The Best Writing Advice of 2018

This year, we interviewed dozens of authors for The Debutante Ball about what it’s like to become a writer. We asked them for their most helpful tips for established and emerging writers alike, and they had so much to say on an array of topics: from becoming a literary citizen to learning how to persevere through doubt to the magic of releasing a book into the world.

It’s the end of 2018 and to honor the wonderful guests who have shared their time and thoughts with us at The Debutante Ball, I’ve compiled some of their words of wisdom, both pieces of practical advice and beautiful reflections on the writing life. Reading their thoughts, especially as we start a new year, buoys me with hope. It’s the willingness to connect and exchange stories that brings us closer together and give our lives meaning, and the reason we call ourselves readers and writers.

On becoming a writer:

Wendy Heard: “Innate talent is not a thing. The only thing that will help you achieve your goals is hard work and the willingness to learn from others.”

Vijaya Nagarajan: “Respect your thoughts. Think of them as good enough as seeds to begin deeper thinking with. Infuse them with power, will strength, courage. Grow them.”

Nicole Blades: “Read. You have to read. It’s a vital part of the craft. Be voracious and various about it, too.”

Karen Meadows: “The way a poem can possess universality yet cut straight into someone’s individual life—actually cater–that became fascinating and sealed the deal for me on exploring this art form.”

Sam Hawke: “Does it expose me as a bad writer that I often don’t learn things about the characters until it comes up in the story?”

On finding your voice: 

Elizabeth Rosner: “Find out what it is that only you can say, and don’t even try to imitate the look or feel of anyone else. Listen for the sound of your own voice.”

Ivelisse Rodriguez: “When I read literary fiction, I am hoping to find some unique musing about life, some new idea to mull over, or confirmation of my deepest feelings. So, I think to offer something of value, a writer should strive to achieve the above.”

On finding a community:

Stephanie Elliot: “Writing can be pretty lonely, so being involved in online groups, real-life writing groups, and interacting with readers and other writers at book events are all so important for staying motivated.”

Vanessa Hua: “My mentor in grad school–author and professor Susan Straight–told us to “hook each other up.”… I cherish the times when I can commiserate and celebrate with fellow writers.”

Christine O’Brien: “You need to have someone you trust or a writing group, readers with an understanding of the craft who can help you shape your work.”

On the business of publishing:

Reyna Grande: “You have to honor the opportunity of being published. And you do that by working hard to promote your book before and waaaay after it’s been published. Don’t “move on” to the next project so soon.”

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar: “It’s really important to have an agent who will help you navigate the publishing process and who gets your work, someone who shares your vision for the book.”

Rene Denfeld: “You do not need to go wildly in debt getting a MFA or spending gobs of money to become a writer. In fact I caution aspiring writers to think carefully about the business end of writing.”

Lori Rader-Day: “There’s all this talk of “brand,” but I want my brand to encompass lots of different kinds of stories.”

Suzanne Baltsar: “Failing is not the end, it’s a chance to start again… Take this from a girl who failed first grade…not kidding.”

On sharing your work:

Cinelle Barnes: “What an honor, really, to be able to share in this kind of freedom with someone, simply because I’ve decided to write my truth.”


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Stephanie Jimenez

Stephanie Jimenez is a former Fulbright recipient and Prep for Prep alumna. She is based in Queens, New York, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, O! the Oprah Magazine, Entropy, and more. Her debut novel, THEY COULD HAVE NAMED HER ANYTHING, will be published in the summer of 2019 (Little A). Follow her @estefsays.