Matt King

author of The Circle War series

This Isn't The Writing Advice Post You Were Looking For

As a citizen of the Internet, I've seen my fair share of writing advice posts. They're everywhere, and it doesn't matter how long the author's been writing or how many books they've published. People loooove to talk about it, and I'm not here to judge them for that. I see a lot of good stuff out there--but also a lot of...not so good stuff.

 I've said all that because what comes next is not me trying to give you advice. These are the things that have helped me through the years. If it helps you too, awesome. If not, I'll refund your money. Well, most of it.

Stuff I've Learned To Help Me Write More Better: a numbered list with bold letters by Matt King

1. Reading is Fundamental

To me, reading is the snake oil cure-all of a writer's life, only it actually works. Stuck without a good idea for a story? Read. Have a dreaded case of writer's block? Read. Every time I've come up against a wall in writing, I realize that it's because I haven't been reading as much. I love to read, but I sometimes get it stuck in my head that writing should come first. I have to keep reminding myself that I can't do one without the other.

2. Critique Groups, FTW

Writing in a vacuum wasn't doing me any favors. In order to get better, I had to start letting others read and critique my work. I started by joining a local group of short story writers on Meetup and later formed a smaller group myself that focused on novels. We've been together for four years now and it's amazing to me just how much it's helped to hammer out some of the faults in my work. I couldn't have gotten through the last two books without these guys.

3. Scrivener > Word (for me)

Like most people, I used Word to do the bulk of my writing. As I started to work on longer stories, though, it got harder for me to use the program to do heavy editing, outlining, etc. Say I needed to move a chapter around. I'd have to cut it, mess with the page breaks, insert new breaks, paste, then re-number all of the chapters. It sucked. When I looked at Scrivener, I saw all of that nonsense go away. You can drag and drop chapters around without cutting, pasting, or re-numbering. Other shiny tools that set it apart from Word are the exporting capabilities to all major e-pub formats and the super-easy way you can keep your outline viewable while working on a scene. My favorite feature? Snapshots. Before I do any major work on a chapter edit, I take a snapshot of the chapter. That way, if I totally dork it up, I can roll back to the undorked snapshot. *makes kissing fingers gesture* MUAH.

4. Outlines Are My Friend

For years--YEARS--I was anti-outline. I hated the thought of being constrained to a set structure and thought the act of planning out a plot was the exact opposite of creativity. In hindsight, I was kind of a doofus. Outlining hasn't hampered my creativity or made it so my stories are formulaic. What it has done is reduce my editing time by at least half. Outlining doesn't mean that you have to know everything about your story up front. It means you think about the overall structure and form a skeleton of the book so you can tell if things make sense before you get thirty chapters in and realize your story is wandering like a lost tourist.

If you're interested, there's a book called First Draft in 30 Days that has a lot of good templates to help with outlining. Not everything in the book was useful to me, but there was a bunch that helped.

5. Use Twitter

Now's the time of the post where I admit one of my biggest writing mistakes: not joining Twitter earlier. Twitter isn't just a collection of mean tweets about celebrities. It's an ongoing writer's convention with every genre you can imagine represented. Speaking of representation, there are hundreds of literary agents around, and almost as many publishers. I mentioned my writing group before--Twitter is like an extended writing group for me where I can chat with a bunch of people who live and work in the same effed up writing world I do. I heart the writers I've become friends with on there. Seriously, they're the best.

6. Make sure to carve out writing time every day

This one can be hard, but to me, it's a must. I'm one of those people that gets separation anxiety when I'm away from writing too long. There's never a happier day for me than a day when I feel like I've accomplished something with my writing. It doesn't matter if it's editing, plotting, or planning for a book launch--it all counts. Without it, I feel like I've wasted the day, and there's nothing more annoying to me than that. Weird, I know, but I can't help it.

7. Learn how to write a first draft

Finally, the weirdest piece of writing advice I've ever taken. It doesn't seem like a hard thing to do to be good at writing a first draft. You just do it, right? Maybe for some people, but I had a tendency in the past to let my internal editor sit beside me while I wrote my first pass on stories. I would go back and forth with a sentence to get it exactly right, or spend minutes staring at my screen until I thought of the perfect line of dialog. It was a lot of wasted time in the end because most stuff got changed in editing anyway. Now I tend to push my internal editor into the background and let myself make a bunch of mistakes on the first pass. It goes against my perfectionist grain, but that's better than letting a fear of failure stunt my writing time. In the end, I think it helps the story's flow. I can write along with the running scene in my head rather than keep pausing it to make sure everything's in it's right place.

That's it, mang. If you see something you like, try it on for size and see if it works. 

All site content © Matt King 2019. Background image by NASA.