Well … many things but a big one is reading! Some recent advice was that writers need to read critically. Read like a writer not just for entertainment but really study best sellers. It is also important to get lots of feedback AND be open to it. Being willing to revise and then revise again and again until your book is right.
It is tempting to get the first draft of a book done and walk away. But that is just the beginning! I must have had 100 drafts of my first book before I got it right (it feels like a 1000). There were about 20 editions of the second book and about 10 drafts of the 3rd book. I hope to only have about 5 drafts of my forth book. So we get better with each book. The first draft of a first book ALWAYS sucks! The first draft of the second book sucks a little less but it still sucks.
After you finish your first draft, read it out loud. This slows you down and you take in the book with an extra sense, i.e. you’re hearing it and not just seeing the words.
Then once you are happy with the 2nd or 3rd draft of your first book it is time to get feedback from experts. This could be from writers groups, professors of creative writing, etc. If you have friends and/or family members who are avid fiction readers then they can be a good place to start. But they are only the start. They may not be willing to give you honest feedback, which is what is an absolute must.
It is difficult for some to receive honest feedback. Lucky for me, I carve feedback and soak it up. It is not a personal attack. It is one of the best ways to learn and improve. Writing is hard and NO ONE is an expert at first. We all have a lot to learn when we start out. So it is fine if your first draft is terrible. Don’t let that bother you. The only thing that matters is that you learn how to make it better.
Sometimes it was tricky deciding what was good advice and what was not. Once you have lots of feedback then it is time to make up your own mind about what works for you and your story and what doesn’t.
Most of the feedback I have received from about 8 or so professionals was good advice. Yet there was some advice that was not helpful.
E.g. It was advised that I get rid of my prologs. It was not clear why. Perhaps prologs are now viewed as old-fashioned and new techniques say that they should not be used. Whatever the reason, I opted to keep them. They are my hook and they are foreshadowing. Without them there was no good hook to the start of my books. Plus I referred to number one best sellers who effectively used prolog hooks (e.g. Twilight). While some industry experts (agents and publishers) may be tired of prologs, it is still effect for many, if not most, readers in the YA genera. So I kept them.
Another example, was some foreshadowing were I liken a “good guy” to a “bad guy” and point out some of their similarities. One preliminary reader did not like this. She said it needed to be deleted. In her mind the “good guy” was all good and the “bad guy” was all bad. And simply could not be any similarities between the two. But really they are both very “grey” characters. Both taking their turns as hero and villain throughout the series. Because she had no idea were I was going with these characters, comparing them took her by surprise. Unknown to her, the “good guy” has a bad side and vice versa. It made sense once she read the entire story and that bit of advice no longer applied. Because I had knowledge of the story that she didn’t, I opted to ignore that advice.
Yet far more advice was right on and much needed!
Writing is not a solitary endeavor as some writers may hope.
Can you guess which characters from the Lords and Commoners Trilogy I’m talking about? Who the two “grey” characters who are too similar to ever get along?
Happy reading and writing!