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Writing Tips from Bestseller Fiction Authors

If you want to accomplish a goal, there is no better way to prepare than to follow the advice of someone who has already reached that exact goal. The same is true for publishing bestselling fiction novels. Although each author has their own process for getting there, here are some indispensable tips from bestselling fiction authors to help you get there faster.

Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.

Michael Moorcock

This one is a common tip from multiple authors. You can't be a good writer without first having read what's out there. This applies to books that are in the same genre you're writing, as well as other books that are considered classics in the literary world (there's a reason they became classics). Reading within your own genre insures that you have a good understanding of what's already been published and what publishers have accepted in the past. You'll also know what readers within that genre like—the types of characters, plots, etc.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Zadie Smith

The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.

Will Self

This concept is especially difficult for many authors, particularly those who have family responsibilities and who write from home. There's really no good way to deal with it, and let's face it—reading over the biographies of famous authors of the past, you can find many examples of failed marriages and ruined relationships.

However, if you don't protect the time and space in which you write, you'll likely never get anything written. Interruptions to your creative process can set you back each time they happen, until you lose the moment completely and nothing gets done. This includes online and social media interruptions, by the way, which leads us to the next tip.

It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Jonathan Franzen

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.

Zadie Smith

Be honest—how often do you keep social media and text notifications on while sitting at your workspace to write? If this is a habit for you (as it is with most people), end it. Beyond the inconsequential social media updates that most of us spend too much time reading, these interruptions are just as bad as offline interruptions. The concept of "unplugging" in this sense might not be completely true if you're still using a laptop, but at the very least, you should disconnect and "unplug" from the internet. That funny cat meme or picture of so-and-so's toes on the beach can wait.

Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.

Will Self

How many times have you been driving your car or out running errands when an idea for your novel struck? If you're like many authors, the creative process goes beyond the time you spend sitting at your laptop or typewriter—it is a constant thought (obsession, even) in your head. So carry a notebook with you to record these thoughts. Don't trust your memory enough to remember it when you get back to your desk, write it down now (or at least as soon as you pull the car over to the side of the road).

Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).

Diana Athill

If your character dialogue doesn't sound realistic, that will be obvious as soon as you read it aloud. When we read words aloud, we go slower and pay more attention to the rhythm of the language, which makes reading aloud a great proofing tool to determine if a section is written well.

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

This is Writing 101, but writers still tend to forget it. Narration that describes is not nearly as exciting as seeing it through a character's eyes, particularly in unexpected ways. It gives the character more depth, adds deeper levels of metaphor, and sounds new and different to a reader who has read about the moon shining over the lake too often already.

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Will Self

Finally, let's talk about the confidence that is required to finally let someone read your precious manuscript. This part is difficult for even the most seasoned writers because really, it is a process of laying your soul bare (since your heart and soul was put into that manuscript in the first place). Just keep in mind that in releasing your writing to be read by an audience, you will inevitably feel inadequate and overly critical of yourself and your work. Swallow those feelings and give it to your reader anyway. Their reaction will almost always be better than you anticipated.

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