1. Real life can be used for research.
I will always remember when I was in college and I wrote a short story for a workshop class. An important part of the story’s exposition was that some characters weren’t able to get into a building, so they called a locksmith to come and open the lock for them. The day my story was being workshopped, my instructor began the class by taking out her phone and calling a real locksmith company and asking them if, hypothetically, they would do something like that without authorization from the owner of the building. After hanging up with the confused locksmith, my instructor, also a writer, explained that one should never be afraid to conduct real life experiments to strengthen fictional writing.
2. In fiction, avoid adverbs.
This one is more of a matter of personal style or opinion, but I generally try to pass this one on to other writers. After being in workshops and studying contemporary movements, such as “dirty realism,” I’ve learned that using adverbs often takes readers out of the story. It’s almost like sending a signal to the reader, “hey, I’m the writer and I’m telling you the girl is talking playfully, so just imagine that it’s playful.” It’s so much better if the writer is able to convince you of their descriptions without you being able to tell that they’re trying. That way, the reader can focus on the image in their mind.
3. Show, don’t tell.
Here’s a critique I’m constantly getting from a writer who I really admire: my best friend. Anytime she gets a hint of me “telling” instead of “showing,” she’ll type this writer’s mantra in big red letters right next to the guilty passage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I agree with her and that’s one of the first passages I’ll edit. And this one goes for lots of styles of writing, whether it’s personal statements, essays, a story, or a poem.
4. “Kill your darlings.”
Probably one of the most commonly referred to guidelines in the field of creative writing, this is a translated quote from short story author Anton Chekov. This concise Russian was wise to point out that, in writing, it’s often the thing that you think makes your piece oh-so-special that’s making a reader cringe at how bad/cliché/contrived it sounds. When you re-read your writing and find that you’re giving yourself a pat on the back for that metaphor saying that life is like a pot of gold you find at the end of a rainbow, thinking, “Ohhh that’s deeeeep,” that’s a sign you’ve got some darlings to kill.
5. Pull in other things that interest you and make a prompt.
Again, I can thank my best friend for this bit of advice. She always makes weird, but great suggestions for writing prompts based on things we like such as song lyrics or movie quotes. Sometimes we’ll each write something as a response to the same quote or prompt and discuss how different our interpretations are. It’s not only an easy way to get inspired, but it can also be a good way to bond with other writers. And if you don’t know many people interested in writing, you can always find decent prompts online.
6. Quickly learn your own tragic flaws and change them!
Writers, just like the characters they create, tend to have tragic flaws that hold them back. It may be crushing to the ego, but it’s important to listen to constructive criticism so hopefully you can learn what these flaws are and then avoid them! Examples of these flaws might include: copying the style of your literary heroes rather than developing your own or having language that is too flowery (or “purple” as they say in workshops). Once I learned that one of my flaws is focusing too much on content, I forced myself to practice stream-of-consciousness and ended up writing some of my better works, and I’m a better writer for it.