I've been writing for a while, but I'm still considered a debut author. I've had three short stories and a novel published, and I'm working on the second in my Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series. For me, the writing part of the project is easy. The time-consuming part is the editing and revising. Here are nine things I learned to help me with my writing.
1. I joined a critique group. It was important for me to have other mystery/thriller writers and readers review and comment on my drafts. I have learned so much from this group. It is extremely helpful to have a group of beta readers provide commentary before you try to acquire an agent or publisher. You will be surprised at what you missed in your self-edits.
2. I stopped reading "how to write" books and started writing. I tended to get bogged down in the books, and I never got around to writing with a purpose. I had a stack of "how to write," "how to publish," and "how to plot" books. The only book about writing that I really learned a lot from was Stephen King's On Writing. That reference needs to be on every writer's shelf.
3. Publishing is a business. I hired a private copy editor to review what I think is my final draft before I submit it to my publisher and his editors. It is an added expense, but the feedback I get is well worth it.
4. When you're writing it is important to be consistent with terms and usage. Is it Internet/internet; a.m./AM, tv/TV? I keep a style sheet and use the search feature on my word processor.
5. It's also important to keep your descriptions and facts straight, especially when you're writing a series. I keep a table of all of my characters (mini-biographies) and locations. I add a column for each book, so I can track who is in what book. I write down all the details (e.g. eye color, hair color, likes, etc.), and this helps me round out the picture, even with minor characters.
6. When I'm revising, I look at the size of each chapter. If some are too long or short, I try to balance them out.
7. I also look at the last paragraph of each chapter when I'm revising. Do they compel or encourage the reader to keep reading? If you end a chapter with a character going to sleep, it slows down the action, and your reader may see it as a good stopping point. You want them to keep reading.
8. When I'm writing, I tend to overuse some words and phrases. I keep a list of words to watch for. When I'm ready to revise, I search for these and rewrite where I can. Beta readers are another great way to find these terms. They will tell you if you tend to repeat things. (My worst offenders are "just," "only," "that," and "in a few minutes.")
9. Pay attention to your dialog attributions (e.g. he said/she said). Readers tend to skim over "said," and the repetition doesn't bother them. It stands out to readers when you try to be creative and avoid using "said" (e.g. replied, retorted, noted, stated, etc.). Use synonyms sparingly, and stick to "said" most of the time. Also, if you have two characters talking, you don't have to use "said" each time one speaks.
I hope these help you on your writing journey. Drop me a note or a comment and let me know what works for you.