Tip 1: Read more than you write.
I’ve published other posts about the importance of reading. In order to learn the craft of writing, you need to study those that have mastered it before you and add to the body of work. This makes sense if you think of it in the context of other disciplines. If you aspire to be a surgeon, I would hope you would want to read about and observe many surgeries before attempting one yourself.
Tip 2: Observe life around you for character ideas
As you may know, I travel around the U.S. quite a bit. It is a great opportunity for me to people watch. Many of the characters in my books are composites of people that I’ve observed or interacted with. If you see a nerdy looking guy jotting down notes in a tiny notebook at the airport or on the rental car bus, it might be me.
Tip 3: You don’t need to outline, but have some kind of plan
I’m not a plotter. I am more visual in nature. I do, however, like to plan out my books using visual methods. I use a technique called mind mapping to create a road map for my books. I published a post on this technique a while back. You can find it HERE.
Tip 4: Don’t write for a specific market. Write what’s in your heart.
When I tried outsourcing my book promotion, someone told me I should write a western because they were hot. I also see that romance and erotic novels are popular. I don’t read books in either genre. I’m not a fan of either genre. I may have a smaller niche readership for my mystery and detective novels, but I enjoy writing them and those that read them enjoy the genre as well. My wife will tell you that, if I tried to write a romance novel based on my expertise, I’d have trouble filling more than a page.
Tip 5: Try discovery writing
This is a technique that Stephen King talks about in his book, On Writing, one of the best books on the subject of writing that I have read. If you have well-developed characters and the basic road map for your book, just turn them loose and see how they handle the situations you throw them into. When I wrote the second book in my detective series, I did a good amount of discovery writing. I would go back and read sections of dialog that would have me laughing out loud. I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I used this technique quite a bit in the third and fourth books of the series.
Tip 6: Take your story ideas from real life
I try to read the news online every day. At least two of my short stories and most of my fourth detective series novel came from an expansion of stories that I found in the news. Of course, embellishment is needed in some cases. In my story Heal Thyself, I found a story about a man who had been in a motorcycle accident and ended up paralyzed. I took this story and pondered what would happen if the man woke up and had not only spontaneously recovered from his injuries, but had the power to heal others. It explores the good and bad side of these powers.
Tip 7: Observe and analyze what is going on in the market and in your genre
I read a lot. I also research the publishing industry and media in general. I have a set of successful authors that I follow and I observe how they have developed over the years and how their characters evolve. I look for trends and try to predict what might be successful. I also talk to other authors about what works for them. Many authors are willing to share their successful tactics. Those that aren’t probably aren’t enjoying much success.
Tip 8: Observe World Events
There are major changes going on in the world today. The things happening to our planet in terms of politics, human rights, the environment, and in religion make headlines every day. Use these things to come up with story ideas and you might end up educating yourself as well as your readers.
Tip 9: Read and Write Multiple Genres
This may sound contradictory of Tip 4 about writing what’s in your heart. It’s not. I enjoy mysteries. I also enjoy detective stories. I am a fan of science fiction and paranormal. I have written stories and novels in each of these genres. A prime example of this is Stephen King. He is recognized as a master of horror writing. He also writes fantasy. If you read the books in his Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch) he has branched out into the detective genre and has done a wonderful job.
Tip 10: Butt in the Chair, fingers on the keys
You can do all of the research and preparation in the world. At the end of the day, you have to dirty the page. If you don’t write, you won’t produce anything that can be read. You should try to write every day, even if it’s just a paragraph or two. It’s like having a muscle that you are developing. If you work it every day, it will strengthen. If you don’t, it may atrophy.