Seven Tips for Writers

Welcome to The Learning Curve. I am chronicling my journey as a new writer in hopes of inspiring you to put that bag of chips down, step away from the television, and tell the world a good story.

Seven Tips for Writers

This past week the world lost Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, which has sold more than twenty million copies worldwide and helped many people, including myself, step up their game. One of the habits that Covey touted was simple, and yet, profound. “Begin with the end in mind,” advises that we see the finished product in our minds before physically starting to work on it. Over the years this has saved me countless hours in the world of business.

Begin With the End in Mind

As a new writer working to improve my skills I have learned to heed Covey’s advice. There are dozens of short stories in my notebooks that could have benefited from knowing where they would end up before starting.  I won’t go so far as to call them garbage, there are a few bright spots in most, but the majority were conceived as a single scene then expanded without knowing where the story was going. Reading them is akin to driving in New York or Atlanta without a GPS in the car; there’s a lot of circling around the block. I have learned to use a proper roadmap before starting on a story these days.

Perhaps some of the best advice I have received came from beta readers. These fellow writers took the time, effort, and energy to not only read my scribbling, but give constructive feedback and criticism as well. Each of them will get a proper shout-out in my first book, but let me take a moment and share their direction which helped to focus my writing.

Tense (Don’t be.)

Switching between present and past tense is a problem I struggle with. It’s something I will never be perfect at, but I never knew it was a problem until it a few people pointed it out. Lesson learned. Okay, still learning, but you get my point.

Overused Words (A little of this and too much of that.)

I am the King of That. That word creeps into everything that I write. See? I just did it again. I could have written the sentence as, “This word creeps into everything I write,” and it would have been just fine. That is a problem for me, and it’s one (that) I never knew (that) I had until my beta readers pointed it out.

Comma Punch (Persistent, punctuation, problems)

Growing up in the South, I have a keen ear for the spoken word. We don’t talk fast around here, and there’s usually a pause or two right dab in the middle of our sentences, it’s just how we are. As a result, I’ll throw a comma down faster than a good ‘ole boy can chug a beer, let me tell you. Again, it’s a problem I was completely unaware of until it was pointed out by a fellow writer.

Weak Opening (Get the attention of your readers quickly.)

If your story doesn’t start with action then it should, at the very minimum, pose a question that must be answered. Most of my stories do one or the other, but there are a few times this hasn’t been the case. Give your readers a reason to turn the page.

Show & Tell (Remember your senses.)

Put the reader in the moment by giving them visual clues, but don’t forget the other senses in the process. Sometimes I forget this is just as important as dialog. Telling the reader that your character got into a fight last night is not as thrilling as showing them the fight. Give them a ringside seat to the action. Can you taste the copper in your mouth where a tooth once called home?

Conflict (The stuff action is made of.)

You have a cute heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog? Okay. Where’s the conflict, the drama, action or comedy in the story? Characters should grow between the covers. Um, you know what I mean. If nothing ever happens to them, well, it’s kind of boring really. Put the dog in danger, or the boy, it doesn’t really matter. A good fiction story has conflict, and great ones have a lot of it.

Bonus Tip (Greater than 25%)

Most of the tips I’ve picked up are common knowledge to the old pro’s. These are just a few of the important ones they have graciously shared with me. In turn, dear author in training, I’m sharing them with you. And, I have one bonus tip, from me to you. It’s the best tip I can leave on the table. If you’re savvy then perhaps you have already picked it up.

Make use of beta readers! They will help you refine your skills by pointing out things you are not aware of. The story is important, but how you write it is vital to keeping your readers engaged.

Indies Unlimited has a huge number of articles dedicated to the art of writing, covering many of the items I briefly mentioned. This a knowledge base worthy of making IU your home page. It’s hard to direct you to the specific links I’m thinking about due to the template transition we’re working through. But if you search hard enough you will find a lot of buried treasures; even if they are buried under a template at the moment.

What other tips have you picked up on your writing journey? Share them and help us all out.

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 K.D. Rush is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited. He is currently working on a book of short stories, as well as his debut novel, The Guild Inc., a supernatural thriller. For more information please see the IU Bio page and visit his website: or find him on Twitter @KD_Rush.

Author: K.D. Rush

KD Rush is a South Carolina native currently working on several short stories and his debut novel, The Guild Inc., a supernatural thriller. He documents his writing journey at his blog, and here at Indies Unlimited in a monthly column called The Learning Curve. He also tweets daily at @KD_Rush.

26 thoughts on “Seven Tips for Writers”

  1. As always, a very nice post, KD. That's (;)) all very good advice, but "beginning with the end in mind" sticks out as especially important. Well done, mate, and thanks.

    1. Chris, I started and finished an outline to another book this weekend. It's doubtful whether I would have been able to do that if I didn't know where it would end. The bonus feature of this is knowing where the next book in the series needs to go from there.

        1. Yes, very much so. It's like holding a mini version of the novel, stripped to its core, right there in front of you, and you have the ability to mold and shape it into whatever direction you want.

  2. Excellent, KD, thanks! I also tip my hat to Stephen Covey. Working a full-time job in marketing and starting a writing career required some mad organizational skills, which I've clung to as a freelancer.

    And beta readers? Wouldn't be anywhere without them!

    1. Thanks Laurie. When people tell me that they want to write a book 'someday' I ask what's stopping them. The most common response is lack of time. Work, kids, and even a social life are all priorities, but somehow they can't find the time to spend an hour or two a day writing, even if it's only in their head.

      Stephen Covey is a master of time management, and I think many 'authors in training' could learn a thing or two from him. Seven Habits is one of those books I would replace in a heartbeat if I loaned it out and didn't get it back.

      Using beta readers to help hone your craft is essential for those just starting out. The worst thing you could probably do is trust your family for this task. They will either tell you it's perfect, or you will think they are idiots for picking apart your baby. And even if they think it's a literary work of art, a question of their sincerity will always remain.

  3. Well done, KD!. This is a very helpful way for a newbie writer to look at things. All of your hints will be helpful to me but the one that made me laugh because it is SO spot on is Overused Words. Now, up, that, these – are all troublemakers in my writing. I do a 'find' across my stories and I'm embarrassed at how many times I use them!

    Thanks for another great post. :))

    1. Thanks Jo. I'm starting to get better at spotting those annoying words as they are typed, but I've still a long way to go to break old habits. 😉

  4. I love beta readers to me they are my backbone..I have learned the same stuff you pointed out. My this and that is so and ok. Seems like I start every sentence with one or the other.. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Pesky words are only a problem if you don't know they are a problem. I agree, beta readers are the backbone of a good story. If it flows for them, great. If not, then you can focus on where the problems are in the story, which is very hard to do without honest feedback. And thank YOU for sharing. 😉

  5. I have a tendency to overuse "suddenly". As soon as I have an urge to type that word, I've learned to stop myself and figure out another way to phrase the sentence.

    Suddenly (ack! there it is again! kill it!), I have nothing else to say, except, "Great post, K.D."

    1. Thanks Lynne. I have nothing to say, except, "Thank you for stopping by to share a few minutes of your day with me. It's much appreciated!"


  6. Getting feedback from readers is the most important part of drafting and probably the most dreaded. I have yet to find beta readers online, but need to start doing so. My real-life critique group only meets once a month and everyone has to wait their turn!

    1. Jeri, I can understand how frustrating it must be to have a story you want to share and get feedback on, just to wait for months for the opportunity.

      I've been very fortunate to find a handful of people (other writers in the indie community) that have graciously taken the time to read my little stories and tell me what works. More importantly, they tell me what doesn't.

      The single most important thing I've learned on this writing journey is the fact that this community is a special place to be. Things really start to click when you reach out and get to know other writers. Most of us have a lot in common. If you look around I think you will probably find a few people willing to beta read a story for you, provided you're willing to do the same for them.

      And hey, if I'm wrong, then hit me up. I'd be happy to provide some feedback for you.

      Thanks for stopping by to share. I enjoyed it.

  7. Great post. I find that writing is like riding a motorcycle, too. You try to override it and you end up in a guardrail. Let inertia do it's thing.

    1. Dude, you bebop words in your sleep; a jingle-jangled mess of emotional coolness only the hippest can truly understand. The rest of us just try to imitate your innate talent. You however, will always be the leader of the band. Write on brother.


  8. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I agree with all your points… especially your first one. Having the end in mind before your beginning makes everything easier 🙂

    1. Thanks Melissa. It's probably not the easiest way to write for some people, but I got tired of running in circles looking for the elusive ending. If nothing else it has allowed me to write more often. It's an easy flow of words when you know where you're going.

  9. Like you, for me the learning never stops. Now, the hope is, that is also translated into tighter, better writing. I have only two beta readers and they are not writers but I do rely on their feedback.

    1. Having another writer as a beta reader is especially helpful when you need grammar, plot holes, spelling and other technical stuff pointed out. These are things that I don't focus on while writing, and often overlook when reading the story back. I can rest assured that another writer will point these out to me. The average reader may let some of it slide.

      I'm still working my way down the reading list to your books, but I have a feeling that your particular beta readers are a cut above most.


  10. Great post, K.D. I know I need to take a couple of those tips to heart. I'm especially bad about overusing words. I think of them as "comfort" words, ones that you go to anytime to avoid thinking too much about each sentence individually. Just like comfort foods, they are usually not a good thing!

    1. lol – Thanks Brian, and I agree. Too much of any one thing is not good for you. Except for Mt. Dew perhaps, but I'm really not even certain bout that.

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