What Writers Should Do (My Opinion)

Today’s post is inspired by an article I just read where four people gave their personal ten tips on writing in the “What you shouldn’t do” category: http://threeguysonebook.com/50-things-a-writer-shouldnt-do.  (Note: This is an old post.  It dates back to 2009, but I still love it.)

I thought this was such a neat idea that I’d imitate them with a list of things I think writers should do.  Keep in mind these are my opinions.  Ultimately, you will have to decide what you want to do or not do.  

So here goes….

Here’s what I advise other writers to do…

1. Tell a good story.  Don’t sweat the need to make “beautiful language”.

No matter how sweet your prose is, if you don’t have a story that compels someone to turn the page, it’s a flop.  The problem is that writers are so hung up on “how” they write, they often neglect to consider “what” they write.  I was in a writing group with this person (X) who mastered the art of beautiful language.  To listen to her read was like opening a bottle of fine wine and delicately sampling a piece of expensive dark chocolate.  X was, to say the least, weathly in terms of how she wrote…until you listened to content.  Most of the time, I was left wondering what the heck the scene she read was even about.  It’s like those commercials on TV that are flashy and appealing, but at the end, you ask, “What product were they selling?”

Content is key.  If you can tell a story that draws people in and makes them lose sleep because they have to finish it, then you have succeeded.  BTW, a poorly edited book won’t keep someone reading because they’ll get stuck working through your errors.  So good editing is assumed in telling a good story.

2.  Make it clear who is talking.

In writing groups, I was told “don’t repeat” and mentioning the person by name over and over in a dialogue of three people was on the “don’t repeat that person’s name” list.  But you know what?  When I started getting feedback directly from my readers, instead of other writers, the readers said they wanted me to just say the name.

And another trick that writers say “don’t do” that you probably should is use the verbs ‘said’ and ‘replied’ just to simplify things, esp. if what you want is to make the reader focus on the actual dialogue.

I have a writer friend who still goes ballastic when I say the person’s name more than once in a dialogue scene and dare to say “said” or “replied”.  But you know what?  My readers are thanking me, and they’re the ones buying the book so…  Yeah.  Who is it wise to listen to?

3.  If you write a scene, make sure there’s a point.

Every scene in your book should advance the plot.  A lot of authors get hung up on word count or they learned something neat that they want to slip into the book.  The problem?  There’s nowhere to put that exciting tidbit of trivia fact, so they opt to write a scene to slip it in.  The problem?  The reader might end up skimming this fact so the author has just wasted their time.  If a reader skims your book, chances are, they won’t read another book you write.

And let’s face it.  If you make each scene count, what is the harm done?  I say, better err on the side of caution and only include things that make the story stronger.  Like I’ve been told in the past, “Sometimes less is more.” If a lower word count makes your story better, go for it.

4.  Don’t take crap from readers who give you a hard time.

Seriously, this is a lesson I learned the hard way, and it wasn’t an easy one to grasp.  The sooner you get it, though, the better off you’ll be.  There is always a whiny, complaining, snobby person who thinks that your job is to bow down and write your book their way.  It doesn’t even matter what the topic of their discontent is.  If you used something in your book that matters to you, keep it.

The fact of the matter is that you can’t please everyone.  So why try?  Yes, readers get downright rude and nasty when you stand up for yourself and don’t take their “suggestions”, but they are free to write their own books or to find another author.  You are not the only author on this planet.

But…

You are unique.

Don’t let readers treat you like a buffet table where they dictate what you put into your book and what you throw out.  And there’s never any reason why you should put up with verbal abuse.

5.  Don’t let someone else tell you how to publish or tell you what success is for you.

This is your journey, not theirs.  Their method of publishing and their definition of success is not yours.  Some people write to have a memoir or a gift to hand their friends and family.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Others are writing in hopes of being the next JK Rowling so they can make it to Hollywood and be a household name.  Then you have others (probably the majority) of writers who fall somewhere in the middle.  If you’ve reached your goal, you’ve succeeded….and please don’t let someone come in and tell you otherwise.  This is your life, your dream.  Live it to the fullest and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  If someone tries to tell you that your dream is not enough, tell them to “talk to the hand” because you’re not doing it their way.

6.  Do the marketing you want to do, not what the “experts” tell you to do.

If you’re not having fun, then chances are the social media you’re doing is not going to be effective.  Some people hate blogging.  I love blogging.  Some people love Twitter.  I hate Twitter.  There is no “one size fits all” marketing strategy (except for write the best book you can, polish it up, get a great cover, and write your next book).  All the other things are optional.  Should you run ads?  Should you do book trailers?  Should you go on Pinterest?

What do you want to do?  I have my name set up on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, You Tube, and Google + but I spend most of my time blogging.  I heard of someone stealing an author’s identity and pretending to be her on Facebook and Facebook refused to remove the person unless the author set up an account.  (This was a traditionally published author.)  After hearing that, I made it a point to have a presence on Facebook and on other sites.  You have to do what you can to protect your identity.  But it doesn’t mean you have to be active in these places.  Now, I’m not saying you should go around and establish an account on every site you can find.  I’m just saying I did it on the most popular social networking sites for this reason.  But I spent most of my time blogging.

Bottom line: if you are enjoying it, you’ll stick with it.  If you aren’t, it’ll bomb.  So do what interests you.  There is no “one” way to do this.

***

Well, those are my six tips.  Anyone have any they want to add?

63 Comments

  1. dm yates says:

    Nice, and so true. There’s always going to be someone to tell you what to do and what you’re doing wrong.

    1. Yep, and as soon as you change something to please one person, you end up finding out someone else hated what you changed. LOL You can’t win so might as well write the book the way you want it.

  2. No matter how sweet your prose is, if you don’t have a story that compels someone to turn the page, it’s a flop.

    **
    This is so true, Ruth Ann – and I don’t think I really grasped that until I published my first book. Sometimes you gotta learn the hard way 🙂

    1. It’s hard to come around to realizing it. What they tell you to do in a lot of critique groups ends up not mattering when you talk to readers. I learned more from my beta readers than I ever did from the groups I had joined. 😀

  3. slepsnor says:

    Thanks for posting this. I really needed to hear number 4 today.

    1. Number 4 is what I have to tell myself on a regular basis. 😀

  4. Rohan 7 Things says:

    I love this! Every writer should read it 🙂 I agree about repeating names and adding “said” it’s so annoying going back over lines of dialogue trying to work out who’s saying what, so I also try (without overdoing it) to make it clear who said what.

    And the last point is crucial. Sometimes I feel like I should be doing “more” marketing or promotion through other channels but as you say, if the energy and enthusiasm isn’t there it’s probably not going to be very effective anyway!

    I love blogging and a pinch of twitter and facebook, gotta play to our strengths.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    Rohan.

    1. Thanks!

      Someone told me that when you use “said” and “replied” during dialogue, the readers tend to tune it out. I tested the theory when I read someone else’s book, and as long as it wasn’t every sentence in the dialogue, I didn’t even notice those words. 😀

      I keep hearing that even when authors cut down on their marketing, they can maintain sales as long as they’re publishing more books. I don’t think that means sales always go up, and I’ve certainly seen my sales go up and down at breakneck speed, but I think it means that more marketing doesn’t necessarily mean the jump in sales authors thought it did when they were focused on marketing. I think some kind of marketing is a good idea, but I think more time writing and less time marketing is a good balance. 🙂

  5. Indigo Grace says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think we all need encouragement to be true to what our vision is and how we want to write. This is a journey that takes time and commitment. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. With every step, we find out what works and doesn’t work for us. I just started to make my social media presence known and it’s tough because it requires a lot of effort. I like to blog, but that takes time to compose posts. I don’t mind Facebook but it takes time to be on other people’s pages to build up a presence. Twitter is easy, if you have things to re-tweet and some quirky little tidbits to say, but again, takes time. All of this takes precious minutes away from your writing which is the most important part of it all. Especially when you’re still in the beginning of the journey and holding down a “real” job to pay the bills. There are only so many minutes in a day

    Little by little. I keep repeating this to myself! 🙂

    Great post!
    ~ Indigo

    1. It’s definitely more challenging when you have a job. You’re right. All the marketing takes time, and when your time is limited, it’s worse. Facebook is so busy I had to do less and less over there. I can hardly keep up with anything over there, which is sad. I used to be better about going over there. I link up my WordPress posts to Facebook and have a fan page, but that’s all I do. Share buttons help. I agree with you that Twitter is easier. I even picked up Pinterest since I only have to share and pin pictures, but I keep forgetting to go there.

      Sadly, it’s the overnight successes (who aren’t the norm) that get the attention, so it seems like you’ve failed if you haven’t been a big hit within a year. (I had to get over that feeling last year when I started comparing myself to other authors who were doing better than me.) I agree with you. Little by little is the way to think about it. 😀

  6. Nicola Kirk says:

    This is a brilliant article that I absolutely needed to read – Thank you 🙂

  7. Sometimes I worry how my prose sounds, but at the end of the day I think I’m telling a compelling story, and that’s what matters in the end, isn’t it? Hopefully someday plenty of people will agree with me.

    1. I think a compelling story will carry you a lot further than beautiful prose. Sometimes I sample the bestselling books, and I usually find that the author has a terrific voice. The prose is often simple, but the way the author uses his/her voice pulls me in. Those authors are doing something right if they attract so many readers. I think you’re on the right track. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I hope you’re right.

  8. Katie says:

    This is great advice for Some one like me who’s still learning the tricks of the trade so to speak thanks so much for posting 🙂

    1. Thanks, Katie. 😀

      1. Katie says:

        Your well come 🙂

  9. Thank you Ruth Ann – very much appreciated indeed 🙂

      1. You’re welcome 🙂

  10. I’m a creative writer and when I start a new story, I always write for myself. I write about what’s in my heart and what I find amusing or beautiful, or sad etc. After, I go back and try to tweak things that I know would be appealing to the audience (the readers) because trying to write a short story or a novel to someone else expectations and wants isn’t going to bring out the best writer in me. It’s just an entirely different experience when I’m trying to write for someone else; it feel’s like that 9 to 5 job where I’m constantly watching the clock. When I let it come out freely it flows like a never ending river of bliss! It’s a calming feeling, a much needed release. I’m always anticipating what my brain is going to tell my hands to write next, but I never rush it.

    So basically my tip is, unless your a ghost writer of some sort always write for yourself first, let your intuition take over and write freely!

    1. I love this! It’s excellent advice, and one I heartily second. I’ve tried writing books to cater to others’ wishes, and they always fell flat. Being able to let go of the “outside influence” is the best way to write. Sometimes I have to take myself completely offline for a few days to get back to this principle, but when I’m back to writing for myself, I fall in love with the story. Thanks for commenting!

      1. katemsparkes says:

        This reminds me of Stephen King’s advice to write with the door closed, revise with it open– meaning, write the story you want to on the first draft, THEN worry about what your readers will think. I love that idea, and I think it works.

        1. That’s excellent advice. It’s a lot easier to go back and think of what your readers want once the first draft is done.

      2. Thanks and no problem! Thanks for blogging! 🙂

  11. That’s it, in a nutshell.

    1. Thanks, Wanda. 😀

  12. Papizilla says:

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla and commented:
    More handy ideas for Authors out there. Check it out people!

    1. Thanks! I appreciate you reblogging this post. 😀

  13. wandasparyla says:

    The article you cite left me feeling a bit aggressive. I agreed with many of those who posted back regarding one thing not to do is to tells others what not to do. Ha! But your article isn’t like that. It’s insightful and motivating. Thanks.

    1. I got a good laugh out of that “don’t tell other writers what to do” when I read the article. If there was one thing I didn’t like about going to one of my critique groups, it was the idea that if you didn’t do things the way the group wanted, you were the black sheep. I ended up leaving the group and felt much better about writing after that. For a while, I lost all the joy I had in writing anything.

      I’m glad you found my article helpful!

  14. lornafaith says:

    Great post Ruth:-) So far I’ve been working on telling a good story and making every scene count. I guess soon, with my book coming out hopefully end of April, I will experience positive and negative reader voices…not sure if I’m looking forward to that. So true what you said about writing about what interests you and not trying to please everyone…because after all it’s your story. Thanks for the great reminders 🙂

    1. The hardest thing to get over is realizing you can’t please everyone. I still struggle with it. If people wouldn’t get nasty when voicing their discontent with the book, it wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t know why some of them can’t be civil. But there’s nothing you can do to change them. I like keeping a hand full of positive emails on hand so I can remind myself that not everyone hates my work. 😀

      1. lornafaith says:

        I’ll need keep positive emails on hand to remind myself of good comments from readers like you do…it’ll probably get me thru the bad days;) And like you said you can’t change people…so all we can do is keep writing more books for people who like our work !

  15. terry1954 says:

    Great advice!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  16. Tarla Kramer says:

    Reblogged this on Tarla's Blog and commented:
    Really like the tell a good story part, as I am a sucker for wanting to make beautiful language!
    With the social media part, I agree that it’s best just doing what you are comfortable with.

    1. Thanks for reblogging and commenting, Tarla. 😀

      I think you can still make beautiful language as long as you remember the good story to go with it. I’ve just seen too many authors focus so much on language they forget that a compelling story needs to be there, too. If you can merge the two factors, that makes your story stronger. 🙂

  17. tracycembor says:

    I’m a plotter, so of course I would say that outlining your story ahead of time would give you a leg up in telling a good story. If you look at the beginning and the ending as well as the high points along the way, it makes a story easier to analyze.

    If the reader cannot easily tell who said a line of dialogue, a “he said” is needed for clarification. I do try to label characters with a few trait tags, such as blue eyes, pigtails, or lean frame, so I that I don’t have to repeat the name every other sentence. For example, “she said while batting her blue eyes,” or “he said, his lean frame outlined by the window.” If you already told the reader that Paige has blue eyes or that Parker has a lean physique, then they can figure out who is talking.

    Great post!

    1. I can’t outline until I get to the end of the book and am tying up loose ends. 😀 I’ve tried outlining ahead of time for an entire book, and by chapter 3, my characters changed the entire story on me. LOL I think some authors work best with outlining, though. It would make sitting down to write a lot easier if you knew what to do ahead of time. Most of my slow writing days stem from not knowing what do do next.

      The method dialogue you use is a good one. Thanks for the tip!

  18. I go a couple of writers conferences every couple of years, to keep my finger on the ‘publishing pulse’ and find out what is happening out there, but I’ve found it more useful to go to READER’S conferences, as that’s where the readers are and they love to meet authors.

    I can’t stand Facebook, lasted 2 days on there. I blog about once or twice a month, mainly on my animals and fun things, I have my monthly newsletter, and I try to get involved in book discussions on some book yahoo groups. I’m also on Goodreads. I work full time, and I’d rather spend my time writing than doing a lot of social media, as I feel that the more books that you have out there, the better the distribution gets.

    One thing I don’t do, is get into fights with people who have said anything bad about my books. I find it better to just not answer bad reviews or defend what I write, it only ends up in a nasty ‘back and forth’ that other people take note of, especially in public forums. I figure people are free to say what they want, and I let them go. How they choose to act is their problem, not mine.

    1. I agree about the conferences. I’m going to go to a conference in May that has readers there, and I’m excited about going. I learned much more from my readers than I did from the writer’s groups and conferences. I think most of them are out of touch with what readers are looking for. I understand they mean well, but I think they analyze things that don’t need to be focused on.

      I don’t blame you for minimizing your social media time. I have yet to see evidence that more social media efforts lead to more sales. It seems like publishing more books is the answer.

      Oh, I completely agree about the whole avoid fights thing. It never benefits the author to argue with someone’s opinion about the book. And as long as the book is the way you want it, that’s what matters. 😀

  19. I love what you said in number 4: Don’t take crap from readers who give you a hard time. That is all. 🙂

    1. 😀 It was a hard lesson to learn, but once I did, I enjoyed writing again.

  20. Rose Gordon says:

    I agree with so many things on the list, but most notably to only listen to your readers and what they like.

    I was beaten nearly black and blue from other writers about my use of dialogue tags on about 70% of my dialogue. As I’ve written more books, I’ve tried to work my way around not putting them in there–making the rounds of editing even more excruciating because I’m trying to eliminate dialogue tags! And I finally got it where the majority of my speaking doesn’t have dialogue tags attached. Anyway, last year sometime, I got a 3-star review from a reader who’d read and loved all of my books, even the one she reviewed, but the reason for the 3 was because in several scenes, she got confused about who was talking! There’s also the “just say said–saying whispered, bellowed, murmured, etc is annoying” isn’t so true for some readers, either. They like to know how it was said.

    Good list. I think you nailed it.

    1. It was one of my beta readers who told me “Let me know who’s talking!” LOL My critique partner hated my use of those tags (as did the group I used to go to). I like to mix it up with some action and allow for some free space where there is just dialogue. I think variety is the key, and sometimes using words like “whisper” and “snapped” is better than said. It depends on what you want the reader to focus on. How something is said can be more important than what they actually said. 😀

  21. I totally agree about the prose that is lacking story! This drives me crazy as a reader. There are so many stories that could be amazing but I think the writer focused too much on describing this or that and didn’t think about the overall storyline. Also, I too, find it difficult to take criticism from other writers who are looking for beautiful language. For me, story is key and I want my story to be relatable, understandable and to make sense to people! So I choose to have a plainer style so that the feelings and emotions of my story can be experienced by anyone.

    Totally awesome article. Love the positive-ness! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks!

      I’m the same way as a reader. No matter how pretty the language, if there’s no compelling story, I don’t finish the book. I was a part of a writer’s group that went nuts any time someone had “watch” or “was” or some other simple word in their manuscript. It stressed me out so much that I had trouble writing. At the end of the day, I think the reader will remember the story, not the way the author wrote the story.

      1. I agree! Not everyone can conform to that beautiful language and I think sometimes the simple stories are the ones that grab me the most because they are honest. I want honesty! I want it to feel real!

        1. I love how you said “feel real” because that’s exactly what I think matters most: being so wrapped up in the book that you feel what the characters do. Books like that are memorable. 😀

  22. I get so tired of hearing authors picking another author’s book apart because of stupid little things. First and foremost is to tell a good story. People get so obsessed with story structure and how everything has to be just so, and they forget the entertainment factor. Entertainment for the readers is key. I do agree that it needs to be edited well, because excess typos and misspellings are distracting. But you can be a professional and a rebel at the same time. 🙂

    1. I get tired of that, too. And there’s no reason why you can’t be professional while doing things your way. I don’t understand this mindset of “books can only be written one way”. For every rule I’ve seen, I’ve seen bestselling traditionally published authors who’ve broken them. I think it comes down to knowing your voice. Every author is unique because of how they tell the tale. 😀

  23. Thanks for sharing. Great post and excellent to learn.

  24. Great post! I’ve noticed there’s often a huge difference between what writers think we should be doing and what readers actually want.

    1. I noticed that, too, and even when you try to explain to writers that readers want something else, some of them don’t believe it. LOL

    2. I think it needs to be a two-way street. Take note of what readers want, but also take into account what you want to write. In some ways, there’s no point writing books no one will read. Also, there’s no point not enjoying what you write because you’re not pleasing yourself. LOL

      1. Taking note of what readers want is part of the job description. The problem is when readers insist you do it their way. I didn’t go into self-publishing so someone can dictate how I do or don’t do something. If I wanted to do that, I would have gone with a publisher, and in that case, the publisher would be the one I take orders from, not the reader. But I self-publish so that the story is ultimately the one I want to tell. Does this mean I don’t have beta readers and listen to their opinion? Of course not. But what I’ve discovered over the years is that for every person who hates my work for some reason, there’s another person who loves my book for the exact same reason. I’ve learned to pay attention to those people who are already on board with me in my goals as a storyteller. It’s a subtle distinction, but the readers who are your biggest supporters are also the best people to take advice from because they have the same vision for your work that you do. 😀

Comments are closed.