Whether we write or practice any kind of skill or craft, we are always learning. There’s always something to sharpen, to cultivate, to discover, to understand on a deeper, almost cellular level. There’s always more to study and more to master.
And, of course, other writers can be our greatest teachers. Which is why I asked authors of all sorts of books—from poetry collections to parenting guidebooks—to share their best writing advice. You’ll find their illuminating insights below.
Let your writing loose.
BJ Gallagher is the author of over 30 books, including the forthcoming title Your Life Is Your Prayer (out in spring 2019). She stressed the importance of following your muse wherever she leads, and not censoring her.
“When you are inspired to write, when a good idea comes to you, just sit down and do it. Don’t question the impulse or hesitate. Just pick up your laptop or your pen and write. Capture the idea, the dialogue, the characters, or whatever it is that was calling you to capture it. Don’t edit, don’t censor your thoughts or your words. Just get it down on paper. You can go back later and revise, rewrite, edit–and perhaps throw away–what you wrote. But you have to capture it first, before you can do anything with it.”
Alexandra Brown, co-author of A Year Off: A Story About Traveling the World—and How to Make It Happen For You, underscored a similar sentiment. “A creative director I worked with many moons ago told me to write everything down, even the seemingly ‘bad’ lines, because putting everything down on the proverbial paper would help free the creative flood gates and prevent any potential blockages.”
This approach of writing it all down has helped Brown not only combat writer’s block, but it’s also liberated her from self-judgment. “What’s more, sometimes the ‘bad’ lines end up becoming something marvelous when looked at from a different perspective,” she said.
Remember your job as a writer.
KJ Dell’Antonia, author of the book How to Be a Happier Parent and the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast, believes that the following advice keeps any kind of writing on track: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.”
“It’s really a great way of getting your thoughts in order–of asking, ‘What do I want the reader to know here? and then ‘How am I going to tell them?’ and then ‘How do I drive that home/make sure it was understood?’ It gives you a very loose structure and reminds you of what your job is–to reach the reader.”
Be 1000 percent passionate about your work.
As a new author, designer and illustrator Andrea Pippins, has learned the importance of being excited and passionate about the projects she works on. “Writing a book is a lot of work, and it it doesn’t stop there,” said Pippins, author of several books, including her newest book We Inspire Me: Cultivate Your Creative Crew to Work, Play, and Make.
“Once the book is done you have to get out and promote it, and all of this takes a lot time and energy. Therefore, I learned that for me I have to be 1000 percent dedicated to the project in order to devote the work it requires and to create something I feel really excited about.”
Don’t underestimate the power of early feedback.
Getting feedback from others can be invaluable. Joan Gelfand, author of several poetry collections, the upcoming novel Fear to Shred and You Can Be a Winning Writer, emphasized engaging with early readers—whether you’re writing an article, a book, a review or a poem.
“So many times we think that we’ve nailed a piece only to learn that part of what we are trying to say has not been communicated as well as we would have hoped,” she said.
“While it is hard to ask people to be objective, if you insist that you will listen to their feedback with an open mind, and not to worry about hurting your feelings, you will get the feedback you need to make your piece the best that it can be.”
It’s all too-easy to do everything but write. Of course, distractions are aplenty—from social media to our phones to the many, many thoughts swirling inside our own brains.
Jane Binns, an artist and author of the forthcoming memoir Broken Whole, suggested writing or typing up the phrase: “A writer writes.” She suggested putting this note on the fridge, on your computer and anywhere else you frequently look. “This reminder keeps writing on top of your list of priorities, holding you accountable to your commitment.”
Make it easy to capture ideas.
Binns also suggested carrying mini notepads in your bag and back pocket. This way when an idea arises or comes together, she said, you can jot it down. After all, ideas seem to strike when we least expect them, and when we’re away from our desks.
As Binns said, “There have been an untold number of times when I have figured out the next sequence or development when I’m filling the tank in my car, or folding laundry, or rolling the cart at the grocery store.”
There’s no shortage of writing advice, online, in books, in magazines. The key is to identify what resonates with you. But even advice that you don’t take is valuable, because it helps you better understand and refine your own process and preferences. Knowing what doesn’t work for us is just as important as knowing what does.
What’s your favorite writing advice?