When a fan asked me this morning if I had any advice, I dashed this off. Thought it might be of interest to other folks as well. Enjoy!
Write. Read. Polish your work, and always look to improve it.
Write and format your material to professional standards. You’d be amazed at how few people actually do that.
Speaking personally, I am a habitual voracious reader. I read EVERYTHING, and I read all the time.
I also keep index cards in my pockets, with at least one pen. My first mass-market publication (“Elynne Dragonchild,” in the anthology Sword & Sorceress IX) began as a few sentences dashed off on an index card while I was working at Virginia’s Largest Shoe Store in 1989.
As for leaving in and cutting out, Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “Write everything you can think of, set it aside, and then come back and cut everything that does not support your core idea. Be ruthless with yourself.”
I am considerably less concise than Vonnegut, but I still take that advice to heart. Run with your inspiration, figure out what you’re trying to say, and then cut and revise in ways that support your core idea.
To that end, make every day’s work a new dated file. I start each morning (or save an open file each night) as [NAME] – [DATE]. That way, if/ when I lose or cut something, I can always go back and find it in an older file.
Also, I work by what I call The Four Questions Approach, aka Motivation/ Obstacles/ Tactics/ Results:
What do I want?
What stands in my way?
What will I do to get it?
What happens when I do, or do not?
That provides a foundation not only for my characters and stories, but also for my overall approach to work and life.
Also, finally, this: