1. Find a writing mentor. A really good one will save your life. This is someone – a writing teacher, free lance editor, astute beta reader, or writing partner -- who believes in you, wants you to succeed, and can advise you in a way that brings your writing up to its highest level. This person will tell you when a scene feels rushed, when a character isn’t believable, when a joke isn’t funny, and will also tell you everything that’s working and give you strokes for it. Writers spend a lot of time alone, and we need both the strokes and the reality checks.
2. Beware of brutal honesty. Think twice about the critiquer or writing teacher who professes to “brutal honesty,” making it sound as if that’s a good thing. It may not be. There’s a certain kind of critique – the angry kind based more on the reviewer’s own agenda than on your work— that can send you crawling, bleeding and battered, back to actuarial school.
At this point, I should be clear. I’m not talking about the editor who says “your main character is unsympathetic and here’s why.” That person is trying to help you, and in fact most people you’ll encounter in this field are. I’m talking about the rare person who says, “Why don’t you just kill off your protagonist in the first ten pages and put the reader out of his misery?”
This, you don’t need. Flee from this person. Seek out kind, constructive honesty. Someone with your best interests at heart can deliver the news about that failed chapter in a way that leaves you hopeful and full of ideas for the rewrite. That’s the kind of person whose feedback you want.
3. Make a great setting central to your book. What better way to enrich a book than through a beautiful, interesting setting? Better still, make the setting almost a character in the story, or so integral to the storyline that it’s hard to imagine ever setting the action anywhere else. This gives your book an extra depth. It also doesn’t hurt to choose a place that you yourself would like to visit. You will be forced to do research. How can you describe your character’s life in the Amazon rainforest unless you’ve been there yourself? It’s fun to travel for research, and you may be able to deduct your travel as a business expense.
4. Write in scenes. Think like a screenwriter. A movie goes from scene to scene, and your book should, too. In each scene, you use dialog, characters, setting, and action to move the story forward a step or two. So long as the scenes progress logically, you don’t need to worry about transitions. Just end the scene, and start the next one.
5. Seek out both company and exercise. Writing is all about being sedentary and alone. It can turn you into a real lump. Get out into the world and talk to someone --- every day. Take a walk or go to the gym – every day.
6. Enjoy your journey—on your terms. You have to, because the journey is long. And the rewards are uncertain, at best. Writers often talk about how hard it is to write, but for me the bottom line is: only do it if you enjoy it or it fills a need. I write things that I love, and I’m proud of the books I write. That feeling of accomplishment gets me through the setbacks and disappointments. It carries me on to the next book, so I can once again create something that, to me at least, is meaningful and beautiful. No matter how much I may mess up in other areas, I try to offer the world the best part of me through my books. And doing that makes me happy.