Advice to Aspiring Writers

I just got an email from my high school, requesting my participation in a Q&A for a magazine that goes to parents and alumni. The question they want a response to in 60 words or less is, “What advice would you give to aspiring writers?” Of course I said I’d participate. The only hard part is distilling ten years of research and experience into so few words.

I could go with a single word: “Write!”

I could be cynical and say, “Don’t write unless you have to. It’s a heartbreaking business.”

I could be business-like and say, “Learn everything you can about good prose, story elements, query letters, promotion, and publishing because the competition is fierce — millions of people have written a book want to write a book. But no matter what happens, keep writing.”

I could be philosophical and say, “Start with a single word. That’s how every book through the ages was written — one word at a time. By stringing single words together, you get sentences, then paragraphs, pages, chapters, an entire book.”

I could be more story-oriented and say, “Ask yourself: what story do you want to write? Why? What do your characters want? Why? How are they going to get what they want? Who is going to stop them getting what they want?”

I could plunge into the action and say, “Sometimes it’s hard to find the confidence to bring complex scenes to life, to juggle the many elements that comprise a compelling scene, so plunge headfirst into action. Write fast and fearlessly; let the words fall where they may. You can always clean up the mess in rewrites.”

So, what advice would you give to aspiring writers? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? What was the most helpful advice you ever read?

11 Responses to “Advice to Aspiring Writers”

  1. Colleen Says:

    I would tell the students to live life to the fullest. Write about what makes you happy and forget about what other people think. If you can’t write for yourself you should not be writing.

  2. Stephen Prosapio Says:

    Funny. Your advice and mine are so similar. Yours is one word and mine two. I dupilicate your word and add another:

    “Don’t Write!”

    lol Kidding of course….kinda.

    I don’t think real writers need to be advised to write. I don’t think we have any other choice…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Stephen, It never occurred to me until I was writing this bloggery tonight what a foolish thing “advice to aspiring writers” is. Either people write or they don’t. If they aspire to write, they are not writing, hence they are not writers. The correct questions are “what advice would you give to writers who aspire to be published”, or “what advice you would give to writers who aspire to be better writers”, or “what advice would you give to writers who aspire to be selling writers”. As you say, real writers don’t need advice on how to be a writer.

  3. lvgaudet Says:

    Write for yourself. For writing to be fulfilling you should write for the joy of writing and not for validation. Getting published is the geek version of the I’m gonna be a rock star dream. Everybody wants to be a rock star (or published author), but very few will make it. To have your best chance, love writing and that enjoyment may just shine through your work.

  4. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    Write what you know seemed like good advice, but I had a hard time deciding what it was that I knew. Then one day I figured it out. Great post, Pat…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      So good to know what you know! I still don’t. I had to do a whole lot of research to learn enough to write my books.

      • Carol Ann Hoel Says:

        What I know is the Bible and the character of God that is revealed in its pages. Writing novels will always require something we don’t know and must research. Therein lies most of the actual work of writing. Blessings to you, Pat…

  5. joylene Says:

    I’m with you, Pat. One other thing, don’t send it to an agent or publisher until you’re absolutely positively sure.

  6. JD Webb Says:

    I’d say, read. Read the masters of your genre. Steal from them, not their words, but their way to excite, startle, laugh, entertain. Then practice. No matter the business or art, practice is essential.

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