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I'm looking for a list of the basics that successful published novel writers actually do. This list would also include specific things which they do not do.

For example, I don't believe any successful published author actually asks her relatives (or other amateurs) for advice on her writing.

Why Wouldn't Successful Published Authors Ask For Advice?

Actually, the reason that successful published authors do not ask for advice about how good or bad their writing might be is because the people around them are probably not great writers themselves and would not have much to add.

Is This Difficult to Accept?

If this is difficult to accept then consider Hemingway asking his relatives if they believed his draft of The Old Man and the Sea was any good. Ridiculous.

Okay, so how about modern successful published authors? How about Ken Follet (Pillars of the Earth series - A Column of Fire) asking his wife, "Honey, do you think this draft is any good? Should I be a writer?" It probably never happened.

How about Sue Grafton ( mystery writer of Kinsey Millhone fame Y Is For Yesterday)? Can you imagine her changing her words because her nephew said he thought the writing didn't do a good job of characterizing her villain. No.

So, in this case, we can probably take away some knowledge that successful published authors do not ask amateurs if their writing is good.

The Inverse of Asking If Their Writing Is Good

Actually, this probably indicates another thing about successful published authors. They can tell when their writing is good on their own.

So let's start the list with those two.

  • Successful published authors do not ask amateurs for advice about how good their writing is.
  • Successful published authors can tell their writing is good on their own.

Can you offer other specific items like these?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it has a very broad scope.
    – Divizna
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:24

4 Answers 4

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You are simply wrong about that, and trying to answer your own question!

Stephen King has written, in his book On Writing, that his wife reads every finished page he gives her and critiques it, and if she doesn't like it he rewrites it.

if your relatives and friends are readers of the type of stuff you write, they are your audience. If you have a relationship with them in which they will tell you the truth of their reaction, and take your writing career seriously and want you to succeed more than they want to not offend you, then they can be useful to you.

The second item on your list must be wrong, too: Stephen King wouldn't give his wife something he thinks needs work. Yet he will change it if she thinks it is bad. So even he cannot be certain if what he wrote is "good."

That means both of the "first two" things on your list are incorrect.

I'd offer Stephen King's advice, which you can buy for yourself. Write every day whether you feel like it or not. Read other writers and find the passages you love, and figure out why you love them and how they managed to have an impact. Because if you can see that, you might be able to do it, too.

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  • Great first sentence. Usually you want to draw someone into what you are writing and that sentence doesn't quite do that. Also, did you know that editors see exclamation marks as yelling? Why are you yelling? So you've read one author's take (Stephen King's) on this process and you feel that is all we need? It's a narrow set of data, but thanks.
    – raddevus
    Oct 21, 2017 at 20:30
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    No, editors do not see exclamation marks as yelling. They see them as they are, emphatic. Read the definition of "exclaim". I provide one example of a consummate professional artist, that has likely sold more than either of us ever will. He is not the only one, and you fail to comprehend the logic: Your audience determines your success or failure, and they are not professional writers. It makes little difference if other writers like your writing, or YOU like your writing, and regular people think its crap. Does it? So yes, I think the example of King is all we need to say you are mistaken.
    – Amadeus
    Oct 21, 2017 at 20:48
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The question includes the statement:

Successful published authors do not ask amateurs for advice about how good their writing is.

and particularly suggests that such writes do not ask their spouses for opinions on their writing. This is demonstrably incorrect, at least in a number of cases. The late Robert A. Heinlein, a very successful and popul;ar author, wrote that he asked his third wife Virginia to read and react to all his works after their marriage. Other examples could be cited. The answer by Amadeus mentions Stephan king.

Many successful writers have a group of "beta readers" whose opinions the writers seek on new work. These are usually not fellow authors, but fans of the sort of work that the author does. As others point out, many (but not all) successful authors want to know if particular work is finding favor with potential readers, and seek information from such readers on this.

The question also says:

Successful published authors can tell their writing is good on their own.

Some can, and some can't. More to the point, some are confident that they cn, and some are frequently unsure and seek outside opinions from family, frinds, fans, editors, agents, and others. Writers differ widely in such matters, even successful writers.

The answer by SFWriter says that successful writers use drafts, and are not content with a first draft. This is probably true of most successful writers. (An extreme case was J.R.R. Tolkien, who continued to create modified versions of the stores that made up the Silmarillion over more than 50 years. Some of them exist in a dozen or more versions.) But some successfull writers make little use of drafts. The late Rex Stout notoriously never rewiote any of his more than 40 Nero Wolfe novels, the first draft was the only draft, and was the published text. There are some other cases. But it is fair to say that doing some rewriting (more than Stout, but rather less than Tolkien) is good advice to most would-be writers.

Many successful writers use outlines or other planning techniques for works in progress. Others do not.

Most successful published authors use agents, but some do not. Isaac Asimov wrote that he had never used an agent, for example.

Many successful writes experiment with new techniques. (David Drake has posted on his web site about various works that were undertaken as experiments with techniques he had not used before.) Others do not, staying with the methods and style that has worked for them in the past.

About the only thing that all successful writers have in common is that they write. Some write on a regular schedule, treating it as a job, or indeed an obsession. Other write only occasionally.

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I have wondered where published authors hang out on the internet. For example, if there are published and highly successful fantasy authors on this SE. If they are here, they use pseudonyms. :) Or I have missed seeing them (also possible.)

I believe items on your list would include practical items, and writing/stylistic items.

Practical:

  1. They write. And read. They do these things, with an eye towards understanding how to improve their own writing, and like any other skill, they get better with time. The more we write and read, the more we understand and learn to write and read.

  2. They know that success may take a long time. They choose to do this anyway.

  3. They put the non writing pieces in place too. The book will not sell itself. I have heard it estimated that 75% of the effort is in fact not writing, but things like networking, publicizing, and so on.

Writing/stylistic items.

  1. They use drafts. This implies they don't have it right on the first draft, or at least that it can be improved upon. Some new writers think their first attempt is fantastic. It probably can be improved upon.

  2. They pay attention to characters. To me, this means giving the characters depth. Making certain they are consistent, and have their own voice, and grow.

  3. They pay attention to pacing.

  4. They pay attention to plot.

  5. They pay attention to current conventions.

I asked elsewhere on this SE what are some of the pitfalls new authors fall into, and the responses were helpful. In particular, one person said to avoid shortcuts. It's a good idea for me, in the sense that now I look for areas in my writing are 'sloppy shortcuts.' (Like the use of quotes in that sentence.) As I am personally writing more? I find that I am more easily able to identify when I am taking a sloppy shortcut that should be expanded upon.

An example of a shortcut, is to not develop a character. If John is just in your story because your main character needs someone to talk to so that the reader knows what the MC thinks, but John isn't developed in your own mind, that might be a sloppy shortcut on your part.

Other pieces of advice I hear include 'workshopping' your book. This means having others read it, being in a critique group, listening to the advice you get and considering it.

I agree with Amadeus. I think family can be a good source of critique. I plan to have my family give me critique on my first good draft, because although they will go easy on me, what they do identify for me is likely to be the most egregious stuff. I need to fix that in the draft before giving it to non-family.

This is also a seemingly useful list.

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    That is a very good set of items and I definitely agree with many of them. Write in drafts, pay attention to characters, pay attention to pacing. I also like that you hit upon something I was thinking when I wrote my question : 75% of the effort isn't writing. Very good. thanks.
    – raddevus
    Oct 21, 2017 at 20:45
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Published authors warn aspiring authors that Your Mileage May Vary. That what works for one may not for another. Including the same author on different projects

Not invariably, I've read some dogmatic, my way or the highway types, but as a rule

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