Advice for Writers

One of the more common questions I get is whether I have any advice for aspiring writers. I’ve been asked the same question plenty of times over the years, both via email and in person, and I always have trouble figuring out how to answer, mostly because I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that I do know the answer. It’s true that I’m a reasonably successful author, and I know what I did to get to where I am now, but I don’t know whether that’s particularly applicable to other people. Or to put it another way: I know what works for me, but I don’t know whether it works for anyone else.

On the other hand, my approach did work for me, so the odds are decent that it’ll be at least somewhat applicable for at least some of the people who read it. And I figure that if even a minority of you guys find it useful, then it’s probably worth doing. So let’s get to it.

The advice I have comes in the form of four rules. Follow all four of them, and you’ll become a successful writer. If this sounds simple, it is. Unfortunately, simple things are usually hard. If they were easy and simple, everyone could do them.

Rule One: Write

Go write something. Congratulations, you’re now a writer. I did tell you this was going to be simple.

Some of you are probably objecting at this point on the grounds that writing any old crap doesn’t make you a writer. Yes it does. If you write stuff, then you’re a writer. You might not be a good writer, or a publishable writer, but those are subjective judgements. Whether you write things or not isn’t.

People who talk about writing tend to conflate being a professional writer (with the history and level of success that implies) with being an active writer (which is just a statement of what you do). But the only way you get to be the first is by doing the second. There are so many aspiring authors out there who will talk for ages about what they’d like to do, and the ideas they’ve had, and what other writers do wrong and should be doing better. The one thing they never do is the part where they actually sit down and write the damn book.

Following this rule will make you a writer, but it won’t (of course) make you a successful one. But then, do you need to be? The vast majority of people who learn to play an instrument will never become professional musicians, but does that make it pointless? Most musicians would say no: learning to play is worth it for its own sake. The same goes for writing.

But I did say that I was going to give you guys advice for becoming a successful writer, in which case following just Rule One isn’t enough. So for those of you who want to take it further, we’ll go on to the next step.

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