28 of the Best #WritingTips from Twitter
The average author’s relationship with social media is getting more complicated by the day. On one hand, it’s an essential tool for marketing and building connections with your readers. On the other hand, it’s a common distraction from the actual business of writing. And while social media (and Twitter, especially) gets a bad rap as a place where trolls go to insult artists and politicians, it can also be a place where authors share experiences and motivate one another.
Knowing this, we’ve scoured for #WritingTips on Twitter and collected our favorite 28 pieces of advice for authors.
1. Even pantsers need to plan
Even if you want to fly by the seam of your pants, make sure you have enough plot tidbits for everything to come together. #writingtips
— A.M. Hounchell (@inferno4dante) January 3, 2017
If you’re not familiar with the term, a “pantser” is a writer who likes to “fly by the seat of their pants,” and not prepare too much before starting a draft. Alternatively, there are the “plotters,” who prefer to outline a full structure before working on chapter one. As you can imagine, very few pantsers successfully write books just using The Force™. We always advise some form of preparation, whether you write character outlines or a few plot nuggets.
2. Have a rough outline ready in your mind
— M.L. Millard (@MLMillardauthor) March 6, 2017
If you’re a plotter, this one’s going to be easy-peasy. But even the pantsers of the world might find that chapter breaks will help them enormously! They don’t need to be set in stone in your first or even second draft, but chapter breaks are always a good thing to tuck in the back of your mind as you write. They can help you determine the pacing of your writing, the rise-and-fall of the action, or even the overall length of your book.
What if you don’t even know whether you want to be a “pantser” or a “plotter?” Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We asked one of our own authors about the pros and cons for you — check it out.
3. Be careful with omniscient narrators
— Jordan Rosenfeld (@Jordanrosenfeld) January 3, 2017
Using an omniscient narrator is technically the most flexible way to tell your story, with the fewest hard rules to remember. In reality, this perspective requires the most discipline from an author. As Jordan suggests, following the whims of an omniscient narrator might take you on tangents, flashing back to past events and flipping between focal characters.
If you regularly remind yourself whose story is being told, you should be able to keep your omniscient narrator on track. Check out our guide on writing in third person to find out more (and to see a fun comic infographic on the subject).
4. Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory”
— P. E. Rempel (@pedrempel) March 6, 2017
There’s a great deal you can learn from Ernest Hemingway, like how to take down an elephant or drink a pint of rum in under 30 seconds. On a good day, you can even learn how to create potent, nuanced fiction from him! In Jenna Blum's book, The Artist at Work, she wrote, “Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction — your reader will see only what is above the water — but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.”
5. Know the difference between your plot and theme
Plot, theme, and story are different in separate ways. When used correctly you got a story.#WritingTips
— Matt Wells (@GarnetNGold22) March 5, 2017
For those of us who often struggle to say what our book "is about": the theme is the central message or the broader idea that you want readers of your book to take away. Your plot, on the other hand, is the sequence of events that keeps your book chugging along. The plot and theme of a book are certainly intertwined, but not entirely alike. Shakespeare’s Othello deals with the theme of jealousy, which is examined through the plot, where Othello is angrily rampaging around demanding answers from Desdemona while Iago messes everything up for everyone.
You can be sure that a well-written book spotlights a strong plot and a strong theme. When you’ve got both working in tandem — well, then, congratulations, because you’ve found yourself a story.
6. Keep asking questions!
— Saurabh Dashora (@SaurabhDashora) March 5, 2017
It’s just as Saurabh says: the best ideas often spring from the smallest questions. Neil Gaiman recommends asking yourself this most important question all the time: “What if — ?” (What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse?) Here are some more you should jot down, according to Neil:
- “If only — ” (‘If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button.’)
- “I wonder — ” ('I wonder what she does when she's alone?')
- “Wouldn’t it be interesting if — ?” ('Wouldn't it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?')
7. Write first. Edit later
— Olivia McCabe (@oliviamccabe72) January 11, 2017
There are loads of great metaphors used to describe first drafts. Some writers describe them as unfiltered acts of creativity, while others call it some variation of “the vomit pass” (where you simply upchuck every single idea you have at the moment of writing). If you want to keep your brain in 'creative' mode, you must avoid the urge to edit yourself during the first draft.
8. Turn off spell check and autocorrect!
I'm mistaken. Spell check isn't evil. Autocorrect is evil.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 4, 2017
This one isn’t technically a #WritingTip, but we can’t pass up the chance to share something from top Twitter wit Stephen King.
So turn off your spell check — especially if you’re writing a fantasy or horror novel and you don’t want MS Word to autocorrect things like “Y'golonac the Defiler.”
9. Put away your first draft
— Mark David Gerson (@MarkDavidGerson) January 11, 2017
As editor Lourdes Venard suggested in our post about kicking NaNoWriMo in the butt, you should put your first draft away for a month once you’ve finished it. With a bit more perspective, you’ll find that some parts you previously hated are actually pretty good, and that section you really loved is not at all relevant to your story.
10. Read your work aloud when you edit
— James Minter (@james_minter) November 21, 2016
In a recent webinar on writing ‘the difficult second draft,’ editor Andrew Lowe recommends reading your manuscript aloud. Not only will it reveal any unnatural dialogue, but it will also show you where your sentences are getting too wordy. He also suggests you do this when your home is empty, so that you won’t get embarrassed in front of your spouse/kids/dogs.
11. Go with the flow
— Lee Ann Jackson (@LeeAnnJackson) March 6, 2017
Ah, inspiration. Our ever-elusive friend and foe. Taking into account the fact that the science behind inspiration is still a work-in-progress, do remember that you can always go back and edit whenever you want. But you never know when inspiration will strike — so when it does, hold on for the ride, and don’t let go.
12. “Trim the fat, keep the flavor”
— Mitchell Bogatz (@BlankCodex) January 8, 2017
Mitchell offers some age-old advice. That’s not to say that you should strip all the color and poetry out of your writing and turn each sentence into a mechanical expression of your plot. It's just that a lot of newer writers often feel the need "set the stage" before allowing the action to take place.
Let's say you’ve started a chapter with your main character walking through St Mark’s Square in Venice. He’s late for a meeting. You could either dedicate the first paragraph to describing the piazza in detail, or . . . you could incorporate all the detail you want into the action. Show him storming through a pack of pigeons, pushing past the throngs of tourists with their selfie sticks, and glimpsing the clock tower at the north side of the square, which reminds him that he’s late. Your reader will always want to know what is happening right now, so don’t make them wait by writing loads of descriptive text.
13. Brevity is the soul of wit (...and it makes your book so much better to read)
Anytime you can use less words, you've made the sentence more powerful.
— Evelyn Lauterbach (@Evelyn_Lindell) January 2, 2017
Case and point: great work, Evelyn! (Although a pedant might suggest 'fewer' words, and not 'less'.) This piece of advice highlights one of the great quirks of rewriting — in that it mainly involves your computer's ‘delete’ key. Book coach Kevin Johns brings up this point in his ReedsyLive talk on self-motivation: how authors spend ages trying to reach a word-count goal in their first draft, only to chip away at it in the edit. On a particularly productive day of rewriting, you might end up removing hundreds of words from your manuscript!
14. Don’t try to force an emotion in your dialogue tags
— Luke Thompson (@lukthomp) January 10, 2017
The late Elmore Leonard’s Rules of Writing warns authors to “never use a verb other than 'said’ to carry dialogue.” In his opinion, the strength of your dialogue and its context within your scene should let the reader know exactly how it’s intended to be delivered.
And in case you were wondering, the next of Leonard’s rules is “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’… he admonished gravely.”
15. Root out your writing tics!
As, Actually, Really, Heading - I swear someone is sneaking these words into my manuscript! It is too easy to overuse these. #writingtips
— C. C. Hogan, Author (@Its_CCHogan) January 10, 2017
You can also add “totally,” “very,” and “literally” to this list. When you notice an overused word in your manuscript, take note of it. Once you finish a draft, hit Ctrl-F and search for every occurrence, culling them to an acceptable level.
16. Chuck the rulebook out the window
— Rem Oscuro (@RemOscuro) March 6, 2017
What did your teachers tell you in school? That you should avoid incomplete sentences? That you can’t begin a sentence with an “and,” “or,” and, “but”? Chuck that damn rulebook right out the window! Those rules are for academic writing. And they might even continue to serve you well when you’re writing a book. Or not.
In the world of fiction, anything goes so long as — and this is the important part — it achieves the effect you're looking for. That’s the beautiful part about writing in English: it's the most malleable major language in the world, full of invented words, strange spellings and constant evolution. To find your own voice and style, start first from a blank page — free from any rules. Period.
On Characters and Scenes
17. Make your characters work for it
— Martin Malcolm (@MartinJMalcolm) March 15, 2017
“I want to read 400 pages where ten people are talking and doing absolutely nothing else,” said no one, ever. Of course, never say never: a rare exception to this is Plato’s Dialogues but since most of us didn’t lay the foundations of Western Philosophy, we shouldn't pass on this advice. So be aware of your characters’ environment when you’re writing, and give your characters things to do while they talk. Keep the action moving along while your character's reveal their thoughts.
18. Tell it like it is!
Depict the lives of your characters with unsparing intimacy and without ideology or argument. #writingtips
— Todd Nichols (@1tnichols) March 5, 2017
Have you ever cared more for a fictional character than some of the people you meet in real life? As Berkeley Breathed once said, “I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”
The best writers possess the ability to take us right into the page, making us feel as though we know their characters intimately, inside and out. Do your characters a favor and portray their lives as truthfully and unflinchingly as you can.
19. Nonverbal cues make up 93% of our communication
— Stacy Taylor (@InkCraft1) February 24, 2017
This goes back to a point we’ve emphasized before: show, don’t tell. People’s bodies can make great clues for readers during conversations, since we betray so much through our movements. Here’s an example (as we’re trying to show, not tell):
- “Sure, great idea,” said Oscar, skeptically.
- “Sure, great idea,” said Oscar, raising an eyebrow so high it threatened to disappear clean off his brow.
20. Don’t follow the crowd
— E.W. Moore (@EWMooreBooks) March 5, 2017
Don’t think about character creation in terms of stereotypes. Just write your characters consistently with the personality that you give them. Sometimes you’ll find that stereotypical behavior could be the most truthful thing to occur in a scenario. But other times you’ll find that a character straying from the stereotype assigned to them is just a part of their consistent character growth. The latter is also what most captures people’s attentions when they’re reading books.
On Writing Hacks
21. Write wherever you can (literally)
— Christopher Michael (@ckmichaelauthor) March 15, 2017
Jane Austen used to write on napkins during important dinners because she just couldn’t find the time or space to write anywhere else. Luckily, we’re in the 21st century now, so you can use your smartphone and not need to worry about spilling Grandma’s cranberry sauce on your Great American Novel On Napkin. So just because you’re not near a computer doesn’t mean you can’t write! If you’re not toting your phone around with you, use a notebook and a pen — anything that can bring your words out of your mind and into reality.
22. Set a writing goal for yourself every day
— Malcolm Hughes (@Malcolm_Hughes1) March 5, 2017
Slow and steady wins the race. If cliches aren’t enough to convince you, try this math out for size: there are 365 days in a year. 275 words a day doesn’t seem like much right now, does it? Well, write 275 words a day and you’ll have written 100,375 words in a year. That’s about the length of To Kill a Mockingbird and more than twice the length of The Great Gatsby! So please don’t wait until NaNoWriMo. Start now and (depending on when you read this) you’ll have finished your novel by November.
23. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
— Manuel Mangombe (@ManuelMangombe) March 6, 2017
If your book is far from complete, of course it's a great idea to focus on the writing for now. Remember, however, that you need to be in it for the long haul. It could take months (or years!) from the moment you finish your first draft to the day you see it in print or on a stranger's Kindle.
As such, it’s best to think about the whole process as a marathon. Writing your book is important, but it’s only the first five miles. You can’t stop the race mid-way when you’re just done writing your book. You need to be aware that there’s more down the road — the need to edit, design, publish, and market your book, for instance. Unless you're J.K. Rowling, you need to spend just as much time (if not more) making sure people read your book as you do writing it.
24. You get ideas from daydreaming
When scheduling your writing time, make sure to give yourself time for daydreaming. That's where great ideas come from. #writingtips
— Drunken Pen Writing (@drunkpenwriting) March 6, 2017
What other professions require you to daydream so much? When asked where he gets his ideas from, Neil Gaiman said, “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.”
On the Writing Endgame
25. Use the five senses
— Maria Tureaud (@Maria_Tureaud) January 16, 2017
Your reader wants to be involved from the very first page, so involve them! Dip us headfirst into your book and bring your world to life for us through the five senses. In case you need some reminding, that would be: taste, touch, sound, sight, smell.
26. Your mind is all you need
— Quotes For Writers (@quotes4writers) March 6, 2017
How many times do you get told this as an author? You don’t need to climb Mount Everest in order to be able to describe a chill wind, just like you don’t need to get a cocktail thrown in your face to be able to describe, well, the feeling of getting a cocktail thrown in your face. It's a novelist's job to invent and make things up: fact-checking will come later! So go on and do it!
27. Our attention spans are short
— Liz Prato 🌴 (@Liz_Prato) March 5, 2017
Have you ever tried to make a goldfish read a book? It ain’t pretty. And it gets even uglier when you find out that our attention spans are apparently now shorter than a goldfish’s. In today’s tweet-and-go world, it’s an everyday challenge just to make people’s eyes stay on yours.
That’s exactly what makes this quote relevant. (For your reference, the full quote from this Tweet is: “Take a moment to read through your story. Read it from start to finish. Mark the places where you grow bored. Assume that an editor will stop five pages before that.”) You need to make sure that your story will be worth your readers’ time. Whatever your attention span for your book is, believe that your reader’s attention span is going to be even shorter. It’s not just the editor. Make sure your writing doesn't dawdle, or your readers will never get to the good stuff!
And one more tip for good measure
28. Hold up…what are you doing?
— C. C. Hogan, Author (@Its_CCHogan) March 5, 2017
So remember what we said about chucking the rulebook out the window? Tips, much the same as rules, can be useful... up to a point. There's so much advice out there that you'll inevitably read things that conflict with something another "expert" has said.
So this is our best piece of advice, which you can take or leave as you please: listen to the advice you trust and gather all the quotes that you believe. Then set them all quietly aside, and start writing.
If you see any helpful writing, editing, or publishing tips on Twitter, share them with us in the comments below. Remember, sharing is caring (and teamwork makes the dream work). Here’s to another month of productive writing!