Jerry Jenkins Gives His Best Writing Advice

If you’re a writer, there are a few newsletters you should subscribe to. That’s simply because they offer valuable content nearly every week. If you want the best advice a bestselling author gives, you’ll find it here.

Most of us have too many newsletters clogging our inboxes. I know I do. Lists I subscribed to after reading a great book from an author. Another one I joined to get a free eBook that I may or may not have even read since that time. Most of them came when I purchased something online, and those vendors handed me off to someone else.

No thank you. Periodically, I go on an “unsubscribe binge” and get rid of those junky ones I don’t ever read and didn’t really want in the first place.

Although Jerry Jenkins is not an author I have read in many years, he’s an excellent teacher. Yes, he hopes I’ll sign up for his mastermind group or his latest class on writing a novel, but that doesn’t mean he skimps on the value he puts into his newsletters.

Recently, he sent an email sequence about his top tips to writers. This post is the answer to “if he could give writers ONLY one writing tip.”

This is it: Avoid on-the-nose writing.

This is a term coined by Hollywood scriptwriters. It’s talking about prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.
It’s those banal conversations:
“Hey, it’s Steven.”
“Hi, Steven. What’s up?”
“You’ll never guess what happened?”

Guess what has happened to your reader? They fell asleep. They don’t care about this everyday exchange.
It’s also those stage directions some authors fill their scenes with:
She brushed her hair, pulled it back into a ponytail, secured it with a stylish clip, and then headed into the kitchen to brew her coffee.

Who cares? Not me. And not ninety-five percent of readers.

The worst thing about this? It has readers doing one thing:

That’s right. They’re done with this. They wanted a book to entertain or enlighten them. They didn’t want a conversation no one would care to eavesdrop on. Nor are they interested in the daily routines of your character.

They want action. They want to get to the heart of the matter. Emotions, tension, and conflict. Those are the things that enthrall your reader and keep them turning pages.

Right now, go to your current manuscript. Look at the scene you’ve been poring over. Do you have meaningless chatter?
For me, that might even include snarky asides and teasing. There are writers who do this well but still put MORE of it in the story than I want. It’s fine sprinkled lightly through some scenes, but in the middle of tension or action? It’s like the lid came off the salt shaker and buried my pile of crispy french fries. I’m not eating those now.

And I’ll be rolling my eyes at your banter when it interrupts the tension building of an action scene. Save it for sequels when you’re building characters.

What about stage directions? Do you have paragraphs of your character doing everyday actions? Description of every item in the room?

Take advice from Jerry Jenkins. Only tell us the movement that matters. Show us enough of the room to set the stage and the mood. You can drop other details in as the scene progresses in action beats during dialogue.

Here’s an excerpt from Jerry’s email:

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call (duh), that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, put the phone to her ear to hear and to speak, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is…

Jerry Jenkins

Now head over here to subscribe to his newsletter. Believe me, if you put into practice the tips he gives (and his freebie is amazing), your writing will improve.

The way to separate yourself from amateurish competition is by noticing the important things happening in the scene. The deep things rather than the surface stuff. Mine your emotions to describe those moments in a way that connects with readers because it’s accurate and transparent.

Don’t distract from the conflict in your story with minutia. Readers signed up for an adventure when they picked up your book. Make sure you deliver on that promise.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever given? Or gotten?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.