There are so many obvious things we need to be doing as authors – but these are the less thought of items we must have on our to-do lists!
Beta Reading – I’d argue that this is the most important thing on this list. Don’t know what beta reading is? It’s reading another author’s work, typically just before it goes to the editor, and finding things like plot holes, inconsistencies, tense changes, and grammatical errors.
Why is it important to do this for other writers? Well, the obvious answer is because the people you beta for will typically do the same for you. That’s a major plus.
Less obvious answer? Because you learn a lot. Believe it or not, as an author, you don’t know everything. If you think you do, then you’re probably in the wrong business. We’re always growing, always improving. The easiest way to learn is to look for what someone else is doing wrong. It’s very hard to spot certain problems in our own books, but they’ll jump out at us in someone else’s.
Beta reading is how you learn about different styles of writing and how to break certain habits.
My beta readers used to constantly yell at me for using filler words like “had”. It wasn’t until I focused on cutting those words from a friend’s book, that I could see the problem in mine. Habit broken.
This takes time – a lot of it. I’m not going to lie. I beta read for six or seven people. You usually have to read a Word file instead of an easier eBook. But it’s worth it and every author should invest the time.
Reading Widely – Most authors are also avid readers. I mean, we get into writing because we love books. But more and more frequently, I see author’s mentioning how they no longer have time for it and that’s a shame.
I’ve always believed reading breeds ideas. That doesn’t mean we copy ideas from the books we pick up, just that it revs our imaginations.
Here’s where the widely part comes in. Read many genres, many styles. Read first person. Read third person. Past tense. Present tense.
Basically, if you’re a romance writer and the only thing you read is romance, it makes it harder to breathe new life into the genre. That’s how genres become stale. Ideas are recycled and tropes are formed. So, if you write romance (or any other genre) read romance, but also read fantasy or sci-fi or historical fiction. Just something that is different. Something that will teach you new things or stretch your imagination in a new way.
Network, Network, Network – I hear it all the time. Facebook only takes time away from my writing. You can substitute Facebook for any social media platform. Some authors try to stay away with the exception of interacting with readers.
Taking the time to interact with other writers is not wasting time. There are many many valuable groups out there that provide advice and tips. They help you stay on top of the ever-changing publishing world.
But they can also be friends. “But, Michelle, online friends aren’t real friends!” Sure they are! Writing can be a lonely business. Most of the people in our lives don’t understand it. But other authors do. They will be the ones to help you get unblocked or encourage you when the inevitable bad reviews come in. They’ll champion you and celebrate when you hit your sales/reviews goals – because they get it.
Some of these connections will last many years and turn into very good, deep friendships. Don’t discount it because you think Facebook takes too much time from writing.
Writing reviews for other authors – only on books you read, obviously. But when you do read a book, don’t just put it away and forget about it. You know from firsthand experience how much reviews help. My reviews even turned into a position on the indie team at YA Books Central.
We’re all in this together, so don’t be hesitant to help someone out.
Putting the pen down – ok, so most of us write on computers, but putting the computer down didn’t sound as good.
Don’t be afraid NOT to write. This goes against what all the experts are saying. If you want to be overly prolific, then more power to you, but there’s nothing wrong with letting your life get in the way of your writing. Don’t let writing interfere with family time or fun days out. Don’t feel guilty to take a break. That’s how you begin to see it as a chore. Yes, writing is a job, but it isn’t life.
My writing time has been severely cut because I watch my two-year-old niece twice a week and then see them usually on the weekends as well. But I’m enjoying writing more than ever. I never want to lose my love for it, but I love my family more. Time goes by so fast and you won’t regret the time you didn’t spend writing. You will regret the time missed with family and friends.
Your best books will come out of your love, your passion, for writing. Your best ideas will come from living your life.