23 Things Writers Should Know

I have a list of ideas, topics, subjects, and inspirational sources titled “things to blog about.” Funny thing is, not one item has been scratched off this list for two months. To satisfy my urge to share my thoughts and hopefully inspire or possibly instruct a few writers, I threw these ideas into a post of 23 tips, tricks, and things-to-know.

Not THIS 23

Not THIS 23

Grammar

I am not an expert on grammar nor do I claim to be. What I’ve learned has been through trial and error, reading rough manuscripts, and not caring about “proper.” The goal for writers is to use language and tools that don’t raise notice. Poets do the opposite.

1. Ending on a Preposition

The “don’t end a sentence with a preposition myth” is complete grade school BS. The against preposition argument crumbles when you say “What did you sleep on?” instead of “On what did you sleep?” I heard that this stems from Shakespeare’s day, possibly due to the downbeat of most prepositions and his tendency to write in iambic pentameter.

2. However, Conjunctions & Adverbs

However is defined as an adverb and is frequently used in the midst of a sentence; however, that doesn’t mean it can’t open them. The same goes for “but” and “and.” I particularly enjoy using buts and ands to start a sentence, especially when I’m writing dialogue. “But you’re wrong,” he said. “And I’m right.”

3. Passively Voiced

Passive voice, like the above two concepts, is typically avoided by authors. It is a sign of amateurness though it does play a role. Take these two examples:

  • Active: I wrote the book.
  • Passive: The book was written.

It depends on your intent and how you use it. Passive is often used quietly with mysterious purposes. “The cookies are gone.”

4. Split Infinitives

It’s OK to split infinitives. Actually, I split them all the time in daily speech…as in how we should write. Infinitives would be…To tell, To leave, To split. Split them and we get some helpful description, like: To boldly tell, To abruptly leave, To always split.

5. Comma Conundrum 

I love commas, a lot. I’ve been taught that a comma is like a breath before the rest of a thought or idea is delivered. Growing up and being the one that is handed papers to edit, I’ve come to understand that few people understand how to use commas properly. The truth? Use them how you want without distracting the reader.

Commas are fun to party with.

Commas are fun at parties.

6. The Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma is used in lists. “I went to the store and bought grapes, grapefruit, and fruit.” The second comma is the Oxford.

Working in print journalism and for a newspaper or three, the Oxford is usually ejected because it takes up space. Most schools teach this method, though complex lists (“I want peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, and Simon & Garfunkel CDs) suffer from the omission.

Should we use them in fiction and short stories? It’s up to you, really, even if the style books argue differently. I tend to use them out of habit and consistency.

7. Internal Punctuation

Like commas, I enjoy using semicolons, colons, and em-dashes. For one, it makes us writers look smart when we can pull them off and disrupts the glazed over, bored reader’s constant scanning.

I’m not an authority on grammar but, through experience, I’ve learned one thing: When in doubt, use an em-dash (separated on either side by a single space, you mongrels) or break it into two sentences.

Writing

Now onto the writing portion of this list. The ideas listed below are not as concrete as the grammar ones above, though I hope just as useful.

8. Writer’s Block

I’ve ranted on writer’s block in the past for good reason. Why? Because it simply does not exist. On “Unsticking the Stuck Novel” and a post I published through”The Importance of Being Edited,” I share advice for overcoming the mystic block of writers.

To summarize, writer’s block is a lack of motivation and inspiration. Is it because your idea is terrible and you should stop trying to write your story? Not likely.

Writer's Block

9. The “Closet” Author

BS on the introverted writer with no friends, cardboard box accommodations, and a pretentious shelf of leather bound books.

Most of the writers I know are like everybody else. Sure, some have quirks and like to invest social hours in writing, but this is only because they enjoy their hobby. Hemingway couldn’t have written his books if he locked himself in an attic. So please, for all that is good in the world, spend an equal amount of time living as you do reading and writing.

10. It’s Easy, It’s Hard

Writing a book is as easy as it is hard. Woah, right? I’m referring to the fact that most authors spend more time editing and getting a book published than they do writing/ideating the plot.

Novel WritingPersonally, writing the bulk of my first book took me a month and it happened automatically. I would sit down, start typing, and leave myself “I think this should happen next” notes. The months (and they’re still happening) after were much harder and time-consuming.

11. Anyone Can Do It

I don’t think for one second anyone can write a book. I’m not even sure can. I tried, though, and that’s the difference.

Typing out 50,000+ words, editing them, marketing, formatting, and getting lucky takes hundreds upon hundreds of hours. This is an investment for potential return, most likely nothing but a story of a story’s origins and a few bucks from family and friends.

When I come across people who say they would like to write a book one day, I support that — I have no room to talk. Until they do, however, there’s little to talk about.

12. Novel Writing Is Learned

Yes and no. In school, where I studied writing, I hardly learned how to write better or more imaginatively. What I did learn was taste, style, and using what I had to make something new.

Was I instructed on how to write a novel? No. By reading, writing short stories, and immersing myself in writing I was able to figure it out on my own. After going through the process, I have one conclusion: You learn more doing it than dreaming about it.

13. Budgeting Time

I read about authors who would stow themselves away for four hours every morning to write. These novelists were likely paid money to do this. The rest of us are not.

From personal experience, budgeting time (like, “I’m going to finish this chapter on Saturday afternoon) is the same as an empty promise to yourself. If you’re excited and dedicated enough, you’ll write until it’s finished — if not, don’t waste your time planning time.

14. Good Readers = Good Writers

Another yes and no. I have witnessed plenty of writers who don’t read and plenty of wannabe writers who read far too much. Don’t get me wrong — reading is great. We should all do it two hours a day.

Whooo over-reads?

Whooo over-reads?

Over-reading, I’ve found, can poison aspiring writers. Have you heard of fan fiction? Don’t be that writer. Find your own beat.

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing, as you may be able to tell from this blog, is one of my passions. I enjoy the formatting, marketing, writing, and self-entrepreneurialism behind the industry. Currently on my own road to self-publishing, here are a few thoughts I had:

15. Authorial Marketing

Every self-publisher needs Facebook, Twitter, blogs, a marketing plan, a six-month marketing plan, a backup marketing plan, an amazing ad strategy, and other tools to gain notice and encourage purchases. Or do they?

The self-marketing is a side-effect of being on our own. From what I’ve seen, lots of new self-publishers spend too much or too little time doing this. Here are some soft “rules” I came up for self-marketing books:

  • If you’re spending more time “marketing” than writing, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you don’t enjoy doing it, then don’t.
  • Even the best book can’t sell itself.
  • Do the research, learn from others, and put a personalized spin on it.
  • Branding yourself as an author can be as fun as hectic, time-consuming, and frustrating.

16. The E-Book Stigma

Fourish years ago, I had the anti-e-book curse where I was too into books to care for digital printing. Why should I buy something less satisfactory that is convenient, anyway?

Well now that I’ve experienced the industry and seen the massive tidal wave of authors who make e-books work, I’ve learned this: There’s nothing wrong with e-books and self-publishing. If you think there is, get over it. We’re not reading on scrolls and bark anymore, are we?

17. Author Blogging

“Every author needs a blog” is a catchphrase for self-publishing authors. Is it true? Hardly. However, it is important to be able to be found when potential readers look for you.

Like the social media concept above, it’s worse to have an absolutely terrible blog than nothing at all. Do you like writing about things and sharing your self-publishing adventure? Great! Do you like spending a few hours a week dealing with technical problems? Even better!

I blog because I enjoy it. I also blogged professionally for some time and understand how it works, what it does, and why it’s important. But if you’d rather write and don’t have the time, then don’t feel obligated to do so.

18. Cover Art

Cover art isn’t incredibly important to me. This may be a side-effect of my struggles to find an artist to art up my cover, though no one can deny the effect powerful (or terrible) cover art has on readers.

Click for Even Worse Covers

Click for Even Worse Covers

Like every word in a book, it’s crucial not to skimp on a syllable. The same goes for cover art which will likely be one of the most expensive/frustrating aspects of self-publishing.

19. Formatting

I like formatting as much as writing. I’ve talked about it a lot, over here, and will continue doing so. A well-formatted e-book is essential for self-publishers (as are hyphens in this sentence). Why? Because it’s the first thing readers notice. If a book looks bad, it was published by a novice. If it looks good, it must be a bestseller.

Blogging

I’ll close up this post with a few thoughts on blogging, another subject I’ve investigated and done for quite some time. Blogging, to me, is a fun way to express yourself and give back to the community at large. But instead of typing out a thousand words on blogging, I thought I’d sum authorial blogging up in four quick points:

20. Commitment

Do you want to blog about life, writing, books, or the sports? Awesome. Do you have the time to make a website look good and properly represent your thoughts? Perfect.

Blogging requires time and energy, time and energy that may otherwise be directed towards writing and reading.

21. Content Matter

“What should I blog about today” is the question I ask myself every afternoon. I could write about my day, my dull love life, my current projects, the weather, or even transcribe a high school diary I bought on eBay. But I won’t.

I like to cover subject matter that interests me, forces me to learn, and challenges my ability to deliver information. Sounds like a good way to practice writing not-a-novel for 30-60 minutes a day, doesn’t it?

22. The Stats

Any new blogger will track stats, views, clicks, and other data to see how many people love what they write. The truth? These numbers grow incredibly slowly and seldom reflect the actual value of a blog.

It takes months, dozens of posts, and lots of outside work to bring people to your online home. Did no one visit your post on travel writing or mowing the lawn? Sorry. That’s just how it goes. Write what you want and share it with friends if it makes you happy — if it feels like a chore, don’t do it. Please. There’s enough as there needs to be.

23. Personalization

Piggybacking off of #21, I’ve seen blogs where the writer is hardly visible and others where every word is intimate. Choose a style that works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment with others.

I like to find a healthy middle-ground and build topics/posts out of personal experience, but keep myself distanced (this post included?).

About Brennan Reid (100 Articles)
I'm Illinois born, Indiana educated, and writing for a living in Missouri.

2 Comments on 23 Things Writers Should Know

  1. Into the self-publishing thing too and probably going about it all wrong, but I just don’t care if I mess it all up. At least I’m writing. Like what you had to say and I will probably revisit this as you seem to have some wise advice. As someone who grades high school essays, I have to disagree on the commas. I’ve been overcome by a rainfall of misplaced commas so my advice has been – when in doubt, don’t.

  2. “The cookies are gone” is NOT passive voice, right…? Gone is an adjective here, just as in “the cookies are stale”.
    Passive would be: “The cookies are eaten (by the children)”

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