for inspiration to strike. Think of writing as a non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth. You don’t decide every day whether to brush your teeth or not, do you? Same goes for writing. Just do it. And, start by putting it on your calendar.

#12—How Fast Can You Write?

Set a word-count goal for each writing session. See how fast you can produce 800 to 1000 words. Write leaning forward.

#13—Put Away the Red Pen

Lock the editor in the closet. Give yourself permission to write a messy first draft. Fill the page. Later you can go back and circle the parts that have energy or seem truest to your intent.

#14—See If Podcasts Can Give You Inspiration

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Writing is about the voice of a narrator telling the story directly or whispering inside your head. See what goes on inside the writer’s head by listening to podcasts. Here are three of my favorites:

#15—Go To Meetup.com

Are you a new writer and living in the USA? Try to find a group at www.Meetup.com with experienced writers. If you were learning to play tennis, you’d want to play with better players, wouldn’t you?

#16—Attend A Writing Conference

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Investigate writing conferences. Most offer scholarships. Wikipedia has a great list of conferences. This shortlink will take you there. www.bit.ly/1V6coZ5

#17—Own The Word “Writer”

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George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others who penned the US Constitution were writers. Writers are those famous people with their words immortalized in books, right? Wrong.

A writer is someone who is in the process of writing books.

You are a writer. Own it.

If someone asks, “Where can I read one of your books?” be brave and boldly say, “Soon. You wouldn’t happen to have any contacts in the publishing field, would you?” Put them on the spot and let yourself off the hook.

#18—Talk to a Librarian

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Drop by a library and ask a librarian where books like yours would be filed. Librarians are great resources. They’re up on the latest publishing trends, and they know which kinds of books readers are reading now. Many libraries also have writers-in-residence programs. These programs are offered free of charge.

#19—Learn From The Romance Writers

449fbfe9f4b980141484915f_640Dare to write with the speed and confidence of romance writers. Many write four to ten books a year. Join Romance Writers of America (www.rwa.org) and take a peek behind the door of a fun, supportive writing group.

#20—Like Crime Scenes and Live in the UK?

Join the Crime Writers’ Association and enter your story in a competition or submit it to their anthology. http://thecwa.co.uk/ They will assess your manuscript, too.

#21—Go to Readings by “Rising Stars”

Tara Ison reading at Changing Hands

Author Tara Ison read from her book, REELING THROUGH LIFE, at Tempe, AZ’s only independent bookstore, Changing Hands.

Take a chance on a writer you’ve never heard of. Nothing is more disheartening than to be in a bookstore and have only five or six people in the audience. How does this benefit you? You’ll have a chance to talk shop and discover new writing voices. Plus, usually there’s food.

#22—Want to Write Children’s Books?

If you write children’s books, you can learn from librarians about how parents, and their kids, choose books. Ask about book length and illustrations. Which books do librarians choose for story hour? How often do authors visit? Keep a notebook. You’re going to be one of those authors. Oh, and ask them how authors schedule school visits. If you intend to write for children, school visits are the best way to sell your books.

#23—Is Your Main Goal to Make Money?

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Write nonfiction. Nonfiction far outsells fiction. Check the bestsellers in nonfiction. The top-selling books have to do with diets, business, and relationships. If you have credentials in one of those niches, you can do quite well as an author and also as a speaker. Selling books “from the back of the room” is one way to cash in.

This technique is very unlikely to work if you’re a fiction author.

#24—Do You Need Help Editing Your Book?

Go to Fiverr and shop for services. https://www.fiverr.com/ Editors will clean up your grammar or give you a critique.

#25—Kindle Books Are Hot

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Can you write a Kindle book? You will never know unless you try. The absolute best person to teach you to find a nonfiction subject, write your book, and upload it to Amazon is Kristin Joy, The Book Ninja. http://thebookninja.com/ Take a look.

#26—Update Your Skill-Sets With Udemy

If you don’t know how to set up a website, do html coding, organize a mailing list, or any of the hundred things you’ll need to do the instant your book “comes out,” you should run, not walk, to Udemy. www.udemy.com/ In self-paced classes that include step-by-step video instruction, you can spiff up your WordPress website, update your blogging skills, and learn how to gain Instagram followers.

#27—Stick to Gumroad If You Are A Poet

If you write poetry, have an e-mail list, and have a chapbook that’s ready to go, market your creative work on Gumroad and drive traffic to your “buy” page. Poetry will never compete with the big gorillas on Amazon, but on Gumroad your work will stand out, particularly if your chapbook has a good cover. www.gumroad.com

#28—Blog, Blog, Blog

Even if you’re not quite ready to show your “real” writing to other people, you can share yourself and interests with the world. Begin to establish your “platform,” meaning a niche that you can occupy and fill. Udemy is where to get started. https://www.udemy.com/courses/search/?q=blogging+for+beginners

#29—Organize Your Mail List

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Did you know that if you send bulk e-mails to people on your personal list, your account can get shutdown for “spamming?” Now’s the time to get comfortable using AWeber, MailChimp, or Get Response. All three have “opt out” buttons in case people don’t want to hear from you. If you live in Europe, or intend to sell books there, you will also need to provide a way for people to check a box saying they do want you to email them.

Effective May 25, 2018, the European Union’s new GDPR legislation requires businesses (including authors) to take care of their readers’ personal data. This means email addresses, but also tracking software, such as Google Analytics, part of virtually every website in existence. For more on the subject, go to Nick Stephenson’s website. www.blog.yourfirst10kreaders.com/gdpr-authors-workshop/

#30—Build A Writing Resume

Agents truly do not care about your grandchildren, your vacations, or your retirement. To have any credibility at all, you need to build a writer’s resume with five to ten publications. How will you do this? Submit your work to literary magazines. Duotrope (www.duotrope.com) updates its database regularly, and it lists everything from zombie fiction to literary fiction. You’ll find out who’s reading and who’s closed to submissions. Another site that can keep you up-to-date on writing contests and submission deadlines is New Pages (www.NewPages.com).

#31—Read Julia Cameron

You’ve dreamed of writing a book for years, but something has always diverted you from your goal. Why not read a book that will help you figure out what’s standing in the way of you becoming the writer you were meant to be?

Go to Julia Cameron Live (www.juliacameronlive.com) to learn more. Her book, The Artist’s Way, has helped many creative people identify their roadblocks and overcome them. Cameron encourages her readers to do “morning pages.” These aren’t the same thing as writing exercises. Morning pages are designed to clear the clutter from your mind and help you identify the bogeymen that are keeping you from being your most creative self.

#32—Join Wattpad and Show the World What You’ve Got

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The Wattpad (www.Wattpad.com/signup) community offers a wealth of support for new writers of sci fi, romance, mystery, fan fiction, or just plain scare-your-pants-off fun. It’s a great place to build a fan base prior to self-publishing a book. Though you might worry about copyright, you might weigh that worry against the joy of sharing your words with actual readers.

#33—November Is NaNoWriMo Time!

November is National Novel Writing Month. Join other writers for NaNoWriMo (www.NaNoWriMo.com). The fun is contagious and includes sleepovers and write-ins at school gymnasiums. Even if you’re living in a yurt in Siberia, you’ll receive inspiring messages to keep going and meet your daily word count. At the end of the month, you will have written the rough draft of a novel. How about that?

#34—Be Fearless

Learn from your mistakes. Be fearless and pursue excellence.

 

#35—Make A Tape

Make a recording of yourself reading your book. Play it back. You’ll hear every awkward sentence, and it will save you the embarrassment of standing at a podium and stumbling over words.

 

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Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, and BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many other awards. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State. She has been a Writing Fellow at Arizona State University and has taught workshops on literary editing.