5 unapologetically honest writing tips from famous authors

Elizabeth Carlton
4 min readNov 18, 2022
A blank notepad and pen sit below text that reads “writing tips”

Writing isn’t always a blissful frolic with the muses. It can feel like a battle in the trenches that only the tenacious make it out of alive.

Below you’ll discover 5 seemingly harsh writing tips by notable authors. As you delve into these priceless words of advice, take them to heart, but don’t get disheartened. Learning from them will help you write better and faster while reaching your goals.

Don’t Depend on Inspiration

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

– Jack London

You won’t always feel inspired to write. The urge will come and go, but consistency is what gets you to the finish line. Treat writing like a job with hard deadlines — missing them isn’t an option.

Doing this may make the dream of writing a book feel like work, and you aren’t wrong. Writing a book is hard work. That’s why many aspire to write a book, but only a fraction complete one.

Are you suffering from writer’s block? Identify why. There is always a reason, whether it’s a lack of planning, a plot hole that needs to be addressed, or distractions that are stealing your focus.

If you find yourself staring at a blank word document, consider these tips to help get your first draft started.

Expect Your First Draft to Suck

“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. [It’s] hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, ‘Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this.’ But I had wasted years — literally years — writing and rewriting the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”

– Joshua Wolf Shenk

You have an outline, now it’s time to execute. Don’t worry about the draft sounding perfect. Don’t even worry about it sounding good. All first drafts suck.

Only 20% of writing a book involves the initial writing. The other 80% is spent editing that manuscript into something worth reading, so don’t stress about what you put down on paper. Don’t even let yourself look back. Keep moving forward, scene by scene, until you have a completed rough draft.

Once you have that rough draft, the real work begins. You should go through multiple rounds of edits before your book goes to print. This includes your own read-throughs, rounds with your editor, and feedback from your beta readers.

By the time you’re done, your final manuscript will read like a completely different book than your original draft, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Expect to Struggle

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing it one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

– George Orwell

You will have moments where you want to do anything but sit down and write. There will be days where every word you put down sounds unworthy of the paper it’s scribed upon. You’re going to get frustrated, perhaps to the point of tears. The thought of giving up will come to mind, and you may toy with it more than once.

These experiences are more than okay. They’re expected. Even the most notable writers struggle to put the story they imagine on paper.

Take heart when the writing gets hard. The struggle comes with the territory. We all claw our way through it at some point during the writing process.

The only way to beat it is to keep going.

Keep writing.

Keep moving forward.

Those who reach the end are the ones who refuse to give up.

Listen and Learn from Your Critics

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

– Harper Lee

Sharing your writing with an editor, beta reader, or even just a friend can make you feel vulnerable. Don’t let your attachment keep you from taking criticism. Being a great writer takes thick skin.

Be open to constructive criticism, even when it’s uncomfortable. Chew on it. If your editor asks you to rewrite something you love, challenge yourself by making what you may already think is good even better.

I scrapped two manuscripts for my second book, Chivalry’s Code, before I found the right narrative. By the time the third draft was done, it evolved into a completely different story than the one I originally envisioned. It was also exponentially better.

To be a great writer, you must always be eager and open to learning. Embrace the reality that growth never ends. Your writing voice should always be evolving, but this process can only take place when you humble yourself enough to look at your work with a critical eye and try to improve it.

Find a Writing Process That Works for You

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

– W. Somerset Maugham

There are innumerable articles and books available that aim to teach you how to write a novel, but the only methods that matter are the ones that work for you.

Like any art, writing is part method, part exploration. If you don’t already have a writing process, try various approaches and figure out what works best for you. With time and experience, you’ll develop your own approach to outlining a story, developing your characters, and drafting your novel. This process, born from the culmination of all the tactics you’ve tried, may be entirely your own — and that’s okay. Use the tools that work whether you borrow them from others or create them yourself.

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Elizabeth Carlton

Author of The Rogue Trilogy | 16+ years of professional writing experience spanning journalism, SEO, marketing, research and fiction | www.ElliWrites.com