Dan's Patented Writing and Reading Tips
Just a few random thoughts I thought I'd share on writing (and, when I get the time, reading), in no particular order and with no particular degree of authority. Feel free to disagree.
Later on, I hope to categorize them, but for now I'll just put them in as they come to me.
Finish the Damned Thing
More than talent, more than a facility for words, more than genius, actually finishing things is what separates writers from those who want to be writers.
For me, there are two great joys to writing: Finishing a story, and seeing it published (in which I include cashing the check). The latter is at the discretion of immense forces beyond your control, but the former you can give yourself any time you want.
Write Every Day
Even if it's only for 15 or 20 minutes. Writing is a muscle you can develop, strengthen and tone. Besides, that'll be 15 or 20 minutes where you can't get into trouble because of that other thing you do. You know what I'm talking about.
Write What You Know
"Write what you know" really means "Don't write what someone else knows better than you." If you're not a rocket scientist, don't write about rocket science -- there are plenty of rocket scientists who will be only too happy to point out all your mistakes.
Unless you're willing to do the research... .
My guess is that there isn't a book or story in the world that couldn't stand to be cut by at least 10%, and most could probably stand as much as 20%. Just look at the previous sentence -- you could cut half of it and still get the point. Be ruthless.
Show, Don't Tell ... Or Not
This is a good guideline, as far as it goes, but let's not get carried away. If you can find a way to show a thing clearly without any telling, that's great. If you can't -- well, we all enjoyed Show and Tell in school, and besides, there's a reason writers are called "Storytellers," not "Storyshowers."
Writing About Writing
Ever notice there are almost no good books about writers?
Personally, I dearly love the humble adverb, but most editors seem to hate them passionately, so, since I, sadly, am not currently procuring any manuscripts for publication, it's really best to avoid them where possible.
Try to write every character's lines so that no other character in the book could possibly speak them. Give each a unique sentence pattern (long and complex, short and choppy, rambling and incoherent, etc.) and signature phrases (my brother, for instance, uses the phrase "At the end of the day" at least 55 times before the end of each day, whether it's appropriate or not). Think about what kinds of words they use -- $2 words or slang, technical jargon or layman's terms, and so on.
Most of all, try to avoid having all your characters sound like you.
Phonetic spellings of a dialect generally annoy the speakers of that dialect, and irritate everyone else. Indicate dialect with unique words and patterns of speech, rather than trying to capture the sound in your spelling.