Below are ten writing tips from George RR Martin, one of the most beloved authors in the world today thanks to his bestselling Game of Thrones fantasy series which has been turned into a hit HBO show on television.
Martin is not too prolific an author, much to the chagrin of his fans, but he does speak extensively about being a writer in his interviews and offers writing advice on his website.
1. Read everything
This is possibly the single most important piece of advice any writer can give. Good writers are great readers. They are constantly exploring all genres, fiction and nonfiction, and in the process learning grammar, syntax, plot structure, and most importantly, what makes a book an effective reading experience.
Reading is one of the only things that will teach you how to write. And you’ll be learning right from the best (and worst) in the world.
2. Write every day
The first piece of advice here is to write every day. If you manage to do that while you continue to read widely, you’re sure to become a much better writer.
The second piece of advice given by Martin is to stop writing fanfiction. Now, if you’re just starting out as a writer, fanfiction is an excellent place to begin your writing journey. You will learn lots about character and plot. However, you won’t learn how to create a novel or your own characters by writing fanfiction.
Take the leap and begin writing about a world of your own creation, and you’ll go a step forward in your writing career.
3. Write from a place of emotional truth
The oft-maligned advice “write what you know” can be interpreted to mean exactly what Martin says – to write from a place of emotional truth. Your fiction will benefit greatly if you can learn to tap into your own emotional experiences, no matter what you’re writing about.
4. Figure out what kind of a writer you are
What kind of writer are you: an architect, who outlines beforehand, or a gardener, who just starts writing? You are likely a combination of both, as Martin says. Successful writers learn which methods work best for them and work to improve them so that they can turn out their best work with each new project.
5. Cut yourself some slack
Even the most successful writers in the world have off days sometimes. But what sets them apart is that they are determined to finish some work every day even if they are the furthest thing from inspired. If you can cultivate such long-term dedication, then you are well on your way to becoming a successful writer.
6. Learn to self-edit
They say that half of writing is in rewriting and in editing. Once you progress past a first draft, learn to edit your own work. Go about it the way Martin does – first take out all the unnecessary bits (which will make your work considerably stronger) and then go on to do major editing in terms of plot and characterization.
7. Write truthfully
That’s not to say that you’ve only got to write about plausible things, of course; what Martin is saying here is that all fiction must contain emotional truth, as he further explains in this quote.
8. Make your characters complex
Unless you’re writing a fable, it’s best to learn to look at your characters as real people, rather than personifications of good and evil. People are complex, unpredictable, and never entirely good or bad, and writing about people who hover in the grey areas will give your work the emotional truth that Martin often talks about.
9. Unpublished? Good
This is not strictly a piece of writing advice, but a reminder that if you are an unpublished writer, you are incredibly lucky in many ways. Nobody can see your mistakes but you, and you are under no pressure from anybody but yourself.
You need to use this opportunity wisely. Read and write every day, work hard to improve yourself, learn to edit and rewrite. Once you become a published author, it’s harder to write with such freedom and abandon. Use these years to become a strong writer.
Here’s another good thing about being unpublished: you aren’t expected to write exclusively in one genre. Experiment! If you normally write fantasy, branch out into mysteries, and vice versa. You never know what you’ll be good at if you do not try!