Twelve Writing Tips

Recently, a teen reader asked me to give her some writing tips, and after ruminating about what to send, I just started typing up some guidelines that hit me in no particular order. I didn’t get into the nitty gritty of line editing, such as–here are common placeholders or watch out for these flabby verbs. Instead, I offered some precepts. I’ve decided to copy them here in my blog for you now. I hope you find them helpful.

No rules, just guidelines:

1) Write about something that fascinates you, something that you find really compelling and can’t stop thinking about. Of course, it can be made up or real or a mix.

2) For your first draft, don’t worry about it being perfect. Just write without even thinking, Just write from your head not your heart. It’s the drafting process where you can really play with language and structure and theme and bring in the head.

3) Read, read, read. Very hard to be a writer unless you’re a reader first, but I know you have that part down.

4) Write the kind of book that you’d like to read. Write for yourself. Imagine your ideal book and write it!

5) Have fun. Sure, cry sometimes. And pound your desk in frustration but, even still, remember to have fun.

6) You don’t have to write in order. If a scene comes to you out of order, trust yourself and go for it. You can always put the pieces back together later.

7) Keep a notebook with you and jot down observations. It could be a funny expression or a silly sign or the way the wind blows. Or maybe you’re reading and see an amazing verb in a book or even on the back of a spaghetti jar.

8) Fall in love with language. Read poetry. Write out lists of action verbs, sensory words etc. Play!

9) Learn to think in images and give those snapshots that you see in your mind to the reader. You are a word painter.

10) You don’t have to write about yourself. It can be easier to write about an active flawed character. It can be hard to see ourselves as flawed. I know that I’m personally perfect. Ha! I was socially shy as a kid and that kind of character can be hard to write since passive characters have a tendency not to do too much except for read.

11) Find others like yourself. Take a fiction writing class. If you don’t have one in your area, start one. Or ask a writer for advice on where to find teachers. Many authors will Skype and give classes online. Inquire!

12) When you write, tell your inner-editor/critic to go away and let your muse take over. Do not judge your writing. At least at first. Let it simmer and then come back to taste your stew. Depending on your style, this could be hours, days or weeks or, heck, years. Most likely, you will need to add some spice and cut out some of the ingredients. Luckily, in writing you can do this. Can’t always in cooking. Aren’t we writers lucky?

13) (this is a baker’s dozen) Did I mention have fun?



  1. “Write the kind of book that you’d like to read. ”

    This is more valuable advice than, I suspect, many writers realize. When you get right down to it, all of the books I’ve written in the past few years were ones I wanted to read, and even waited for someone else to write…and then when no one did, I wrote them myself. I’ve sold two of them so far, so when you put this together with #1 some pretty amazing things can happen.

    • Danny, that’s a very high testimonial for writing the book you wished you could have checked out at the library or bought at your favorite bookstore. It’s like the counsel– be the change you want to see. So everyone–Be the author you hope to read!

  2. Thanks Hillary. I enjoyed the tips and they created the urge in me to write again.

  3. I love your advice and your positivity. Its beautiful to see.
    Your books really appeal to me…the Alien Clones are such fun and FUN is what I love about kidlit..similarly your tween books are ones I kinda sorta wonder if I can write. Still in my own limbo now and need to organize my focus my somewhat muddled mind 🙂

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