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Writing Advice, Ranked

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

With so much writing advice freely available, how do you know what advice to take? You could try lots of different tips and tricks and see what works for you, or you could simply look at this list of the very best, which is heavily researched and absolutely definitive.

Top 10 Pieces of Writing Advice

10. Keep a journal. Whether it’s a diary or morning pages, journaling is like calisthenics for your brain. It’s a low-stakes method to flex your creative muscles, as well as a wonderful excuse to buy fancy notebooks and pens.

9. Read your work out loud. You’ll be amazed how many mistakes you catch this way. Reading your work aloud engages a different part of your brain, the part that cringes at the sound of your own voice.

8. Get comfortable with rejection. If you submit your work, it’s going to get rejected. Remember that this is not a commentary on you personally; it merely illustrates the reality that readers of that editor’s publication will not pay to read derivative crap from authors like yourself. Framing it like this numbs the sting, doesn’t it?

7. The BIC Method. I’m a big fan of the Butt In Chair method of writing—just sit your butt down and write!—because sitting down rules, and it makes the daily torture of writing more tolerable. If you’re in the same spot every day, the muse will know where to find you, at which point you can give her a piece of your mind about the lousy ideas she’s been pitching lately.

6. Wake up early. Nothing beats waking up at 5 a.m. for some quiet, solitary writing time! Whether you bang out 3,000 words, or fall asleep at your keyboard after barely a paragraph, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your work is done. Now the rest of the day belongs to you (and also your boss, spouse, and kids, but whatever).

a row of several trophies [1]
photo by Brad.K

5. Begin with the end in mind. Every journey needs a destination, even if it’s right back where you started from. You wouldn’t get in the car if you didn’t know where you were going, would you? You would? Well, yikes, my analogy is ruined, probably because I didn’t plan the end of it.

4. Don’t use an outline. Characters need room to make choices and grow organically, and they can’t do that if the High and Mighty Author is dictating their decisions like they’re pieces on a chess board. Treat your characters like flesh-and-blood people with free will and they might just surprise you with the amazing places they go.

3. Use an Outline. Oh God, this book is a mess. Why did I let these characters make such inexplicable and boring decisions? I created them, so of course they did stupid things!

2. Read constantly. Reading is vital to providing inspiration and to keep up with your preferred genre. And it’s a fun way to put off your own writing! There are two types of books, both essential to your development:

  1. “I could write a better book in my sleep, and I will, out of spite.”
  2. “I will never write a book this good, and the fact that I once thought I could is an embarrassment to my friends and loved ones.”

1. Show, don’t tell. The obvious top choice. As mentioned in the Aspiring Writer’s Dictionary [2], “Show, don’t tell” is the writerly equivalent of “Have a good one.” It works as an all-purpose critique, as well as a shibboleth that marks you as a fellow long-suffering writer. You can apply the show-don’t-tell principle to your public persona as well. Don’t tell people you’re a writer with coffee cups that say “Be nice to me or I’ll put you in my novel.” Show them by missing your deadlines and acting like a jerk at parties due to too much alcohol and too little sleep.

Disagree with these rankings? Did a valuable tip not make the list? Give an honorable mention to your favorite writing advice in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [3]

After college, Bill Ferris [4] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.