On Sunday, I hit up a panel called “My Top Ten Tips for the Prospective Author.” At the table in the front of the room were Scalzi, his editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, agent Joshua Bilmes, Baen editor Toni Weisskopf, and David G. Hartwell.
The conversation evolved into war stories, but I eked out a few tidbits of wisdom. Added to a few more I collected, here’s my “Top Seven Tips for Writers Offered by People Smarter Than Me.”
1. “Get used to sucking,” said John Scalzi, meaning writers should resign themselves to a long period of learning and not be overly concerned if they’re not great right out of the box.
2. “Treat it like a job,” said Toni Weisskopff, meaning you make time for it, put time into it, and work at it every day.
3. “Divest yourself of your writing-time attachments,” said Patrick Nielsen Hayden, meaning writers shouldn’t get hung up on rituals or sacred spaces. Just write when and where you have the space. Otherwise, you have a big excuse not to write.
4. “If you find yourself beginning with a character waking up, it's probably a bad sign,” said Elaine Isaak, author of the “Singer’s Crown” trilogy. In other words, start with SOMETHING happening. Incidentally, Elaine has a Kickstarter campaign going; she’s writing a how-to for fantasy authors.
5. “Write to entertain somebody else,” said someone on the panel. In other words, don’t assume what amuses you will give someone else a grin. Scalzi said he writes for his mother in-law.
6. “Know your audience, and know that your editor or agent is your first audience,” said someone on the panel. So, do your research before you submit. Make sure the agent you are submitting to likes to represent people who write the stuff you do.
7. “Up the stakes. Don’t go too easy on your characters,” said someone on the panel. (I think it was Bilmes, but I can’t read my handwriting.) Readers like characters who suffer through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and you, writer, are outrageous fortune. Start slinging.