Overview and Disclaimer
Writers are always looking to each other for tips and tricks to improve, or for advice on how they should get started in the industry. I'm in no way an authority in the writing world, but I have been asked for advice, and so this section of my website contains books and resources which were useful to me, as well as advice that has helped me or that I've found to have merit. I hope you will also find something that helps you in what follows. That said, every writer finds their own path. Some things here may be useful for you and others may be detrimental. The path of a writer is as much about trial and error - adopting ideas and keeping what works and discarding what doesn't - as anything else.
What Comes First?
How Do Writers Stay Motivated?
I've found the best way to stay motivated is to set hard deadlines. For example, I'll tell myself I need to write X words a day, or finish an edit cycle by the end of a set month. I'll also keep myself accountable by updating my progress on my author pages and letting author friends know about my self-imposed deadlines. It can also be useful to participate in external events with set deadlines. For example, I may want to finish an edit by the end of a certain month in order to participate in a book swap with other writers to gain valuable feedback. Since I don't set this deadline, I can't push it back, and it's easier to force myself to get the work done on time.
Outside of deadlines, motivation can come from other people. Find someone you trust to read your work and offer feedback - positive, constructive, or both. Sharing your work gives you fresh eyes which helps find problem areas, but it also gives you someone else to share your world with, and reminds you that you have a great story that wants to be told.
Improving Story Structure and Craft
The following resources are ones which I've used and found to be useful in greater or lesser degrees.
Should Writers Study Creative Writing?
I am often asked this question because I studied Creative Writing for my BA Hons degree. I wanted a period of time where I would be free and encouraged to invest time and effort solely in my writing, improving my skill level with the helpful feedback of tutors and other students. To ensure this, I read the course overviews of dozens of university courses across multiple universities, and chose one with the least amount of exams and essays and the most amount of coursework and creative assessment because I've always found I improved my creative work with practice of creative work, not analysis of others' work through the lens of literary analysis and criticism.
I also knew that choosing a creative writing degree would in some ways limit my job options. The main jobs it leads into are marketing, publishing, and teaching. For me, the balance of time spent on my writing was worth the smaller job pool compared to other degrees because I was planning to go into publishing or marketing (which I did do, for a few years).
However, there is another, equally valid argument in the writing world which suggests that writers pick a degree other than creative writing so that they can expand their expert knowledge in other subject areas, opening up the stories and characters that they can tell without further research. The main downside to this route would be that the writer would need to find time around their degree and work to write, which may require more motivation, and more searching to find people in the writing world to work with. However, with the internet and writing groups, this is more than possible.
In short, the decision will come down to the individual writer and their personal aims and motivation levels but a creative writing degree doesn't automatically make you a better writer, or better informed. The effort you put in affects what you get out.
Traditional or Self Publishing?
This is one of the most controversial and heated arguments in the writing world. Everyone has a different opinion. You'll find passionate indie writers who will consider nothing else, proud, traditionally published, writers that look down on self publishing as if it were still on the same level as vanity publishing, and hybrid authors that value both approaches for different reasons. You'll also, of course, find people with opinions that come everywhere in-between.
I have been traditionally published with small presses for a number of my short stories and a stand-alone novella. I also intend to self publish my novels. So, I see both sides of the argument, but I must admit I greatly lean towards self publishing because I believe it offers more benefits, if you're willing and able to put in the necessary work.
Traditional publishing is great for paper distribution and acceptable at digital publishing. They have access to the major book sellers and are able to throw money at marketing campaigns and store placements to get your book the attention it needs to be successful. They also have long lists of experts on hand to design your cover in a way which stands out and yet meets audience expectations for the genre. They'll have quality editors, proofreaders and formatters to polish your work, inside and out, before publication. They even have exclusive marketing abilities which aren't currently accessible to self publishers, as well as access to a number of markets and media outlets which will not accept self published books. With a traditional publisher, you won't spend money up front on production or marketing. That risk is taken on by the publisher. Perhaps the most important benefit to traditional publishing, however, is that the writer is free to focus on writing only. They don't need to be a businessman or an entrepreneur. Their focus is solely on writing and editing. Everything else is done for them. Well... mostly.
There are also many downsides to traditional publishing. For one, the process of publication will be handled for you, but in many cases you as the author don't get much say in what happens. There are publicised cases of authors hating their covers or edits to their books, for example, or disliking having to split a book in two due to length. There are also many writers who feel pigeonholed by their publishers. Publishers often want a one trick pony - they want someone good in one genre, or perhaps two if they are tangential, but they don't want to split marketing across multiple brands and genres. This means that authors with a traditional publisher may often propose a book idea, only to be told it doesn't fit what the publisher wants at that time, and so it's rejected and put aside. Traditional publishers are also slow to adapt to the changing market. This is particularly noticeable in the digital book market where self published stories often take up half or more of the top 100 books in bestselling genre lists. They can do this because indie authors are accessing more email marketing services such as BookBub, and they're pricing more competitively in the digital arena with loss leaders and limited time offers. Self publishers as a whole plan more marketing campaigns, more frequently. Traditional publishers put their big focus into a launch and then let a book sink or swim with little extra effort pushed into the book. Self publishers won't do this because their focus is their personal library of books and their personal success. Publishers, at the end of the day, are looking for success across their library of books and authors. If one fails, they look to the next, whereas a self publisher is more likely to reinvest and tweak strategy until they have a success, minor or major. Another worrying trend with traditional publishers is that they are supporting mid-list authors much less, often dropping them for sales which are less than astronomical, and there have been reports that new authors are sometimes not given any marketing for their new book and are expected to do much of the launch themselves. It seems that traditional publishers are leaning towards supporting big names and famous names rather than nurturing talent throughout a writers life, from debut to household name. The biggest disadvantage of traditional publishing for many though, is the pay. After everyone else takes their cut, the author's share of profits is frequently as low as 7-12%. When the author is the one who's created this content, and when self publishing can gain a writer up to 70% of profits, this seems microscopic.
So, the main benefits of self publishing are complete control over your work and how it's presented, better pay, and the ability to be the master of your own schedule. You can bring out one book a year or fifty because you don't need to wait for a publisher's approval and permission. Your publishing processes can be as quick or slow as you like and self publishers will often have a much more personal relationship with their readers.
The downside to self publishing is that you're doing everything yourself. You're investing money in production, taking on the risk of your own success or failure. You also need to understand marketing, formatting, editorial and design decisions in order to produce the best possible product. You'll need to write or requisition your own marketing copy and obtain images to be used in a commercial capacity. You'll need to set up your own website and be responsible for your own presence on social media. This isn't for everyone, and it's a big task. For me, having had some background in marketing, it's something I'm willing to take on in return for the potential benefits. After all, even just looking at an author's pay, if you're successful in self publishing, you have to sell much less overall to make the same amount as you would through a traditional publisher.
Disclaimers over, the thing I've found to be most important with writing (and the advice you'll hear most often) is that if you want to succeed, you need to be writing, and writing a lot. I can't tell you how many people I've met that say they want to be a writer, but 'don't have time' or their efforts peter out after a few months, or they complain about not having anything published but never submit anything, or never prepare anything for publication, or never write anything at all. There are almost as many excuses as there are writers.
Writing isn't easy. There's no quick fix. The best way to succeed is to write millions of words, just like a musician becomes good by practising for thousands of hours. Don't try to write a perfect story straight away. Instead, write the best story you can, and then write another, and another. When you feel more confident, you can also try editing these stories. Editing is another skill that will be learned with a do and repeat and do and repeat method.
No doubt, this process can be demoralising. Almost every writer out there will hate their first draft, and maybe their second and third. But that almost doesn't matter. The aim is to continually improve with each new effort until, eventually, you have a polished product.