10 Steps to Finishing a Novel

The great thing about blogging is that you can’t hear my maniacal laughter. Oh, I’ll give you ten steps all right. Just don’t think that those ten steps will be easy or even consecutive. Think of it more as a twisted game of Chutes and Ladders. You go up a few steps, slide back down to the bottom, go up a few more steps, slide back to the bottom again. You’re basically Sisyphus.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

A nicer title for this article might be:

The Creative Process for Writing a Novel

except it also includes processes that are critical, not creative, so maybe:

The Ten-Step Program for Novelists

(Titles aren’t really my thing.)

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen a link I posted a while ago entitled “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Unlocking Our Personas to Get Unstuck” from Ed Batista. In it, he quotes Betty Sue Flowers and her approach for getting unstuck as a writer. Now, I’ve already posted on The Myth of Writer’s Block, but there’s a difference between being “blocked” and being paralyzed by your inner critic.

Flowers’ essay is short, and you should read it. But I’ll sum it up for you anyway. She says that we all have conflicting energies. One, the madman, is the creative energy.

The judge is the critical energy: the internal editor, the voice that says, “That was the worst thing I’ve ever read” or “You are a ridiculous hack.” It’s the impetus to hold down the delete key.

So Flowers introduces two more personas, ones to act as mediators between the madman and the judge: the architect and the carpenter.

Basically these four personas represent 1) creativity, 2) logic, 3) craft, and 4) perfection. Separating these processes and letting them each have their turn will allow your work to grow and be refined from start to finish. You can even select one day for each persona. Monday = Madman. Tuesday I’ll organize his mess. Wednesday I work on syntax, style. Thursday I polish. Friday I submit the work.

Sounds really smart, right? It is!

But let’s look at the broader picture. How can we apply those four personas to writing out a novel-length work?

Steps 1–2: Experience

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Hey Kids, Comics!

#1: Feed your creativity.

Read good stories. Read like a writer. Watch movies known for their storytelling (See this and this for ideas). Watch Sherlock. Listen to people talking. Eavesdrop. People watch. Go make memories. Travel. Spend time outside.

#2: Feed your knowledge.

Research. Spend time world-building. Flesh out your characters, then get to know them inside and out. Need character worksheets or exercises? I’ve got them here.

This is where many creative people stop. But to actually get things finished, you’ll need to keep moving forward.

On to the next step!

Steps 3–4: Produce

This is where the madman comes in.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Fanpop

#3: Brainstorm

No idea is off limits. Try to come up with some themes, pitches, or log lines so you have a bit of direction for the next step.

#4: Create

Be wild, reckless. Imagine your inner critic bound and gagged in the corner. Unleash your inner child and play. Write a paragraph or a scene. If you are a pantser, you might even complete a first draft before the next step. Just get words down.

When you are ready to plan, whether you’ve written a sentence or a full first draft, move on

Step #5: Plan

5–6 correspond to the Architect.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: National Archive

Plan. Plot.

Start sketching out a roadmap. You can drive with your headlights out, sure, but it’s good to have at least some idea of a destination or what’s coming up next. This plan can be as rough or as detailed as you want it to be. Just stay flexible. Related posts:

Repeat 1-5 until you have an idea of a destination and a route to get there.

Step #6: Harvest

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Smashing Picture

Curate. Organize.

Gather what you’ve generated. Organize it. Be selective with what you keep. Cut, rearrange, paste.

Repeat 1-6 until you have a complete manuscript. Celebrate. Then take a break to read a book or two about writing. Spend some time here on the blog. Ask questions

Step #7: Critique

7–8 correspond to the Carpenter

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: National Galleries Scotland

NOW is the time to start critiquing. Look for lazy writing. Find cliches. Read out loud. Underline wordy or clunky writing. Use a highlighter, not a pen. This is a time to find problems, not fix them. If you try to fix everything now, you’ll overwhelm yourself!

Take a break. Read poetry, go for a walk, go on vacation. Give your ego some time to recover. Compile a list of people who might want to Beta Read for you.

Step #8: Progress

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Refine: Library of Congress

8a: Rewrite

Take a scene or a chapter at a time. Look over critiques, then fix them. Be a writer. Be creative, be original. Fresh language. Specific details. Show, don’t tell.

8b: Proof

Inspect your writing for grammatical or logical errors. You can do this at the same time as #8a, but realize that one is about creating, and one is about judging. They are like twins with different personalities. You can take them as a set or separately.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Twins: Design for Mankind

Write, critique, refine, proof your query letter if you’re looking for agent representation. 

Step #9: Invite

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Australian War Memorial

Give your new draft to other readers. Listen to their feedback. Decide if you agree with them.

While you’re waiting for their feedback, read QueryShark. Refine your query letter.

Repeat 8 and 9 until you feel ready to submit or send your work to a professional. Note that if you already have an agent or editor, you’d likely submit your work to them very early on.

Step #10: Post

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Smithsonian Apparently people mailed actual children via post. Seriously.

10a: Hire

Send your query letter and sample to a freelance editor for professional feedback. Alternatively, you could send your query to a critique group or published author friend. Consider anyone’s feedback critically, but also understand that sometimes your gut reaction is more of a defense mechanism. Don’t accept or reject changes without considering each one.

If self-publishing, you take on the financial risks of publishing rather than a publishing house or small press. Ideally you will hire at least one copy editor or line editor and one proofreader. I’ve seen multiple editors and proofreaders still miss typos!

Repeat 8.

10b: Query

If you are looking for representation, send your query letter to agents.

If no one requests a complete manuscript, repeat 8-10 until somebody does. A published writer is a writer who doesn’t give up. 

Nobody promised you a rose garden. This is a long, hard road. You will sacrifice much. But at the end, you will have learned and achieved much.

Then: Representation!

You did it! Plan on plenty more writing, rewriting, and marketing in the months and years following representation as your agent submits your book to publishers.


  1. Feed your creativity by experiencing life.
  2. Feed your knowledge gaining experience. Research facts. Fabricate the rest.
  3. Brainstorm like a mad scientist.
  4. Create with wild abandon. Repeat 1–4.
  5. Plan. Repeat 1–5 until you have a destination, an ending, a THEME.
  6. Curate, cut, and paste. Repeat 1–6 until you have a complete manuscript.
  7. NOW you can take the gag out of your internal editor’s mouth. Critique. Then take a vacation.
  8. Refine, fix, rewrite. Unleash the literary genius. Live up to your potential.
  9. Invite others to read your new draft. Welcome feedback. Write your query and summary. Repeat 8.
  10. Send your stuff to the professionals. Repeat 8–10 until you get representation.

An even briefer summary:

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write


Note: My husband, a Captain in the Marine Corps (now Reserves), says he only needs 6 steps to accomplish anything: BAMCIS. I can see that being adapted for novel writing. Once he finishes a novel, I’ll let him write a guest post about it.

Chapter Outlining like a Pantser

I know, I should be writing my novel and not using up words by blogging. But there’s something about a baby’s screaming that sucks the creativity right out of me. So say hi to baby R, everyone. He’s on my lap sniffling while I type this one-handed. 
Chapter Outlining Like a Pantser | Write Lara Write

I wanted to share how I’m outlining my novel. I’m a pantser, but my pantsing has yet to flesh out a working manuscript, because novels are so very different from short fiction and because I can’t write by the seat of my pants when I’m writing about a setting I’m still largely unfamiliar with (England, 12th century). Research has to come first, and then the exposition follows.
My last few attempts at fleshing out this manuscript have been as a plotter, but after all the planning, I have a skeleton and some ligaments. Now it’s time to add the meat, then the skin, the hair, the eyeballs, some freckles, and some pimples before I can present it as a living thing that can go out into the world.

Step One: Have (at least a vague idea of) a plot.

I’ve written many posts on plot for you, complete with my own method for plotting and downloadable worksheets for you to try. If you don’t have the 8 C’s, though, at least have an idea of the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Obviously I came up with my own method for a reason—the other methods weren’t hacking it for me, because I needed something more spelled out—but I also recommend the Plot Rollercoaster found in the novel planning workbook from NaNoWriMo. Download the workbook for free here.

Step Two: Outline

My outline is basically a Plot Treatment. Read about plot treatments and its value for both plotters and pantsers in my post “Letters from Anne Lamott.” But instead of writing paragraphs for each chapter, I’ve basically made it into a hybrid plot treatment and beat sheet.

Here’s the basic format.

Chapter [number or title]

Point A (How it begins)

Point B (How it ends)

What happens between those points?

What questions are answered?

What questions are still unanswered?

What needs to be researched?

That last one is especially applicable for me, because I’m writing historical fiction, so it might not be as important for you.

I suggest being open with the beat sheet part (the “what happens between those points”) at first, especially if you’re a pantser, so that your outline doesn’t limit your creative juices while pantsing it from A to B.

Here’s the format filled out for the first chapter of The Hunger Games:

Point A (How it begins):

This is the day of the reaping

Point B (How it ends):

Prim is chosen

What happens between those points?

  • Introduce Prim and mom, Buttercup the evil cat
  • Establish setting: District 12, the Seam
  • hunting is illegal
  • The capitol, dystopia
  • Gale; he wants to leave
  • Establish setting: The Hob
  • Madge
  • the reaping: its system for choosing tributes, getting ready, Effie and Haymitch

What questions are answered?

  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Who are her friends and family?
  • Where does this take place?
  • What kind of world is it?
  • Why should I read this book?
  • What’s Panem? What are the Hunger Games?
  • Will Katniss be chosen?

What questions are still unanswered?

  • How will Katniss react to Prim’s being chosen? How will every one else react?
  • Who will be chosen as the boy tribute?
  • Who will survive?


Suzanne Collins may have needed to research hunting for this chapter.

I’ve got the first twelve chapters laid out like this so far. I make sure the chapters will end at a point that leaves more questions than that chapter has answered. Then the next chapter either begins with a reaction to that point, or it goes somewhere else entirely, and then comes back to that reaction. I’ve heard the quote, “Never take your reader where they want to go.” In this context, another way of saying that is “Don’t answer your reader’s questions right away.” Your suspense will keep them reading.

Since my book will have a sequel, there will be some questions that won’t be answered at the end of this book, but most of them will be tied up to form a conclusion. Try to answer at least a couple questions per chapter to appease the reader. They need to be far enough away from the answer to keep them running after it, but close enough that they can remain interested. If you want a dog to chase a rabbit, the dog has to be able to smell the rabbit.

Next steps for me are finishing this outline, choosing a chapter I want to write, doing the research for that chapter, and then writing that chapter like I would write a short story—with as much pantsing as possible to connect from point A to B. If I end up at point x, then I adjust my outline once I get stuck, and then I keep going.

Do you outline? Do you use beat sheets? Do you use them while writing? During revisions?

The Myth of Writer’s Block: 5 Encouraging Quotes from Writers

I contemplated manipulating the concept of Writer’s Block into an 8th maxim for 7 Writing Maxims and what to do with them, but I found so many great quotes, I decided to make it its own post. And then I decided I wanted to be able to pin all of them to my writing Pinterest board, so I made them into images. Enjoy!

There is no such thing as writer’s block.

…You’re just not writing.

The Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

The only cure for writer’s block is to write. Write even if you don’t know where you’re going. Write out all the problems you are trying to solve. Then write down what won’t work, and what might work but probably won’t, and what is cliche, and what is unexpected, and what is unusual.

Here’s a bunch of quotes for you that basically all say the same thing—when you’re blocked, just write anyway! (P.S. If you’re on Pinterest, Pin away.)

The Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. —Pixar story artist Emma Coats

The Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking. —William Butler YeatsThe Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

You fail only if you stop writing. —Ray Bradbury

The Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

There’s a phrase, “sitzfleisch,” which means just plain sitting on your ass and getting it done…—Peter S. Beagle

The Myth of Writer's Block | writelarawrite (click for more quotes)

Stuck? To ease yourself back into writing, try these Daily Writing tips.

Need some more motivation? Check out my motivational posts here.

Got questions? Ask away in the comments.

7 Writing Maxims and What to Do with Them

To the recent influx of new followers: Salutations! In your honor, I thought I’d welcome you with a post on the most common writing advice I hear, and whether or not you should actually listen to it. I hope you enjoy your stay at my little corner of the blogoverse.



  1. Kill your darlings
  2. Show, don’t tell
  3. Write what you know
  4. Eliminate adverbs
  5. Avoid purple prose
  6. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.
  7. Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.

1. Kill your darlings

I hear this all the time. I also look forward to the movie. The actual quote is “murder your darlings” and comes from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Sometimes authors take “kill your darlings” somewhat literally and kill off their favorite characters. If it’s taken completely literally, as suggested by the movie title, then writers would be murderers.

How it’s usually applied: “If I am attached to something I wrote, then I can’t be objective about it, so I won’t cut it out when revising, even though it doesn’t belong.”

Sometimes I’ve seen “kill your darlings” taken to extreme: “If I liked writing this, it must be awful. I’d better cut it out.” Give yourself some credit! If you enjoyed writing it, then someone else might enjoy reading it. However, the question to ask yourself is whether it belongs in this story.

Even Stephen King, whom I will refer to frequently in this post because On Writing is so widely read, used the “kill your darlings” mantra:

“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.’” —Stephen King (quote taken from here)

What’s interesting is that when Quiller-Couch said “murder your darlings,” he wasn’t talking about being sentimental about good writing, and he wasn’t talking about pacing, either. He was talking about ornamental writing (see #5). So whenever you hear “kill your darlings” or are tempted to use it yourself, swap it out for this instead, which is what people really mean when they quote it:

“Don’t put anything in a story that does not reveal character or advance the action.” —Kurt Vonnegut

Does it have to reveal the character of the protagonist? No, you can characterize even background characters. The Sun Is Also A Star does this with every speaking character. But each of those characters should be relevant to the theme and their actions should affect your main plot.

What’s important: Pacing, character, and action are important. Think of these things when you are revising, and then take out whatever slows down the action or doesn’t reveal character. To help with that, this scene questionnaire from The Script Lab is a great resource worth bookmarking.

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot the idea that you should get rid of writing that you’re attached to.

heart Take to heart that pacing and character or thematic development trump your sentimental attachment. If a scene is self-serving and not story-serving, take it out. Keep it for a different story or save it for “deleted scenes” you can share with fans on your website or in future printings.

2. Show, don’t tell

The reason this is such a war cry for editors and writing professors is because it’s good advice. A story becomes more resonant with a reader if it’s experienced. If you paint a picture with your words, then the reader has a more intimate connection with your writing than if you just tell them what to feel.

For example, you could tell me that a guy had big, bulgy muscles, or you could describe him throwing a hay bale into the back of his pickup truck, the buttons on his shirt puckering from the stress, revealing a sliver of sweaty skin. And then you’d delete that if you weren’t writing romance, and if you were writing romance, you’d rewrite the whole thing, or at least the “sliver of sweaty skin” part because alliteration is sometimes one of those darlings that points to the writer and takes readers out of the story.

Do you need to tell us that one of your characters is 6’10”? If you want the reader to know that a character is tall, have them duck under a low-hanging chandelier, or have someone else stand next to them at chin-level. Something else to show how tall a character is. Does your world even have feet and inches? Do you want to limit casting options for an adaptation of your work?

How it’s usually applied: it’s better for a reader to feel things for him/herself than be told how to feel.

However, is telling always bad? No. I refer you to “5 situations where it’s better to tell than show in your fiction” on io9 for that information. Just remember your narration style when working information in. You can’t use the example from io9, “Diana was a mutant, but so far the only mutant power she’d manifested was passive-aggressiveness,” no matter how clever it is, if you don’t have a clever narrator, and you can’t reveal anything at all as the narrator if you’re using a Third Person Objective/Cinematic narrator.

What’s important: Giving your reader an experience and keeping your narrator’s voice consistent

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot the idea that telling is always worse. It’s much better to say that a character opened up a door than go into excruciating detail about the journey to the other side of the room and the way the doorknob feels in her hand.

heart Take to heart that we are more apt to remember experiences than words, so use your words to create an experience for the reader. Also remember that “show, don’t tell” is feedback that should be given only in certain instances—novels still need narration, or else they wouldn’t be novels! “Show, don’t tell” is not a universal rule. It means, “Don’t use abstract words here when you could give concrete evidence.

3. Write what you know

I could write a whole post on this, but I’ll spare us both the time and skip ahead:

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot any part of this that limits you as a writer. You are a human being, and you know what it’s like to be a human being. Empathize with your characters. Focus on the emotions you and your characters have felt, and use them in your writing.

heart Take to heart that authority is important to readers. If you don’t know something, you can do research, and then you will know. Don’t know what it’s like to be a murderer? You can probably figure that one out using your imagination without actually killing something. Or if you want, you could interview a murderer or read a memoir of one. Just remember that people lie. Don’t know the difference between annuals and perennials? Look it up on Wikipedia, for heaven’s sake. Just remember that Wikipedia lies. And if you’re writing about a culture that isn’t your own, for heaven’s sake, do research, and then humbly ask people from that culture to read your work. Sensitivity readers, unlike usual beta readers, are usually paid for their time because they are coaching you on their life experience.

Some narratives are not yours to tell. Make room for #ownvoices.

4. Eliminate adverbs

Adverbs are guilty until proven innocent. —Howard Ogden

Adverbs aren’t the cause of lazy writing, but they are often a symptom of either redundancy or vagueness. Let’s use dialogue tags as an example.

“Hurry, Bella,” Alice interrupted urgently.

This is an example in redundancy from Stephanie Meyer. First off, “interrupted urgently” is redundant. If you are interrupting, you are being urgent. Second, the dialogue itself (“Hurry”) suggests urgency and an interruption. Third, do we really need to be told that Alice is interrupting urgently, when we could be shown that Alice is urgent with her actions, hopefully with something less cliche than her foot tapping?

Maybe Meyer used so many dialogue tags because she was afraid of vague or boring verbs. Why say “said angrily” when you can say “hissed”? (Want more examples of obtrusive dialogue tags? Look no further. ) Well, when it comes to dialogue tags, less is more. Sorry, Meyer. But in other situations, it is better to go with a more descriptive verb than a verb who lets an adverb pull all the weight. It’s better to say “heaved” than “picked up with difficulty” and it’s better to say “charged” than “ran forcibly.”

“Very” can almost always be eliminated:

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very.” Your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be. —Mark Twain

This fantastic “10 Mistakes List” lists some “empty adverbs” you should avoid. It also includes a section on showing versus telling.

You don’t have to eliminate all adverbs. But do eliminate ones that intensify a lazy verb as well as the lazy adverbs

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot the idea that all adverbs are evil. Do examine them to see if they are trying to cover up lazy writing.

heart Take to heart that adverbs are often a sign of redundancy and vagueness. Do a search in your document for “very” and “ly” to find most adverbs and see if they could be improved with better writing, and then go through your work sentence by sentence looking for other signs of redundancy (like two-word prepositions) and vagueness. Ask your Beta readers to look for redundancy and vagueness as well. And read my posts on revising if you’d like to enhance your voice further.

5. Avoid purple prose

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable.” —Mark Twain (letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880)

Writers. Violent, right? First we talk about murdering darlings, then we talk about eliminating adverbs… now adjectives are facing genocide from wordsmiths.

Purple prose, or ornamentation, or lofty, flowery language—this is what the great writers will warn you to stay away from. THIS is what Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was referring to when he said to “murder your darlings”:

To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’ (On Style, Wednesday, January 28, 1914)

Why would he say this? Because amateur writers cling to their thesauruses like lovers, believing that an affair with vocabulary will win them the jealousy and affection of others. Unfortunately, it’s often true. Look at the book sales of Eragon. Look at the kinds of politicians people used to vote for.

Many of the most beloved writers of all time write about this subject:

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” —Jack Kerouac

“Any word you have to look up in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule” —Stephen King

I’ve said before, when mentioning his disdain for writer’s notebooks, that Stephen King must have a better memory than I do, because I often refer to the thesaurus to help me find the word that is at the tip of my tongue. The point is that you don’t use a thesaurus to pick out words you don’t already know. If, though, you are like me, and you find yourself saying “What’s that other word for ‘distracted’? The one where, you know, you can’t focus because you’re concerned with something else? …pulls up thesaurus.com... Oh, yes. Preoccupied.”—If you’re like that, it’s really okay to use a thesaurus. Just be sure you already know what the word means.

And poetic language is beautiful! There’s a time and place for everything. Gorgeous observations are better placed in sections of “sequel” after the more quickly paced “scenes” of action. Don’t stop to write a paragraph on the smell of roses when your main character is being chased by an axe murderer unless you’ve already made room for that silliness in your style leading up to the scene.

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot the little Stephen King that sits on your shoulder and judges you when you use a thesaurus to help resuscitate your vocabulary.

heart Take to heart that pompous language separates you from your reader. You can use a five-dollar word once or twice, but use diction appropriately for your genre and audience. (Check out my posts on diction here.) Know your genre and what level of poetic language that audience expects.

6. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. —Stephen King

One thing I learned in my writing classes was that writing is really an ongoing conversation. When you write, you converse with the reader, but you also converse with the writers you’ve been reading. You will never improve as a writer if you aren’t reading. Not just any reading, either. Most magazines and newspapers won’t cut it. Status updates and tweets certainly won’t. Nope, not even blogs. You need to read poetry and good fiction in and outside of your genre.

Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious. —P.D. James

Try for a diverse and balanced reading diet: award-winning and bestselling; recently published and old favorites; fiction and nonfiction; poetry and prose; in and out of your genre and age category.

You can’t figure out what “bad writing” is without reading a lot and making that decision for yourself. What kind of writing do you want to emulate? What kind of publisher do you want to work with? What genre and audience do you want to write in and for?

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot the idea that any reading is good reading.

heart Take to heart that reading is just as important as writing, but don’t let reading nonfiction about writing keep you from writing fiction. Read poetry and fiction that inspires you to write. If you’re just getting started, try Li-Young Lee’s poetry, Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Suggest your favorite things to read in the comments. Join Goodreads and get ideas for books in your genres that way.

7. Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.

This is another Stephen King quote, which I frequently have heard quoted out of context. At first I read it in terms of distraction. Hide yourself in a cave or rent out a hut in the forest when you’re writing, but when you rewrite, embrace the chaos around you. You can tell I work from home and have littles running around. Maybe you read something else into this quote. Anyway, here’s the context:

“Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

So basically it’s like Anne Lamott’s Sh*tty First Drafts. Just get out the first draft (Hemingway refers to them as excrement), and then figure out what your story is about. Then rewrite it. THEN let other people help you as you continue rewriting it.

You’ll notice he doesn’t say, “Write with the door closed. Open up the door when you’re good and finished.” Rewriting is a process, and though introverts like me hate to admit it, rewriting needs the help of another pair of eyes. We need to get out that first draft, make sure it’s coherent, and then give it to other people—beta readers—to give us feedback so we can rewrite it better. Then we give it to our agents and editors, who give us suggestions. Then we rewrite some more. Then we get published, then the readers get the final product.

Boot it or take it to heart? 

boot Boot people out the door when you are trying to write your first draft. Better yet, try to get away with people having no clue you’re writing something. I’ve heard the more people you talk to about a work, the less likely you are to write it and finish it. Tell your significant other and immediate family, so they don’t think you’re a p*rn addict when you lock yourself in your room with your computer, but try to keep to yourself until you have something to share and rewrite.

heart Take to heart that writing is a community effort, even if you are a self-publishing introvert. No matter how good you are as a writer, you are blind to your mistakes sometimes, and an outsider’s point of view is necessary to bring you up to a greater potential. If you ever want another person to read your work, then you are going to have to involve other people into your rewriting process. Don’t worry, it still belongs to you!

And please don’t think I’m against self-publishing. Absolutely not! I’m against writing without input or editing. Unfortunately it can be hard to tell when independent writers invested in getting outside feedback and when they hit “publish” with editing and proofreading as an afterthought.

Next time: The Myth of Writer’s Block

Further Reading: Kate Brauning’s Twitter thread on showing and telling

Your turn: What other writing maxims have you heard? What are your opinions on these seven?