You’re allowed to sit in on this, but bear in mind that if anything doesn’t fit your situation it’s because I am shouting it at myself through a very long cardboard tube in the hopes that it sounds more authoritative when it comes out the other end.
Things you definitely have to do.
- Write. You cannot slouch about the place calling yourself anything relating to “a writer” if you do not write anything.
- Edit. Editing is part of writing. Firstly, that thing you wrote six months ago is full of dodgy bits where you decided that the correct phrasing didn’t matter and the important part was getting all the information down. It is now six or more months later and the correct phrasing does matter now, as does the fact that you’ve overloaded the scene with information and need to go and remove the stuff that isn’t pertinent. Yes, including the stuff you thought was good or interesting. If it’s not necessary it’s not staying.
- Stop behaving as if “editing” doesn’t count as writing and therefore browbeating yourself for not doing “any” writing.
- Research. You can’t confidently write about a place or time if you don’t actually know anything about it and are constantly worried that the whole course of your story is going to be thrown out by information you were too lazy to get hold of.
- Stop putting off research on the grounds that you “need to concentrate properly”, you’re perfectly capable of absorbing information by osmosis and the more you get of it the more likely you are to retain it.
Things you do not have to do.
- Seek other people’s approval for any ideas you have. While it would be lovely to pique someone’s interest, because being asked questions about an idea is a great way to get it into a reasonable and audience-friendly shape, there is also the factor of most people being self-centred idiots who simply do not have the concentration span to listen to your idea. Stop trying to sell them on it and go away and write the thing because you want to write it. Then think about your sales pitch.
- Know exactly what you’re doing. Yes, it is easier to write a polished book if you have a very thorough outline. No that does not mean that you can just leave things forever because coming up with an outline is hard or you have an order for writing worked out. You can write to find out what you’re writing, too.
- Readjust your idea to suit what people are talking about liking. You are writing it because you want to write it, therefore write what you want to write. Don’t write to please people who don’t have the same tastes as you, you’ll just end up resentful of them and resentful of the work you’re doing. This point in particular also stands to the acquaintance who nervously asked me what I thought of vampire novels: the fact that I mostly do not like them should under no circumstances prevent you from writing yours. You’re not writing it for me.
Things you definitely should not do.
- Continually put things off because you feel they might not be perfect.
- Write for people who aren’t into your core interest in the story (e.g. if you are completely smitten with Achilles-esque hubristic heroes in search of personal glory, 60ft tall ice monsters, and weird mole fetish sex, don’t feel that you suddenly have to cater to people whose principle areas of interest are small-town divorced mothers trying to maintain personal dignity, car crash recovery, and cancer statistics in mining towns).
- Abandon editing something because it’s “clearly terrible and cannot be saved”.
- Make blog posts instead of working.
More unhelpful writing advice can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t.