The Best Writing Advice to Level-Up Your Craft
Looking for the best writing advice? You found it! Or you found a good chunk of it, anyway.
The truth is, there’s a lot of stellar advice out there. We simplified things with the curated list that follows. It doesn’t cover everything, but it includes the most essential tips for mastering your craft and building your career.
Hopefully, you’ll leave with a few new ideas for improving your work and process. I suspect you’ll also feel a little inspired. And if you’re anything like me, you might experience a little relief in the realization that Pulitzer Prize-winning authors experience the same struggles you do.
So let’s get to it, starting with wisdom from the writers we admire.
Best Writing Advice From the Super Successful
Here’s what famous authors have to say about writing as both craft and career. (The links in this section will take you to articles that will help you put this great advice to work.)
On Perfecting Your Craft
“Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.” –William Faulkner
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” –Ernest Hemingway
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” –Stephen King
“Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.’” –C.S. Lewis
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." –Anton Chekhov
“One should use common words to say uncommon things." –Arthur Schopenhauer
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” –Elmore Leonard
“The one common thread in all of the books that are falling apart on my shelf? Characters—flawed ones with desires and needs who spend most of the story tripping over their weaknesses in an effort to get what they want.” –Becca Puglisi
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” –Kurt Vonnegut
“...a film director once told me: 'You can't make a good film unless your hands tremble behind the camera.' Let us write stories that move us to the core, because when our pen is trembling, the reader can feel it, too." –Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
On the Writing Process
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” –Octavia Butler
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” –Zadie Smith
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” –Neil Gaiman
“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” –Isabel Allende
“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish… Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” –John Steinbeck
“One of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No, no, I’m finished… I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it.’” –Maya Angelou
On the Writing Life
“Forgiveness… is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.” –Ann Patchett
“You do an awful lot of bad writing in order to do any good writing. Incredibly bad.” –William S. Burroughs
"Writer friends are everything! …when you crawl out of your cave it's so important to have friends there waiting who get it, who are ready to read and cheer you on, and who will send you right back into the cave when you need it." –Afia Atakora
“Writing is impossible. The alphabet I use to write only has twenty-six letters in it. No matter how many ways I rearrange those letters, I don’t think they can possibly be enough to encapsulate the way it feels to be alive. Maybe it’s hopeless. But oh, god, at least it isn’t not writing.” –Sarah Gailey
“Plan for the long haul. If you’re extremely talented and lucky, you’ll be famous in a few years. Most of us, including me, are neither that talented nor lucky. It took me 20 years of writing before I could write The Sympathizer.” –Viet Thanh Nguyen
“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.” –Anne Lamott
“Writing is about resilience and faith. Writing is hard for every last one of us... Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine coal? They do not. They simply dig.” –Cheryl Strayed
As for the payoff for all this perseverance:
“It’s a feeling of happiness that knocks me clean out of adjectives. I think sometimes that the best reason for writing novels is to experience those four and a half hours after you write the final word.” –Zadie Smith
More Writing Advice Worth Following
Good stuff, right?
Now here’s some great writing advice that I’m not able to deliver to you in a neat little quote from a genius author.
Set Yourself Up for Success
The quotes above made it pretty clear: writing is tough. It takes a lot of discipline to keep showing up, especially when you’re not feeling it. There will be days when you hate every word you write, can’t focus, or feel certain you’ll never make it to “The End.”
Prepare for those days now by setting up strategies that at least make this messy process easier. For example:
- Write during the time of day when you’re at your most alert and creative.
- Set up a writing space that encourages focus. It can be as simple as investing in noise-canceling headphones or writing in a room with a door.
- If you have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of writing absolute garbage, establish a warm-up routine. Start with a brain dump or a low-stakes writing exercise to get the juices flowing.
- Look into writing tools that could help you stay organized and productive. (You probably won’t be shocked to learn that my personal favorite is Dabble.)
All those strategies will give you a good boost. But the absolute best way to set yourself up for success is to:
Develop a Writing Routine
This is possibly the best writing advice you can get because a routine is the only way you get anything done. If you try to keep showing up on willpower alone—or worse, by way of inspiration—you’ll constantly find yourself stalling out and having to start again.
But if you create a writing schedule and honor it the way you honor your work schedule, showing up won’t be a question of motivation. You committed to being there. Good day or bad, you’ve got to put that butt in the seat.
Plus, when you stick to a routine, your writer brain kicks in faster. It learns that 9:00 p.m. is storytelling time.
You can even introduce rituals to help your mind get into the zone. Light a candle, put on your writing playlist, or do some light stretching. With enough repetition, a simple ritual becomes a creativity trigger.
Question the Concept of Writer’s Block
Every writer has had the experience of being completely and utterly stuck. The words won’t come and every idea is certifiable trash. It sucks.
But as all the best writing advice about writer’s block will tell you, there’s nothing to be gained from viewing the block as an insurmountable obstacle. Instead of romanticizing writer’s block as artist torture, work to understand what’s really going on.
Is it fear? Burnout? Or are you just struggling to fix a story problem?
Here’s a great video on interpreting creative blocks. And here are some tips for getting unstuck.
Most of the time, the best advice is some version of “power through.” But if you find your brain is too clogged to function and your creative soul is deflated, it might be time to:
Take a Break
Sometimes your creative breakthroughs happen in the background while you’re living your life. So don’t be afraid to take a step back.
Take a walk. Call a writer friend. Go to a museum. Get out of town for the weekend to see new sights and sniff new smells.
I don’t recommend canceling tons of writing sessions to do these things. And if you skip a session or two, make a conscious commitment to return to your writing on a specific date.
But sometimes a little breather is exactly what you need.
Write Without Fear, Edit Without Mercy
You’ll hear this saying a lot as you move through your writing career.
When you’re writing your first draft, you’ve got to ignore all the critics heckling you from the balcony in your brain. You know, the voices nitpicking every sentence, second-guessing every beat, mocking your dialogue, shaming you for attempting to become an author in the first place.
Tell them they can shut all the way up. Keep writing with reckless abandon. It’s okay to write a dreadful first draft. We all do.
When it’s time to edit, swap out your reckless spirit for a ruthless one. Boldly seek out the flaws in your own work. Fix what’s broken. Cut what doesn’t belong. Treat nothing as precious.
Trust Yourself but Stay Humble
Some of the best writing advice out there tells you to own your literary ambition. Call yourself a writer now, because you’re writing, and that’s the only qualification.
Trust your own vision. Carve your own path. Believe in the possibilities. It’s all good advice.
But remember to balance out that beautiful confidence with a bit of humility. Be willing to take feedback. Find a mentor. Keep reading, learning, and growing.
Be conscious of what you don’t know. Put in the time to research your character’s job or culture or mental illness. Hire a sensitivity reader if you’re writing a character from a marginalized group that’s not your own.
Always be eager to learn. It’s going to make you a killer writer.
Live Your Whole Life
I saved my favorite quote on writing for last:
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –Ray Bradbury
Daily life is how we find things to write about. It’s how we understand things like love, fear, joy, power, grief, courage… all the things people want to see in the books they read.
Plus, our real lives are loaded with opportunities to engage the creative mind. Fill your world with good books, unfamiliar foods, spontaneous kitchen dancing, slow hikes, art museum excursions, quality television, and music that expands your soul.
Commit to your writing routine, but leave space in your schedule to fill your cup with real life. Then, when the time is right, spill it all out onto the page.
Looking for More Specific Writing Advice?
We’ve covered a lot of the best writing advice out there.
But if you came here looking for specific tips on things like character development, story structure, and publishing. We’ve got you covered there, too.
You can find great tips on just about every writing topic in the DabbleU library. If you’re looking for writing advice to guide you through the entire novel-writing process, download our free ebook, Let’s Write a Book.
And if you’d like to see what Dabble’s writing tool is all about, you can try it for free for 14 days. Just click here to get started.
TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING...
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