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  • J. Gibson

Writing Fiction: Advice for Aspiring Authors

Whether your goal is to write the next Great Novel or simply try fiction writing, expect the path to publication (self- or traditional) to have highs and lows. Drawing from my own practices, here is advice to help you navigate the journey of writing and getting published, self-publishing or traditional:

Make an Unwavering Commitment

  • Set a deadline for finishing your novel and promise yourself you will meet it no matter what. Writing is a habit, which is why famous authors like Stephen King and Alice Munro have said they try to write every day. Determine your own routine and commit to it.

  • Be willing to sacrifice social events, TV or internet browsing time, hobbies, etc., to focus single-mindedly on writing. Protect your writing time. You may not always be able to write every day, but trying is what matters.

  • Set a daily word count goal and stick to it even when you don't feel motivated. Start with 250 words per day. As you develop your writing habit, you may work your way up to a loftier goal, such as 1,500 words per day. When I am writing a new novel, I write anywhere from 500 to 4,000 words a day.

Persevere in the Face of Obstacles

  • Push through writer's block by freewriting, clustering ideas on sticky notes, or dictating a first draft full of errors. No one cares if there are typos or prose problems in your initial draft (those are expected). The goal is simply to get your ideas down.

  • If you intend to be traditionally published, expect rejections and use them to improve your craft rather than shatter your confidence. Submit regularly.

    • John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, famously faced numerous rejections from publishers and literary agents before finally being accepted. Though the exact number is unclear, sources report the book was rejected anywhere from 16 to 30 times total before Wynwood Press, a small publisher, decided to publish it.

      • In other words, despite setbacks, Grisham kept going.

  • When stuck, make two lists—"Reasons to write" and "Reasons not to write"—to uncover any hidden resistances. This strategy can reveal what's holding you back. Sometimes reasons are valid, other times they are just excuses.

  • Telling yourself "I want to quit" is very different from actually quitting. Dig deep and press onward.

Build Physical and Mental Stamina

  • Take a 5–10 minute break every 60–90 minutes during writing sessions to renew focus. Set a timer. Regular mini-breaks help maintain stamina.

    • (As someone who occasionally gets a terrible stiff neck when writing, seriously, take breaks. I've had a crick in my neck that lasted weeks!)

  • Limit work periods to no more than 2–3 hours at a time before longer breaks.

  • Eat protein-oriented snacks like nuts, yogurt, or jerky to fuel concentration. Stay hydrated. Brainstorm food and drink ideas to keep you energized.

  • Exercise 30–60 minutes daily to reduce stress and boost energy. Go for a walk, do yoga, lift weights; find what works for you.

  • Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Your brain consolidates learning as you sleep. Don't skimp on sleep to write more.

Maintain a Positive Mindset: The Research Shows It Works

  • While it may sound cliché, the science backs it up: maintaining a positive mindset can truly aid your writing.

  • Stop negative self-talk and counter it with affirming statements. A 2020 study found that positive self-talk improves mental health, performance, and relationships. People using positive self-talk developed better coping strategies.

  • Celebrate small successes like finishing a paragraph. Research shows that using second-person pronouns ("you can do it!") in self-talk boosts endurance compared to first-person self-talk.

  • Remind yourself of the joys of writing. A 2022 study confirmed positivity predicts more positive and less negative self-talk. Positive self-talk also predicted higher self-confidence.

  • Counteract negative thoughts by re-reading passages you loved writing. Neuroimaging research reveals positive self-talk enhances executive functions while negative self-talk increases motivation and attention; both affecting performance.

  • Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address entrenched negative self-talk patterns. CBT can assist you in challenging negative thoughts and reinforcing positive self-talk through behavioral changes.

  • Whatever you do, the science is clear: maintaining a positive mindset, while challenging at times, can pay off in your writing and overall well-being.

Find the Courage to Put Yourself Out There

  • Silence your inner critic. Remind yourself that done is better than perfect. You can (and certainly will) always revise later.

  • Start by sharing early drafts with trusted friends, then build up to broader audiences. Slowly expand your sharing circle.

  • If you want to pursue traditional publishing, make a list of 20 literary agents to submit to. Focus on the next submission, not the last rejection. Create a submissions schedule that works for you.

With an unwavering commitment, perseverance through obstacles, physical and mental stamina, a positive outlook, courage, and an adventurous spirit, you can complete your novel and navigate the road to publication. Don't allow anything to deter you from fulfilling your fiction writing dreams. The destination is less important than the journey itself.


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