Practical writing tips from 65 bestselling authors

Perhaps one of the first things aspiring writers do when they start their work is to look for a bunch of writing tips and tricks from successful authors, to learn from and to keep inspired. The internet is full of sage advice about writing, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from contemporary authors, who are familiar with the current state of publishing.

So recently, at the 2016 Young Adult Literature Conference in Londond (#YALC for short) -YouTuber and book lover Xina Hailey asked 65 YA authors about their number one tip for new and aspiring writers. The tips themselves range from practical to inspirational, and all are worth considering as well as great fun to read. There’s definitely a lot, and since this is a pretty epic post, you should reflect on these tips and consider how they’ll help you. At least one of them is probably exactly what you needed to hear.

HERE ARE THE #1 TIPS AUTHORS HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS!

 

Alex Scarrow FullAlex Scarrow, author of TimeRiders [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “When you’ve got an idea you really really want to write, the very very first [thing] that I suggest you do is write the last chapter. Actually envisage the whole chapter so you know exactly how the story ends, then when you go back to the beginning, your whole thing has a direction of travel.”

 

Alice Oseman FullAlice Oseman, author of Radio Silence [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My advice to aspiring authors is to write what you want to read.”

 

 

 

Alwyn Hamilton FullAlwyn Hamilton, author of Rebel of the Sands [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Write something that is unique to you. Don’t think of it as being creative because then you’ll freeze up. Think of it as writing something that only you can write.”

 

 

Anna McKerrow FullAnna McKerrow, author of Red Witch [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Basically, write loads… just do it lots, just write as many different types of things that you can… it doesn’t have to be anything in particular, but the best thing to do is just to get loads of words on the page and keep going, and improve all the time.

 

 

Annabel Pitcher FullAnnabel Pitcher, author of Silence is Goldfish [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Free yourself of perfection… [there’s a] critical voice in your head [that] starts to tell you that it’s not good enough or that no one’s going to like it…. it’s about turning that voice off in your ead and just allowing yourself to write…

 

Anthony Ergo Dystopia FullAnthony Ergo, author of Dystopia [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Get your first draft done by hook or crook no matter how long it takes, no matter how painful the process. As soon as you’ve got that first draft in place, that’s your starting point and then from there it’s sort of all downhill, easy riding…”

 

Ben Aaronovitch FullBen Aaronovitch, author of Foxglove Summer [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “If you don’t think you can finish a novel, start a short story, that way there’s much less to finish.

 

 

D.S. Murphy, author of Shearwater [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Make sure you know who you’re writing for and what they like, so you can write something that astounds and amazes them.”

 

 

 

Ben Davis FullBen Davis, author of The Private Blog of Joe Cowley [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Keep writing all the time whenever you get the chance honing and refining, and if you’ve got someone who can read for you… then that’s really good as well.

 

 

 

CJ Skuse FullCJ Skuse, author of The Deviants [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Follow your dreams, because you never know which dreams could come true.”

 

 

 

Catherine Doyle FullCatherine Doyle, author of Mafiosa [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Think of the moments in film that have inspired you the most, and ask yourself why… try and re-instill that in your own work with your own characters.

 

 

Chris Russell FullChris Russell, author of Songs About A Girl [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Always know where your next idea is… where you’re heading next.

 

 

 

Chris Vick FullChris Vick, author of Kook [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Work out what you want to say, and say it as clearly as possible.”

 

 

Damian Knight FullDamian Knight, author of The Pages of Time [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Do the outline before you start writing… I found that by doing outlines, that the shape originally should be something that you can alter as you go, as new things come to you. But just having the scaffolding in place helps just to know where you’re going.

 

 

Darren Shan FullDarren Shan, author of Zom-B [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My piece of advice is very obvious, but it can never be stated enough: write. If you want to be a writer, then you’ve got to write. There’s no magic involved; the more you write the more you learn and the better you get.

 

Dawn Kurtagich FullDawn Kurtagich, author of The Creeper Man [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Keep going and do the stubborn thing and never quit, never stop improving and never stop trying and you will get there… don’t rush, make sure that your book is the best it can be.”

 

 

Derek Landy FullDerek Landy, author of Desolation [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Include a bit of yourself into it. You have to slice off a bit of your own soul and put it in those pages… one moment of pure honesty is all you need to get the audience to connect with your characters… that’s what you need, that’s how you make books real.”

 

 

Emerald Fennel FullEmerald Fennell, author of Monsters [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Write anything. It doesn’t matter which, it doesn’t matter where it is… just the thing of getting it down… throw everything at it and don’t be embarrassed, don’t be coy, just have a go.

 

 

 

Eugene Lambert FullEugene Lambert, author of The Sign of One [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My advice to aspiring authors is you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to be hard about this, you’ve got to keep going until you write the two best words of your novel, which is ‘The end.’”

 

 

 

Frances Hardinge FullFrances Hardinge, author of The Lie Tree [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My advice to young writers would be, be stubborn. The best piece of advice that I was given was that when you get rejection letters, treat them as trophies. The more you have, the better you are doing, the closer you are to your goal, and it’s evidence that you are taking your craft seriously.”

 

 

Harriet Reuter Hapgood FullHarriet Reuter Hapgood, author of The Square Root of Summer [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Turn off all of the noise, don’t look at the internet, don’t look at the book that’s just come out that sounds a bit like yours… it doesn’t matter if someone has the same story as you. The execution might be different — just stick to what you can do.

 

Holly Bourne FullHolly Bourne, author of Am I Normal Yet [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Just read a lot and write a lot. Honestly, that changes everything.”

 

 

 

Cargill FullHonor and Perdita Cargill, authors of Waiting for Callback [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Write what you know… allow yourself not to be perfect the first time, or even the second time, or even the third time…you’re never going to get it right the first time so don’t give up. Keep going.”

 

 

 

Jocephine Boyce FullJosephine Boyce, author of Rebellion [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Just keep writing… you get better and better and better, so just keep going, don’t be disheartened…”

 

 

 

 

Julia Gray FullJulia Gray, author of The Otherlife [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Be consistent. So try, if you can, to do a little bit every day, or as many days of the week as you can, because writing is like a muscle — the more you exercise that muscle, the easier it will get…”

 

 

Juno Dawson FullJuno Dawson, author of All of the Above [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Ignore literally every and all writing advice, and just focus on telling the best story that you can…”

 

 

 

 

Kathryn Evans FullKathryn Evans, author of More of Me [Amazon | Author Site]

  • I would say just don’t give up. It took me fifteen years to get published, so this is my first published book, but this is actually my fourth novel. So just keep going, that’s the only difference between the people who make it and the people who don’t, and learn your craft.”

 

 

 

Katy Cannon FullKaty Cannon, author of Love Lies and Lemon Pies [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Write right down into your innermost feelings. Go deeper and harder than you think you can, make it really difficult for your characters, and write the stuff that makes you think ‘I can’t do that…’”

 

 

 

Keren David FullKeren David, author of Cuckoo [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My advice is to try and write a set amount of words every day, and keep going. It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish, it’ll be rubbish, it should be rubbish, because you can always edit.”

 

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave FullKiran Millwood-Hargrave, author of The Girl of Ink and Stars [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Just keep going, keep that initial inspiration that you had in your head, and just write until you get to the end— then make it better!”

 

 

 

Laura Power FullLaura Power, author of Airborn [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Always believe in your story, and always be open to inspiration from everywhere and anywhere.”

 

 

 

Lauren James FullLauren James, author of The Next Together [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Always write about the thing which you’re passionate about, and don’t try to write trends, or like writing the next Hunger Games or Divergent dystopian novel. Write about the weird quirky thing you’re obsessed with, because someone out there will be just as obsessed with it as you are…”

 

Lee Weatherly FullLee Weatherly, author of Broken Sky [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Write what you find absolutely fascinating. Think about the role that you would love to read about and that’s what you should be writing.”

 

 

 

Lisa Heathfield FullLisa Heathfield, author of Paper Butterflies [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Put down your mobile phone, just for a minute, look around you and observe people. Observe life and use it in your writing.

 

 

 

Lisa Williamson FullLisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “I would say keep a diary even though I know people worry that [others] will find your diary and read it. But what I do now, I kept a paper diary when I was younger but now I e-mail myself… it’s a really good way of just getting used to expressing yourself using words, and a good way also of getting your stuff out of your system then you can go and write stories instead…”

 

Louise O'Neill FullLouise O’Neill, author of Asking for It [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “[My father] used to tell me that if you couldn’t see [your goal], you couldn’t believe it then you wouldn’t achieve it… I read this book called Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain… I think that it’s a really useful tool because… it’s important to always have your end goal in sight.

 

Lucy Saxon FullLucy Saxon, author of The Tellus series [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Don’t be afraid to be bad at it at first, because everyone starts out bad, and the only way that you get better is through practice.”

 

 

 

Maggie Stiefvater FullMaggie Stiefvater, author of The Raven Cycle [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “The biggest piece of advice that I can give you is that if you’re going to be in any creative profession, you should turn all of the no’s that you’ll hear – and you’ll get a lot of them – into ‘not yet,’ instead… if you assume that those ‘no’s’ mean ‘not yet,’ that means you just have to try harder and look more impressive the next time…”

 

Malorie Blackman FullMalorie Blackman, author of Chasing the Stars [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My one piece of advice for aspiring writers would be don’t be afraid to write from the heart as well as the head, and write with passion. Write about the things you care about.”

 

 

 

Martin Stewart FullMartin Stewart, author of Riverkeep [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Learn to love failure, and to accept that things that you do may not work, but that is a brilliant positive part of the process of working towards the thing that will work, and all the abandoned books and all the things that you cut out of your manuscript will end up somewhere in a little magical shed in your head and you can go there and… eventually build something beautiful.”

 

Melvin Burgess FullMelvin Burgess, author of Junk [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Just don’t stop. You’ll get there in the end.”

 

 

 

Michael Grant FullMichael Grant, author of Front Lines [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “There is no correct way to write a book. There is only the way that you write it, and you’re going to have to figure that out on your own… you’ve got to read books telling you how to do it, and sometimes they’re useful… but basically you’re going to figure this out on your own, and however it works for you is good.”

 

 

Mintie Das FullMintie Das, author of Storm Sisters [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Failure or rejection is part of [writing] and don’t worry about it. Just write, write, write.”

 

 

Natalie Flynn the Deepest CutNatalie Flynn, author of The Deepest Cut [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Never give up. It took me ten years to get published, and the only difference between me and you now is time, so just keep going, keep submitting, keep sending it out, keep practicing, keep rewriting — just don’t give up, because soon enough, you’ll be holding your own book.”

 

Natasha Farrant FullNatasha Farrant, author of The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Read as much as you can, as much and as widely as you can, because it’s reading other people that makes you a better writer.”

 

 

 

 

Nicole Burstein FullNicole Burstein, author of Wonderboy [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Read everything. You hate it, read it. You love it, read it. All the stuff in between, read it. Know what you’re talking about, and just enjoy books.”

 

 

david levithNina LaCour and David Levithan, authors of You Know Me Well [Amazon | David Levithan’s Author Site | Nina LaCour’s Author Site]

  • Write what you feel compelled to write, and not what you feel like you’re supposed to write… let yourself fail repeatedly and don’t put pressure to be perfect the first time, because it is never ever perfect the first time.”

Non Pratt FullNon Pratt, author of Unboxed [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Write because you enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy it, won’t want to do it, and you can only do more writing if you want to do it… don’t feel pressured, never feel like you have to write, never feel guilty for not writing. Just do it because you love it.”

 

 

Patrick Ness FullPatrick Ness, author of A Monster Calls [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “It’s always, always write a book you want to read yourself, because you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t, and they write for other people or the market, but it’s the books you write for yourself that other people want to read.”

 

 

Pete Kalu FullPete Kalu, author of Zombie Eleven [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Write what you fear. If you fear something, if you’re afraid of something, if you’re troubled by something, then that’s probably the best place to write from, because in writing it you work through it and you may find yourself writing something that surprises even you.”

 

Philip Reeve RailheadPhilip Reeve, author of Railhead [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Read, read everything you can. Read all the time. And then, when you’re not reading, write all the time, write loads and loads and loads and loads, and throw most of it away, and then rewrite the good bits, and eventually if you keep persisting at that, you end up with a book.”

 

Richard Kurti FullRichard Kurti, author of Maladapted [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Write about an idea that you absolutely love, that you want to lose yourself in for months and months and months and if you do that, you’ll do well.”

 

 

 

Rosalind Jana FullRosalind Jana, author of Notes On Being Teenage [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Enter writing competitions. There are loads of fantastic contests out there for young people, and for me, that was how I had this first moment of other people going, ‘you’re good, keep at it, you’re on to something.’”

 

Sally Green FullSally Green, author of Half-Bad [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “I think that one thing that I’m really pleased that I did was find some fellow writers who I could work with and share my work with, and also learn to look at their work and criticise them nicely and give them feedback…”

 

 

 

Samantha Shannon FullSamantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My main piece of advice to aspiring writers is to experiment, to mix genres, and do whatever you like. Never think that something is too weird to turn into a film.”

 

 

Sarra Manning FullSarra Manning, author of London Belongs to Us [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “You do some of your best work when you’re not actually writing. So when I’m walking my dog, or when I’m sort of like having a swim, when I’m just thinking really hard about… what I want to write… I think it’s really just sort of important to actually get away from your desk, to get away from the tyranny of your blank screen and actually write in your head before you ever pick up a pen or like put your fingers on the keyboard.”

 

Sarah Crossan FullSarah Crossan, author of One [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Be creative, because it’s part of our humanity to be creative and there is a self-help person called Brene Brown who says that unchecked creativity is not benign, which means it makes you sick, so just do it.”

 

 

Sarah Govett FullSarah Govett, author of The Territory [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My advice would be just have a go — start writing, and if you can’t think of anything to write then you’re probably writing the wrong book, so then have a go at writing something else.”

 

 

 

Simon Mayo ItchSimon Mayo, author of Itch [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “One: keep reading, read as much stuff as you can and a wide variety of things, stuff that takes you out of your comfort zone… and buy one book: On Writing by Stephen King, because if you read that, then you will be inspired.”

 

 

Sophie Croft

Sofi Croft, author of Indigo’s Dragon [Amazon | Author Site]

  • Have patience, and… take time writing your book and make it the very best that it can be.”

 

 

 

 

Sophia Bennett FullSophia Bennett, author of Love Songs [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “My piece of writing advice is something that I’ve stolen from Neil Gaiman… it is to finish things, so whatever you’re working on now, just slave your way through it to the end, then you’llr each some hard moments… but it’s really important to practice finishing things.”

 

 

Sophie Kinsella FullSophie Kinsella, author of Finding Aubrey [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Write the book you would love to read yourself. Just picture that book, and that’s the book you need to write.

 

 

 

Taran Matharu Real FullTaran Matharu, author of The Novice [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Finish what you start. It’s so easy to start a new book, get into it, and then you get a bit of a block and you stop writing it… a book that’s finished is worth a thousand times more than a half-finished book.”

 

 

 

VE Schwab FullVictoria Schwab, author of This Savage Song [Amazon | Author Site]

  • “Just to be brave. I think the first thing you have to realize is that you have to put yourself out there, and rejection is part of the process and it’s kind of a part that you should embrace because it never goes away.”

 

That’s it! That’s a lot of tips! Hopefully in the future, new writers reading this will be able to share some tips themselves for a different crop of aspiring writers. Special thanks to Xina Hailey for her Writing Advice From 65 Authors || YALC 2016 video!

Did you enjoy this post? Did you find a few – or a lot – of really helpful tips that can help you improve your writing or your writing habits? Then don’t forget to share this article on social media and spread the word (you can also tag your favorite author mentioned here)!

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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