Jul 18, 2016
The new era: A 21st Century Approach to Best Writing Practices
Whether you’ve just decided to become a writer or you’ve been a published author for decades, the new rules apply to both: Nowadays it’s getting harder to be a well-recognized author. But as the rules change, so do the best practices for getting the recognition you need and deserve.
After spending two decades of keeping our authors’ best interest in the forefront, American Author has learned what it really takes to reach the top readership today.
Keep your work on your calendar. For many of us, writing can end up being a secondary, if not tertiary, place in our daily routine. For successful writers, having their daily routine involve times to write is critical.
Prolific writer Henry Miller (author of Tropic of Cancer), said, “Work according to Program and not according to mood.” For writers like Miller or Patrick McManus, they make it a point to keep a schedule that pushes their work to succeed. For the academic journal writer turned humor writer Patrick McManus, he committed himself to write for two hours every night--from 7 to 9 p.m. One time he finished his informative article early but had to finish out the last 45 minutes of his writing session. He wrote a humor story and it was picked up by Field & Stream magazine.
It was good ole’ Pat’s consistency lead to now 23 published books and a career spanning nearly four decades.
Read, read, read. It’s vitally important to know what you are writing about, but it’s also important to hone your craft in reading other writers’ works. In reading, we learn not just the information needed to confirm/argue your ideas, but it’s also good to see how the others in your genre apply phrasing. As the good Stephen King often says, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Communicate to your audience. Today’s writers have to do more than just write to get heard. It seems as though we have to shout at the top of our lungs to get noticed. But that’s not quite the case. You must make a name for yourself online by getting a modern, new author website, setting up an Amazon author page, and diving into social media. If you build a good website, blog, and social media, you can grow and develop an audience that wants to read your every word.
Seriously, be active. In centuries before, it was enough to hole up in their office, pump out a manuscript and send it straight to their publisher. Not so for today. Prior to a work coming out, it’s good to get out to show and tell. In keeping active with your audience, you’ll create intrigue, pique their interest, and have them waiting on tenterhooks for your next book release. Being active is a glorious way to market yourself.
Grammar matters. The great wit Dorothy Parker said of writing, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, do so now. Learn the rules of writing. It’s hard to be taken seriously if you do not have the structural integrity within your sentences. I was once given a self-published novel from a friend. He said that the book wasn’t doing too well at the time. I took a look and figured out where his problem came from: Within the first four pages I had found an average of 10 typos, misspellings/grammar errors per page.
Understanding the concepts of grammar and style should be on your list of to-dos should you want to be successful. Of course, the occasional error happens. But develop your basic understanding of grammar before taking to your editing version of your manuscript.
Be mercenary with your work. Every great writer has taken this quote for a spin, but William Faulkner said it first: “Kill your darlings.”
To be an effective writer, you have to first, write for yourself and then edit for your audience. Remember that you are communicating your brain to the rest of the world and your readers might not get what you’re saying.
This is a crushing idea for many. There are strings of words that are so utterly delicious, it’s hard to come to grips with the fact that they do not drive your story forward at any certain point in time.
For me, I have killed many of my favorite darlings, but I can’t just delete them from my existence. Because I love them so much, I made a file on my desktop titled “The Graveyard” and I bury them there, hoping that someday I’ll be able to bring them back to life (believe me, there is nothing greater than bringing that perfect phrase back to life).
Inspiration is just a procrastination tactic.
Yes, it can be brain on fire, let’s write all the things, 12k words more in the novel kind of energy that drives you. However if you wait for inspiration, you’ll soon forget what you were doing when it shows up.
Sometimes you can’t wait for inspiration, you must go out and find it within the nooks and crannies of your daily routine. All you have to do is open your eyes and…
Be present. Whenever you take a walk, make coffee, get the mail or what-have-you, open your eyes. You will find inspiration everywhere. One of my favorite current characters in a novel I’m working on is based off of bumping into a woman at the grocery store. I followed her from a distance for three aisles (trying not to be creepy at all, fail as I did), taking notes about her posture, her clothing, her hair, the way she reached up to the top shelf. Finding inspiration in the mundane can be glorious.
Finding characters and settings based off of what you see helps you describe a moment with more vibrancy. You want your readers to feel like they are in the moment? Try being in the moment.
Don’t get bogged down with rules. Last but not least, trust yourself and your work. Once you understand the rules, you can push them until they break. The most invigorating writers throughout history have broken the rules and come out victorious.