Art In Fiction

Five Smart Writing Tips from Successful Authors

August 13, 2020 Carol Cram Season 1 Episode 10
Art In Fiction
Five Smart Writing Tips from Successful Authors
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to Episode 10 of the Art In Fiction Podcast!
Ready to learn 5 tips to inspire your writing? This episode features six of the authors interviewed on the Art In Fiction Podcast. You'll hear wise advice—and plenty of encouragement— from M. J. Rose, Vaseem Khan, Layne Fargo, Andrew Cartmel, Laura Morelli, and Martin Turnbull.


  • Tip #1: Accept that writing is work
  • M. J. Rose on the writing process
  • Tip #2: Establish and stick to a writing routine
  • How Andrew Cartmel maintains a writing routine
  • Tip #3: Don't be afraid to suck
  • Layne Fargo on getting over the need to be perfect
  • Martin Turnbull on perseverence
  • Tip #4: Write an outline
  • Laura Morelli on outlining
  • Vaseem Khan on structuring a crime novel
  • Tip #5: Create a writing journal
  • M. J. Rose creates a journal for each novel

Press Play now and be sure to explore to find novels by our featured authors.

M. J. Rose's website:             
Vaseem Khan's website:     
Layne Fargo's website:        
Andrew Cartmel's website:
Martin Turnbull's website:
Laura Morelli's website:     

Episode 2: Viva Italia: Laura Morelli, Author of The Giant
Episode 3: Hooray for Hollywood:  Martin Turnbull, Author of The Garden of Allah Series
Episode 4: Baby Elephant Walk: Vaseem Khan, Author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency Novels
Episode 5: Thrillin' with the Bad Girls: Layne Fargo, Author of Temper
Episode 6: Diamonds are Forever: M. J. Rose, Author of Numerous Bestselling Novels, including Cartier's Hope

Link to 20% Off for ProWritingAid

Music Credits
Intro music: Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle
Ad music: The Fever from the album Full Moon.
Composer: Gregg Simpson, performed by Lunar Adventures. 

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you.  

Hello and welcome. I’m Carol Cram, your host on the Art in Fiction Podcast. In today’s episode, I’m featuring five of the writing tips that have been shared by my guest authors. If you’re a writer, I guarantee you’ll learn some useful tips, and if you’re a reader, you’ll gain insight into how successful authors do what they do.

As a novelist and avid reader myself, I’ve learned so much about writing, publishing, and marketing since launching the Art In Fiction Podcast and I hope you have too. Learning from authors who’ve attracted lots of engaged readers can really help to make you a better author and a more informed reader.

Authors who’ve shared their writing with the world and received positive responses are an incredible resource. They’re down in the trenches every day, wrestling with verbs, attacking adverbs, musing about their plot, and arguing with their characters.

And although a solitary lot, most authors are generous with their advice. Ask an author to talk about writing and then sit back and soak up the wisdom. You’ll discover that most writers enjoy sharing their experience because they know firsthand the highs and lows of writing and that everyone needs a helping hand once in a while.

If you’re a writer, you already know that writing stories is a lonely and sometimes rather scary thing to do. You sit by yourself in front of a blank computer screen or with your pen poised over a notebook. 

Will the words come today? Will pictures and scenes pop into your head? Will your characters show up so you can manipulate, poke, and prod them, or will they go on strike, refusing to emerge onto the blank landscape of your mind?

Every time I sit down to write, I face the fear that the words won’t come, that no one will be interested in the story I want to tell, and that I’ll never write another novel that people want to read.

For me—and for most authors I’ve spoken with—that fear never really goes away. In fact—and this is a little depressing—being a successful writer does not eradicate the fear.

Success can actually breed more fear. 

While recording the Art In Fiction Podcast over the past several months, I’ve chatted with a number of authors and discovered to my relief that no matter how successful they are, they’re all on a first name basis with fear.

But—and this is the point—each author has developed techniques for pushing through the fear and getting on with the business of writing. They’ve learned how to quiet the little voice in their head and to put their fingers to their keyboards in the persistent hope that what they write and edit and polish will give other people pleasure.

Their tips are worth considering—whether you’re working on your first novel, your tenth or your twentieth. 

Use these five writing tips to inspire you to keep going with your writing and to not give up even on those days when the words fly south for the winter.

The words will return. But here’s the thing. You need to work at it!

Which leads me to my first tip.

Tip #1: Accept that Writing is Work

Have you ever seen those montages in movies that depict someone writing a novel?

The author scribbles frantically, scatters printed sheets all over the floor, stares into space, gulps coffee or whiskey, skips meals, scribbles frantically some more, and finally, as the music soars to a climax, sits back and gazes fondly at a two-foot stack of paper that represents a completed novel.

As if!

These montages make novel writing look easy, but the truth is that novel writing is anything but easy. Every author I’ve ever spoken with, both on the Art In Fiction Podcast and elsewhere, talks about writing as work. All of them acknowledge the hours, days, weeks, months, and years required to put one word after another.

Consider these three steps.

Step One: Realize you will need to work hard to write a novel.

Step Two: Accept and embrace this reality.

Step Three: Train yourself to enjoy the process.

You really need to acknowledge that although writing will require huge chunks of your time and that you’ll sweat and weep and often want to give up, you still have to write. 

You just do.

Anything worth doing takes time and hard work. 

Have you ever met a successful musician who doesn’t practice? Or a marathoner who doesn’t run countless miles to train for a race? Or a brain surgeon who has never read a textbook?

Writing is no different.

Listen to what bestselling novelist M. J. Rose says in Episode 6 about how the process of writing a novel really doesn’t get any easier.

M. J. Rose, New York Times Bestselling Author of 22 Novels including Cartier’s Hope

I find that every time I sit down to write, it’s like I've never written a book before. Seriously? I mean, I’m going through it now. I’m just starting a new book. And it’s like, I can't believe I still don't know how to do this. And it’s no easier. And this is now I’m on book 22. And it’s like, Oh my God, it's just as hard as book number one was. Or it's no, it's definitely worse.

Once you accept that writing is hard work, take the second tip to heart.

Tip #2: Establish and Stick to a Writing Routine

If you only write when the mood strikes you, you may finish your novel eventually, but—and this is an enormous but—will you have the stamina required for the rigorous editing process, not to mention the grind of publishing and marketing?

Writing is a job, and like most jobs, it requires you to stick to a routine. Most successful authors maintain a writing routine, which means that most authors write every single day.

Yes, every day, as in daily. Some authors block off their mornings to write, while others do their best work in the evenings.

Here’s what Andrew Cartmel, the bestselling author of the Vinyl Detective series of music-inspired crime novels, says in Episode 7 about maintaining a writing routine.

Andrew Cartmel, Author of the Vinyl Detective Series

I try and get it out of the way early in the day as possible because I want to make sure I do it. However, if events conspired to mean I can't sit down until even late in the evening, I will do it then. I think the crucial thing is for anybody who's trying to write, is just get started. Like, I always think, just give the book a little kiss good morning, just sit down and write one sentence. If you can't do that, just write one word. Because that's, what's scaring you. Because it's sure as hell what's scaring me is getting started. 

So I just said to myself, let's just write a sentence. And of course that breaks the ice and you get going on it.

Some authors say they write every day of the year, on holidays, their birthdays, their wedding day, and even while on vacation.

When you establish a writing routine, you don’t need to write a lot of words every day. Some days, you might write a few paragraphs, or as Andrew Cartmel says, maybe just a word or two. 

The key is to take time every day to write something, or at least to reread and edit what you wrote the day before.

Taking even a few days off from writing can stall your momentum, particularly when you’re writing your first draft. And so, I schedule time every day for working on my current novel.

But to avoid burnout and keep yourself motivated, embrace moderation. Write what you can during the time you’ve allotted in your day, and then stop. Don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.

If you write 300 to 500 words a day, you’ll have the first draft of a 100,000-word novel in about ten to twelve months. 

And remember that not every word you write will be good, which leads me to the third tip.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Suck

Have you ever had trouble writing because you got stuck on wanting to make every word perfect?  

I went through a period several years ago when I could barely write the word “the” without being consumed with anxiety about what word should come next. I felt like someone was looking over my shoulder and judging me.

Guess what? No one is looking over your shoulder. No one will read what you’ve written until or unless you share it with them. You’re in total control of what you let other people read, so forget about perfection. Just get the words down.

Write gibberish for several minutes to get your creative juices flowing. Write an entire scene with your eyes closed, making as many typos and false starts as you want. Some of what you write will suck. 

But a lot of it won’t.

Several authors have shared with me how many drafts their novels go through before they’re ready for other eyes.

Layne Fargo, Author of Temper

In Episode 5, Layne Fargo describes her writing process and how she gets over the need to be perfect.

I have sort of a very technical writing process where I go over it a lot of times, like, I start out free writing, whatever comes to mind to get over that perfectionism I think that plagues most writers. And then I do a pass where I'm writing it as a script almost, or it's just dialogue and stage directions. And then I really try to put the description and the pretty language and everything on top of that. So I'm not trying to do that early on in the process or I would just get obsessed with making the sentences beautiful and perfect.

So I want to start with the character motivations and actual action of them in space. And I really do think in terms of dialogue and blocking—that's I guess my theater background, but it's really worked for me as a novelist. And then I add all that other stuff on top. It's sort of the last step.


Time for a short break.

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Practicing writing means that sometimes you’ll write really, really badly. And that’s okay. Never let that stop you from pushing through. 

When I gave myself permission to be bad, to suck, my writing productivity took a great leap forward. In fact, it wasn’t until I let myself go and just write without worrying about whether it was any good that I finally finished my novel, then edited and polished it until I was ready to share it with the world.

And what a great feeling that was!

A good practice when you’re writing a first draft is to set a timer for, say, ten minutes, and then to close your eyes (presuming you touch type) and type. You can also write by hand, although maybe with your eyes open! Whatever works best for you is best. There’s no right or wrong way to get your first draft written.

Write for the entire ten minutes. If you get stuck, write “I’m stuck, I’m stuck, I’m stuck” until the words flow again. You can delete the extra words later.

Envision the scene you’re trying to write and write without worrying about typos or grammar or anything except recording the scene as quickly as you can. Don’t pause to find the perfect adjective. Throw in “very” and keep going.

When I write like that, I’m always pleased to discover that a fair chunk of what I’ve written is not half bad. Sure, it’ll need lots of editing and sanding, chopping and changing, but the energy is strong, and the scene packs some punch.

Here’s what Martin Turnbull, author of almost a dozen novels set in Golden Age Hollywood, shared in Episode 3 about getting stuck and then keeping going.

Martin Turnbull, Author of the Garden of Allah Series

I remember one of the Garden of Allah books, around book seven or eight, I knew where I wanted one of my characters to go. I had no idea how to get him where I needed to go by the end of the book. So I wrote, "I have no idea how to get Marcus where he needs to be. My problem is," and I just started typing, I didn't think of it. And then you trust the process. The ideas start. And if 9 out of 10 of those ideas are ridiculous or far-fetched, or just crappy, who cares? Nobody's going to see it. Nobody's going to hear it. Nobody's going to know. 

But that 10th idea, that's the one that will be the one that makes you go, Oh, wait a minute. What if he makes blah, blah, blah... Oh, that would work out well, because that person is working at MGM where he used to work. So, Oh, wait a minute. So if, and if, and if, and if, and you're off to the races.

What great advice! The key point here is to trust the process and the words will come.

Tip #4: Write an Outline

Some authors write without an outline, letting their characters loose and hoping they’ll run into a coherent plot. But in talking with other authors, I’ve discovered that most of them write outlines even if they don’t always stick to them.

Some spend several months writing very detailed outlines before they ever write a scene, while others write more fluid outlines. Again, there’s no right or wrong way to write an outline.

In Episode 2, Laura Morelli, author of three novels set in Renaissance Italy, shares her take on outlining.

Laura Morelli, Author of The Giant

Personally, I'm a huge outliner. I know other people who don't, who just literally start with a blank page and start writing. I'm a very analytical person. I start with a fairly fleshed out outline. And I know where I'm starting. I know who the characters are and I know where I want to go. But within that, you know, it never follows the outline a hundred percent. I always take detours and things end up a little differently than I thought, but I do start out with a kind of a basic structure and basic idea of where it's going.

I like to go through a lot of drafts.  I like to have time to put a manuscript away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. I know some people like to type 'the end' and then send it right out. But I really find that I like to have that time to put something away and come back to it

Creating an outline keeps you focused and prevents you from indulging in time-sucking tangents that could result in thousands of wasted words and divert your efforts for months, even years. Just about every author I’ve interviewed said they how the novel will end before they write more than a few scenes.

But like all pieces of advice, this one isn’t set in stone. Some very successful authors—Stephen King being one—do not outline.

However, in my experience, an outline prevents or at least mitigates the dreaded mid-book slump. 

Even with a rudimentary outline in place, you can still leave plenty of room for serendipity and discovery. It’s your novel. If you decide that the ending you’ve planned won’t work, you’re free to change it.

In Episode 4, Vaseem Khan, author of the engaging Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, shares his advice about plotting a novel.

Vaseem Khan, Author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency Series

Now, the best advice I can give about plotting is that for me, having a detailed plot before you actually begin the process of writing the actual words means that you're less liable to get stuck. So I am a detailed plotter, and I do start with the crime, the murder, usually, whatever it is, then I make a list of possible suspects for it. Then I make a list of possible red herrings that we can put in. Then I talk about themes. Then I'll make a little plan about what themes do I want to explore about people or about India in this particular novel. And that's how I will work backwards from there and create a very detailed plan that will take me maybe three, maybe four months of research and refining it. And it'll all be on a spreadsheet. I know some people use Post-its on the wall. I just use lines in a spreadsheet because I can move them around.

When you know your ultimate destination, you’re able to enjoy the occasional detour, knowing you can return to your central path.

And to help you develop a great outline, here’s Tip #5.

Tip #5: Create a Writing Journal

I love this piece of advice and I’m applying it to my current work in progress.

I’m prone to obsessing about my daily word count, so much so that I don’t want to “waste” my writing time on anything except actually writing.

This is wrong-headed, as I’m learning. Many authors create a set of resources for each novel that includes a variety of useful components, from pictures of their characters and settings to newspaper clippings, reference books, character descriptions, and more.

Some authors compile a physical scrapbook or journal for each novel, while others use software programs such as Scrivener to store resources.

I prefer creating a notebook or binder that contains pictures and other resources I come across in my research that I can flip through away from the screen. I don’t know about you, but I already spend far too much time in front of my computer!

Here’s what M. J. Rose has to say about how she creates a journal for each of her novels.

M. J. Rose

Well, I get as much source material as I can from the period. So newspaper articles and nonfiction books that were written at the time. I even read novels that were written at the time by authors at the time. So if somebody was writing a novel in 1910 about 1910, that's like reading Edith Wharton, and I also do Pinterest boards for each book. I also make a journal for each novel. I call it procrastinate your way into writing a novel that, during the months that I'm doing the research, I'm keeping a journal of the main characters, what interests him or her and notes that I take. And sometimes they get scrap-booky. Sometimes they don't, but I'd say it's about three to six months of research before I start writing.

A journal or notebook becomes a valuable resource that you can return to throughout the writing process to get inspiration and to augment as new ideas occur to you.

Later, when it’s time to work with a cover designer, some of the images in your journal may come in handy.


Here again are the five writing tips covered in this episode:

  1. ·              Accept that Writing is Work
  2. ·              Establish and Stick to a Writing Routine
  3. ·              Don’t Be Afraid to Suck
  4. ·              Write an Outline
  5. ·              Create a Writing Journal

How are you going to apply this advice to help you write your novel?

I’d love to hear your questions, your comments, and your advice. Go to Art In Fiction at and click the Contact tab. 

Be sure to check the show notes for the link to a 20% discount on a subscription to ProWritingAid, a wonderful editing tool for writers.

Please follow Art In Fiction on Twitter and Facebook, and don’t forget to give the Art In Fiction Podcast a positive review or rating wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much for listening!


Tip #1: Accept that writing is work
M. J. Rose on the writing process
Tip #2: Establish and stick to a writing routine
Andrew Cartmel on maintaining a writing routine
Tip #3: Don't be afraid to suck
Layne Fargo on getting over the need to be perfect in early drafts
Advertisment: ProWriting Aid
Martin Turnbull on getting stuck and then keeping going
Tip #4: Write an outline
Laura Morelli on outlining
Vaseem Khan on how he structures a crime novel
Tip #5: Create a writing journal
M. J. Rose on creating a journal for each novel