12 Tips For Amateurs From Pro Writers

If you feel like you’re struggling with writing, or not sure if its for you, rest assured there are plenty of authors who have felt the same way. Here are a few tips from the pros that might help in getting your writing on track.

H P Lovecraft: “Read your idols”

Starting with a pretty easy piece of advice to follow, Lovecraft was quite clear with this one. If you like reading a particular style or genre, its likely you’ll want to write in the same one. In his case, it was reading authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, and Algernon Blackwood which helped him get that dark, other-worldly feel to his stories. There may be a few exceptions to this, but generally, if you want to write romance, read romance. If you want to write weird, read weird.

Ursula LeGuin: “The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time”

This is some pretty basic ‘walk before you run’ advice, but it is surprising how many writers will be put off by the perceived quality of their own early work. There might be a few rare cases of natural talent resulting in immediate rewards, but generally everyone starts somewhere a fair way back. It takes writing bad to realise how to write well, and without some terrible first draft, no author would have anything to edit. In that sense, and possibly LeGuins point, is that writing badly is what leads to writing well. Remember, we never see the first draft of our favourite authors, only the end result. To compare ourselves only to the polished product is to set ourselves up for disappointment.

Stephen King: “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it”

Stephen King’s On Writing could make up a list entirely of its own for advice to writers, but in fairness to all, this is his only inclusion on this list. However, it is a critical piece of advice for any writer who puts the effort in to back up their writing with research. That’s great, but filter it into your writing. Readers will respect your knowledge on a topic, but they don’t want a ten-page info-dump on something that ultimately is just background knowledge.

Toni Morrison: “There’s a line between revising and fretting”

Revising involves making sure everything is as perfect as it can be. Fretting is worrying about everything, and changing nothing. The expanded interview with Morrison on this one suggests if you’re fretting about a section, kill it. Take it out, save it in rejected drafts folder, and read the story again. If it flows, if it sounds better or makes more sense, then ou’ve revised successfully. If not, put the old text back n and move on. Writing already takes considerable time and effort, and causes enough stress. Don’t add to it by fretting over your darlings.

Anne Rice: “Protect your voice and your vision. If going on the Internet and reading Internet reviews is bad for you, don’t do it”

Some people will like your work, some people will not. It’s not a judge on the worth of your work as much as a fact of life that you can’t please everyone. If you can handle it, feel free to read some comments on your work, but if one bad review surrounded by a bunch of positive reviews is going to upset you, then ignore them. Jump onto Goodreads or Amazon and read some reviews on your favourite author’s books. Even for Rice, Interview With A Vampire has plenty of one and two star reviews. It hasn’t seemed to slow her down, and neither should it bother you.

Alexandre Dumas: “One’s work may be finished someday, but one’s education never”

Generally speaking, this is good advice. In writing, even more so. Despite Alexandre Dumas family being somewhat impoverished, Dumas was able to educate himself after his father’s death, and his respect for new knowledge led him to collaborate with numerous experts for his novels. For a man actively described as an egotist, it shows his respect for education in the way he never considered himself quite educated enough for his own satisfaction.  


About the Author

An aspiring novelist, Nathan is a member of the Queensland Writers Centre and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. With a bunch of qualifications in things that really don't bother most people, he spends his days pretending to sell insurance, while sneakily using clients as inspiration for his characters. It took him twelve years to realise he preferred writing, critiquing and reviewing novels than being in the military.