Realistic Tips for Writers

No one ever said it was gonna be easy…

Here are five important tips that could help you achieve success with your writing. They’re not necessarily easy, but you’re not writing because it’s easy, right? Right. If you’re really serious about honing your craft, read on…

Words, not numbers

Quality is important. Don’t let the fly-by-nights persuade you that publishing any old rubbish is a good idea. Stats aren’t the key to writing success. I’m not going to say they’re not in any way relevant, because anyone who’s being paid to write has to write what sells.

You can be a novelist or a scriptwriter or a blogger or whatever, but it’s a rare beast who can write what they want with no concern for how many people read their material. Such is for the inherently wealthy. If you’re constantly looking at stats and reading articles with titles such as How I Earn $4,000 a Month with Just One Hours work Everyday! *, you might want to consider refocusing your lens.

…agents are in the game to earn a living, not be your best friend

Let’s say you’ve written a novel. And let’s say a publisher buys this novel. Hoorah! Congrats and so on 🥂. Said publisher then publishes this book and invests a lot in marketing and promotion and all that jazz. Then the novel bombs. It happens. In those circumstances you’re not going to have a publisher for very long. We invested in you, it didn’t work out. We wish you the very best for the future. 👋 It’s harsh, but publishing is a business. Sure, you can self-publish, but that’s a lot more difficult to do well than many people think.

What goes for publishers is also true of agents: this might come as a shock, but agents are in the game to earn a living, not be your best friend. If you send them stuff that doesn’t sell, well it won’t be too long before they’re ignoring your emails. Agents are bit like magpies: always after the next bit of something shiny. And when you lose your lustre, there’s always someone much more shiny coming up fast.

If you’re writing on a platform like Medium, take pride in your work and publish something that offers your reader value once, twice or even three times a lady (sorry, couldn’t resist…) three times a week — rather than five to 10 shallow articles that really don’t mean anything.

Take your time. Write from the heart. Read Elements of Style. Edit hard, and…

Be consistent

Consistency doesn’t mean publishing an article every day. Yes, that would by definition be consistent, but your writing needs to be consistently interesting and engaging. To do that, turn up every day and take each piece of writing a little further. Resist the temptation to publish prematurely. If your reader was a sexual partner you’d want them to be satisfied, yes? Same thing.

…your emotions hide between the lines, slip among the spaces between the words, sit like demons on the serifs

Work on something consistently, and before too long you’ll have work to be proud of. Be honest with yourself and your readers. When you’re writing, your emotions hide between the lines, slip among the spaces between the words, sit like demons on the serifs. As a reader, I’ll be able to tell whether you meant it, whether you cared about what you’ve written, and whether you cared about engaging with me. If you did, then I’ll probably come back.

Talk to your readers

Think of every piece of writing as a conversation, rather than a platform from which to pontificate. Write in simple, clear, accessible language.

…all you’re doing when writing is communicating

There’s a guy here in the UK who writes a lot of interesting stuff. He’s a minor celebrity, been on TV, published books. But there’s a problem with his writing: you need a dictionary to look up all the fancy words he uses. And he uses a lot of fancy words.

This is frustrating and alienates readers, which compromises the potential for communication. And all you’re doing when writing is communicating.

Define “success”

One person’s success is another person’s failure. All these YouTube videos and posts about how to make a million bucks overnight are all well and good, but probably unrealistic for most of us. Be honest with yourself. Ask what want you can achieve realistically.

This fruit is high enough on the tree that I’ve got to stretch myself…

I’ll share my personal goal with you here: I’d like to be able to earn enough to go to my wife and say would you like to give up work?. She may not want to give up work, but it would be nice for her to have the choice, and it would make me feel good to be able to give her that choice.

To do that I need to earn enough to cover her salary. This fruit is high enough on the tree that I’ve got to stretch myself, but it’s fruit I could potentially reach with some effort. And a ladder. And maybe a stick or something. But you see what I mean. By contrast, I want to work two hours a day and have a beach house in Maui… is a different kettle of fish.

Open up

Finally, and this is possibly the most important: express yourself. Shed your inner censor. Put yourself into your work, and write from the heart. Then everything else will follow.

…there’s no silver bullet

When you open up, that’s when you’re honest, and the reader can tell. And this benefits you as a writer, too, because you’re unburdening yourself, releasing the tension, doing what writers really need to do: turning complex thoughts and feelings into language people can understand. Language that can be shared with others, stored away or trashed, whichever you feel.

The point of this is to encourage you. But it’s also to highlight that there’s no silver bullet, no way around turning up and doing the work. Hone the tools of your trade. Consider writing a craft, and invest in creating work to be proud of.

No one ever said it was gonna be easy.


* I must draw your attention to the deliberate mistakes in that fictional headline, dear reader: in order to make it realistic, and reflect some of the most common mistakes I see on Medium, I’ve left out the apostrophe; if you don’t know where that should be, you might want to take a look at my Punctuation Basics post. I’ve also written everyday when it should be every day. That’s a real bugbear of mine. I write every day; it’s the story of an everyday guy. Easy.

* Elements of Style is an affiliate link.

* I Want You, by Inspiral Carpets featuring Mark E Smith.

I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff.

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