The Ultimate Guide to Learning Writing: 27 Writing Tips
From Fantasy to Nonfiction: 27 Writing Tips
Many writers will recommend entire books dedicated to the craft of writing - and yes, it is certainly worth the study - however, bite-size writing tips are often what we need to fuel the pen. Treat them as focus points in developing your craft, reminders, or starting points for a new cycle of exploration and learning.
In this guide, we have curated our best writing advice for:
- Creative writing tips
- Tips for writing a book
- Fiction writing tips
- Fantasy writing tips
- Nonfiction writing tips
Creative Writing Tips
1. Explore all genres - don’t lock yourself into just one
Don’t pigeonhole yourself into reading and writing in one genre. As in the film industry, you can end up typecasting yourself. Certain great writers who write nonfiction, will also dabble in poetry, play scripts, or short stories. If you write novels, try the occasional essay or creative nonfiction. By stepping outside of what you tend to fall into, you can avoid getting bogged down by tropes and ultimately become a better writer. Experimentation can yield the best surprises.
2. Read broadly in your preferred genre
Though you may explore genres, read widely in the genres you prefer to write in, especially if you’re seeking publication. This will allow you to network with other authors, editors, and agents as a part of the community. Learn from what works and study how other authors grip you as a reader. Make this a daily habit and don’t stray from it -- it will help you become a good writer.
3. Join writers groups
Writing can be a very isolating craft - get to know and learn from others in your community, share resources. Sign up for conferences, join Facebook and in-person groups, seek out genre-based organizations. Your tribe will support and anchor you, particularly in challenging times like moments of writer's block.
4. Get feedback from those who know how to give it
Not everyone who recognizes good writing also knows how to critique subpar writing.
Sometimes you will think your writing is terrible when it’s phenomenal and vice versa. Get other sets of eyes on your work to help you clarify your vision and meaning. Seek quality feedback from writing teachers or friends early on through your network and via online forums; this feedback cycle is the only way to improve.
5. Know your audience and put them first
The best writing serves the reader, not the writer. Who is your audience - who are you writing for? Don’t cast too large a net with your writing - your work will be far more focused if you know who, exactly, you’re writing for. When editing, consider each sentence - does this line help your reader understand your message? Great writers and famous authors like Stephen King, Mark Twain or Hemingway considered their audience during the writing process.
6. Develop discipline
Inspiration may fuel you, but discipline will sustain you. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, discipline makes way for creativity - developing rituals creates the space for inspiration to flow.
For example, try carrying a notebook with you everywhere to write down ideas as they come in unexpectedly. Observe your surroundings and catch phrases prompted by outside stimuli, listen to overheard dialogue in real life. If you prefer, try a note-taking app like Evernote or a voice-recording app for voice notes.
Tips for Writing a Book
7. Start your email list ASAP
This is your team - your immediate audience you can rely on for your book launch. They will help you kickstart your marketing and review your book early on. Start and cultivate your relationship with your readers via email, blog, social media. If they feel connected to you, they’ll share your work with others. See our guide on how to self-publish a book for more tips for writing a book, as well as specific suggestions for marketing, publication and the elements of style.
8. Show up for every meeting with yourself
Schedule a time to write daily and don’t stand yourself up. A writer is someone who writes, so write a lot. Try to find the time of day that you write the best and show up for this standing meeting and begin free writing.
9. Hook your audience with a compelling opening
In this age of insta-media, you are competing with every form of easily accessible entertainment. Your opening line, paragraph, and page are critical - give your reader a reason to keep turning those pages.
10. End chapters with unanswered questions
Not every chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger, however, you want to maintain momentum and ensure your audience stays with you. Don’t keep piling on unanswered questions (you will answer them as it makes sense), yet think of it as refueling the gas tank.
11. Save revision for later
The easiest way to paralyze the writing process is to edit as you go. Slug through challenging parts by just free writing, even if it sounds terrible. Let it sit and return with the red pen later.
12. Don’t submit it unless you’re happy with it
Evaluate your work for its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (S.W.O.T.). Be an aggressive self-editor - if you have doubts, an editor will see these inconsistencies as well.
Fiction Writing Tips
13. Develop a deep backstory, but don’t reveal it all
As William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” The backstory is what will drive your protagonist - it is the pulse of your story and will propel all your protagonist’s desires, thoughts, and actions. You may only reveal a small slice of the backstory to your reader, but you should know the rest.
14. Structure with an outline, but allow the story to lead
Developing a bird’s eye view outline as an organizational tool and point of reference is key to keeping your writing focused, however if you have a story that’s buzzing and telling itself, let the story unfold. The outline is a guide, but if you need to listen to where the story is going, let it lead.
15. Surface your characters’ desires and put obstacles in their path
Give your characters depth and your story momentum by developing your characters’ inner wants and desires. Interview your characters to uncover their nuances. Once their desires are clear, what obstacles will you put in their path? These struggles will be the meat of the story - how will your character overcome these? This tension is what will engage your audience.
16. Use dialogue to show, not tell
Don’t use dialogue to tell backstory or over explain situations or important questions. At the same time, allowing dialogue to mimic everyday conversations too well leads to too much back and forth banter. Instead, reveal character and build tension by writing intentional dialogue. What will your characters choose to express and how will they articulate their feelings? What will remain unsaid?
17. Keep in mind the expectations of your sub genre’s audience
Different sub-genre audiences have different expectations. Crime fiction, for example, often starts with the crime committed and the novel progresses as the crime is solved. Pay attention to these story arcs as you read and write within your sub-genre.
Fantasy Writing Tips
18. Refine the high premise of your world
What is your fictional world’s elevator pitch? What makes it unique - why should your reader want to travel there? A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, for example, is about a land in which seasons last for years. Put hard work into creating your world's theme.
19. Explore your world through short stories first
Before writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote countless Middle-Earth short stories to explore and developing her world. The opportunities are endless when creating a fictional world; try exploring with short stories to see where they take you. These can also help you develop backstory.
20. Draw a map to situate yourself and your reader
Make your world tangible (and that much more believable) by drawing a map. By mapping out geographical features, you can prevent any contradictions or inconsistencies that may come up in your story. How might these features influence your plot or any conflicts your world may experience? How are communities separated and how does geography affect how they interact? You don’t need to necessarily share these map with your readers; you may simply use it as a reference while writing.
21. Develop the internal rules and logic of your world
How is your world governed? What are the politics, economy, and philosophy? Is there magic, and if so, what rules govern its use? How has its presence influenced your world culturally and politically? If readers understand these systems, your world is more relatable.
25. Avoid tired tropes and cliches
Beware of exhausted tropes: the farm boy saves the day because he has a secret legacy and is destined for heroism. Be careful to not write one-dimensional mythical beings, such as dwarves or elves that all act a certain way instead of having their own personalities and desires. If you are working with certain tropes, give them a twist and make them your own. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling makes broomsticks sports equipment and the portal to her magical world a real-world train station.
Non-Fiction Writing Tips
23. Center in your purpose
Identify your purpose - to inform, persuade, entertain - and ensure your word choice, tone, and literary devices all reflect this purpose. See our guide to writing styles for suggestions.
24. Ease your readers’ experience: be organized
Avoid bulky paragraphs to allow your audience to easily scan your piece, especially if it’s to be read online. Your writing should flow seamlessly from one paragraph to the next.
25. Use emotional language
What is most memorable to your reader is emotional - engage them with metaphors, imagery, and rhetorical questions. Even academic research papers need to stand out and can benefit from descriptive writing. Our guide to writing styles, linked above, details characteristics and provides examples of the four writing styles.
26. Incorporate the element of surprise
Don’t fall into the trap of writing predictable nonfiction; even though it is fact, you can still punctuate your writing with compelling and unanticipated devices. Make provocative comparisons. Make statements, contradict them, and explain and reconcile that contradiction.
27. Make one point well
“Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five - just one.” - William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. Your reader won’t remember a laundry list of ideas - what is the major point you want your reader to summarize, to pass on to someone else? Make this stick well.